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SEOUL — Servicemembers throughout much of areas I and II may have found little or no on-base taxi service Saturday after Area I drivers went on strike Friday evening, dispatchers confirmed. Area II drivers said they planned to follow on Saturday.

Area I officials said Arirang Taxi Co. drivers went on strike after the Army and Air Force Exchange Service raised taxi fares but drivers’ wages did not increase.

Citing rising fuel costs and the falling U.S. dollar, AAFES increased the starting fare of most on-base taxis in South Korea by 50 cents — a 28 percent jump — beginning May 1. AAFES officials were unavailable for comment Friday night.

Arirang is the only taxi company operating on base in areas I and II.

Union official Hwang Chi-cheon and Bae Sam-jin, a 15-year veteran taxi driver on Yongsan Garrison, spoke to Stars and Stripes late Friday night.

They said about 120 Area II drivers and dispatchers were to strike when the shift changed at 6 a.m. Saturday. They said about 135 Area I employees started their strike Friday night.

The issue, they said, is money. Bae, who also translated for Hwang, said company employees repeatedly have sought pay raises, even asking South Korea’s Ministry of Labor to mediate.

Bae said drivers, whose average income is about $400 per month plus about $170 in overtime, are seeking a $100 monthly raise.

The ministry recommended the company pay employees an extra $50 per month, he said, but the company refused.

Bae said that since 1995, monthly salaries have climbed only about $70. “That’s not much,” he said.

Drivers must earn at least $87 per day in fares, he said, adding that failing to hit that quota could get a driver fired. But they have another incentive to get as many customers a day as possible: For each dollar a driver makes over the $87 goal, he keeps 50 cents.

Bae said that on a really good day, probably including trips to Incheon Airport, a driver could make $180, meaning about $46 in extra earnings for the shift. But most drivers average only about $115 per day, with $14 of that going directly to them.

Bae claimed the company determined an average earnings rate with statistics from May — when the base was flooded with exercise participants and softball players participating in a major tournament. He said the company thinks drivers should be able to earn at least $160 per day, as they did in May, but “making $160 a day is impossible.”

Bae and Hwang said they’ve met with company officials eight times, most recently in late June. Now, they said, it’s time to strike. Bae said a 14-day strike in 1997 earned them “a little bit” of a pay increase. But, he added, the company then was under different ownership.

Bae said about 40 nonunion employees are in areas I and II. He predicted that, lacking union protection, they’ll continue driving throughout the strike or will face losing their jobs.

Hwang apologized in advance to the military community for any inconvenience the strike might cause, saying, “I feel sorry for the troops.” He said he would be on hand Saturday morning to ensure there is no violence between striking drivers and the very few he said didn’t want to strike.

Bae said employees will strike until the company agrees to increase their pay.

“We want to work but we live a dog’s life,” he said. “We make money for the company but they don’t want to spare any for the drivers.”

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