AAFES threatens base ban if striking S. Korean taxi drivers don't return
July 24, 2006
SEOUL — Worldcup Arirang Taxi Co. drivers have until Monday to return to work or face being banned as an employee for any current or future contractor with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said union and AAFES officials.
Cliff Choy, AAFES Pacific services manager, Saturday told more than 100 protesting drivers the exchange can end working privileges for individuals via a “17-I letter” citing a worker for unacceptable performance.
Choy said AAFES is not taking sides between Arirang, the South Korean taxi company with a contract to provide on-base cabs in Area I and Area II, and the union’s 270 members, who began their strike July 14.
Yet strikers said Saturday they see Choy’s statements as a threat to their jobs and a sign AAFES is taking the taxi company’s side.
AAFES is responsible to provide service to U.S. Forces Korea personnel, Choy told the drivers. Already, AAFES has sent Arirang two warning letters, giving the company until Monday to take action to restore service, he and other AAFES officials said.
“The AAFES request is that your union return to work,” Choy told the crowd through a translator. “If they do not go back to work, we will send the letter.”
His words drew heated comments from several members and ended his statements to the group. Union leaders agreed to meet with him privately while union members continued a planned rally and march to Arirang’s office.
After more than two hours, the leaders emerged from the meeting frustrated.
“We see it as a threat,” said 15-year driver Bae Sam-jin, who sat in on Saturday’s meeting with Choy. “Unless we go back to work, we will lose our jobs. But we’re not going to go back.”
Choy was not available for comment after the meeting.
The union is at odds with Arirang over a requested $105 monthly raise. On Saturday, some drivers said Arirang also wants to raise the daily quota each driver must make in receipts.
Each driver now must make $87 in fares during a 13-hour shift before splitting fare earnings evenly with the company. Drivers on Saturday said the company wants to raise that to $125.
A Yongsan-based driver averages $130 per day or $160 if the day includes a trip to Incheon International Airport, said Yim Y.C., who’s been driving for four years. Most drivers make from $1,259 to $1,363 a month, the union has said.
Several Stars and Stripes attempts to reach Arirang officials last week were unsuccessful. Stripes was unable to call Arirang on Saturday.
But on Wednesday, Choi Byeong-sik, an Arirang Dongducheon office manager, said the company cannot afford any raise and contended the strike is jeopardizing jobs for everyone at the company.
Yim said drivers met with Arirang management eight times before deciding to strike. One negotiating session late Tuesday night failed to produce any solutions.
Drivers on Saturday again offered apologies to USFK personnel and family members for the lack of taxi service.
In Area I, military officials contracted with another South Korean taxi company to provide some service. On Thursday in Area II, 18 Arirang drivers returned to work. On Saturday, one other Yongsan-based driver joined the small fleet, union officials said.
Union leaders Saturday said they would take Choy’s information to their membership, possibly to make a decision Sunday.