AAFES manager takes issue with reports of worker mistreatment
July 7, 2004
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The general manager of Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores on Okinawa has rejected a base workers union’s claim that Japanese employees are being mistreated.
In response to reports published in local Japanese-language newspapers, Bob Little, the Okinawa AAFES exchange general manager, denied two female employees were mistreated by a Kadena exchange supervisor.
He also dismissed claims by the Zenchuro, the Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, that 90 percent of all complaints lodged by union members come from AAFES employees.
The Ryukyu Shimpo reported last week accusations that two women, one of them pregnant, fell ill in May after a Kadena exchange supervisor rejected their requests to go home early. The pregnant woman allegedly fainted and was rushed to a hospital May 18. Two days later another woman reportedly had a brain hemorrhage and now is partially paralyzed.
An unnamed union official was quoted in the reports as saying the supervisor told the women in the May incident that they could not go home because there was a shortage of store workers.
“There is no evidence that supports these allegations,” Little stated in a written response Thursday to Stars and Stripes queries. “Both associates involved had preexisting conditions which were not related to the work environment.”
Little also denied the newspaper reports that a store supervisor was disciplined for his actions.
“There have been no disciplinary actions or counseling that would relate to these allegations,” he wrote. “AAFES is concerned about the well being of all associates and we do not agree with the allegations of poor working conditions at Kadena BX.
“Unfortunately, AAFES first became aware of the medical problems the two associates suffered through local media reports,” he added. “If an associate is not feeling well, AAFES encourages interactions between associate and management.”
Yuichi Oba, chief secretary of Zenchuro’s Zukeran branch office, said the labor union filed a protest with the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau on June 28.
“DFAB Naha Bureau told us that they would look into the complaint and take the appropriate action,” he said. “We were also informed that the manager was reprimanded, but we are not sure what type of reprimand it was, whether a written or an oral one.”
On Monday, Kuniyoshi Nemoto, an officer with DFAB’s labor countermeasures office, said he forwarded the complaint to AAFES on June 29.
“We were told they were making inquiries into the matter and we are going to conduct interviews with the individuals as well as AAFES officials,” Nemoto said. “We were informed that the AAFES officials called the store supervisor’s attention to the events and we plan to meet with AAFES officials on this matter in the near future.”
“AAFES wishes any associate who falls ill the speediest recovery,” Little said. “While reports of AAFES associates experiencing health problems are unfortunate and regrettable, they are not related to the Kadena BX work environment.”
He also said any health problems were not due to being overworked because of a staff shortage at the exchange.
“Staffing is set based on sales history and the requirements of specific departments, as it is AAFES-wide,” he said. “Store staffing has not been arbitrarily cut and, in fact, 35 associates, both local national and U.S., have been hired in the period May through June.”
He bridled at the union allegation that most complaints from union members concern AAFES.
“AAFES has no way to substantiate this claim,” he said. Contacts with representatives from the DFAB Naha Bureau “have been minimal,” he said.