South Korean union postpones strike vote while talks go on
By JON RABIROFF AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 10, 2012
SEOUL — The union representing local workers at U.S. military bases in South Korea is backing off its strike threat for the time being.
The U.S. Forces Korea Korean Employees Union was tentatively scheduled to hold a strike vote early this month but decided not to poll its membership in hopes South Korean government officials can convince American military representatives to back off plans to make cuts to the local workforce.
Last month, USFK officials said that effective Dec. 1, about 60 positions will be converted from full- to part-time, and employees in a number of eliminated positions may be placed in lower-graded jobs as a result of workforce-wide belt-tightening. Union spokesman Yu Ki Hyon said about 200 South Korean on-base employees will be affected by the cutbacks.
The announcement — combined with the layoff of more than 500 Koreans over the past year and a freeze on the wages of the remaining 12,000 full- and part-timers — had the union considering a walkout.
The moves are part of the U.S. Army’s plans to reduce the size of its civilian global workforce by about 8,700 positions due to cuts in federal funding. The Army said the cuts would affect 70 locations across eight commands and agencies, with 90 percent of the reductions coming from Installation Management Command, Army Material Command and Training and Doctrine Command.
In addition, Korean workers’ wages have been frozen along with those of all U.S. federal employees in the U.S. and abroad, USFK officials said.
Union officials said the possibility of a strike is on the “back burner” as officials with the South Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade continue to talk with USFK about its plans.
For now, the measures will go forward, USFK spokeswoman Jennifer Buschick said Wednesday.
“USFK and the Korean Employees Union are still engaged in ongoing discussions,” she said. “There have been no changes in the decision to downsize Installation Management Command-Pacific Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities to meet current program standards.
“All efforts will be made to minimize the impact of these reductions on employees.”