USFK, South Korea may discuss civilian workers' strike threat
By ASHLEY ROWLAND AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 29, 2014
SEOUL — U.S. and South Korean authorities are expected to discuss next month the treatment of thousands of Korean civilians who work for the U.S. military, and what to do if they go on strike.
The Korean Employees’ Union threatened to walk off the job in April — coinciding with President Barack Obama’s visit to Seoul — over complaints ranging from shortened work hours to frozen wages. The walkout was postponed after a ferry disaster that left about 300 people dead.
U.S. Forces Korea said in an email that labor issues may be on the agenda for the June 11 meeting of the Joint Status of Forces Agreement Committee but that the focus would likely be the impact that a strike would have on military readiness.
A union spokesman said the group has no plans yet to go on strike but has been told that Korean representatives plan to bring up the union’s concerns at the meeting.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ SOFA Team said the Korean government may discuss “better treatment” for civilian employees, though she would not specify what that meant.
Yonhap News recently reported the agenda may include job security for Korean employees concerned about losing their jobs when U.S. forces relocate to Pyeongtaek, as well as a wage increase.
The union, which claims to represent about 9,500 workers, has said it wants at least a 1.96 percent raise, retroactive to Jan. 1, with the expectation for additional negotiations this summer.
USFK announced in April that it was giving all South Korean workers a 1.7 percent raise, effective the beginning of May, calling it the maximum amount allowed by law.
USFK in March took steps to avert a mass furlough of its South Korean employees due to a shortfall in funding from Seoul. The South Korean government normally pays the bulk of their salaries but had not done so since a defense cost-sharing agreement between the two nations expired at the end of 2013. South Korea approved a new cost-sharing agreement in April.