Base expansion workers say contractor has not paid them
Stars and Stripes March 1, 2008
SEOUL — Ahn Byeong-chul has supplied gasoline to construction vehicles at Camp Humphreys for 10 months. But he says a South Korean government contractor owes him nearly $150,000 for his work, and he blames U.S. Forces Korea for his missing paychecks.
“USFK says they came here to protect us. And USFK’s top men are always saying ‘Katchi kapshida’ (We go together),” Ahn said. “But I feel they are going just their own way, and we are left out.”
Ahn is one of 23 South Koreans who gathered Thursday outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Far East District compound in Seoul to protest what they say is USFK’s mismanagement of its contractors on the Humphreys project. The district awarded the prime contractor, Seohee Construction Co. Ltd. of Seoul, a $29.7 million contract to prepare 203.6 acres outside Humphreys for an expansion of the base.
Seohee then hired a subcontractor, Jinsung Development, to work on the project, and the protesters say Jinsung owes them nearly $750,000.
Ahn said some of the protesters have had to take out high-interest bank loans or borrow from loan sharks because they haven’t been paid.
“Many people gathering here are living from hand to mouth,” he said. “My family’s livelihood is threatened.”
FED spokesman Joe Campbell said Seohee was to provide documentation to FED officials by Friday to show they’ve paid their subcontractors.
“We’re confident that Seohee will provide proof,” he said.
FED’s contracting officer and Seohee’s chief executive officer met to discuss the issue earlier this week, Campbell said. The Seohee officer understands that he needs to resolve the issue, and the FED will track Seohee’s compliance, Campbell said.
Nobody from Jinsung or Seohee was available Thursday for comment.
The South Korean protesters, most of whom are from Pyeongtaek, were hired to provide the subcontractor with equipment, food, snacks, water, hardware parts and other essentials during the 21-month landfill project to prepare the land for construction.
Humphreys is scheduled to triple in size in coming years, as the U.S. military shifts all personnel in and north of Seoul to the southern half of the peninsula by 2012.
Yoon Yong-han, 49, operates his dump truck at the landfill site. He said Jinsung owes him $96,000. In turn, Yoon owes his neighborhood gas station $9,600 for fuel.
“How can I pay him without being paid for my work?” he said.
Lee Young-wan, who runs a convenience store for the construction workers, said the $2,883 Jinsung owes him doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a big amount to him.
Even though there were violent protests against the expansion in 2005 and 2006, Lee said he demonstrated in favor of the project. He’s now disappointed in USFK, he said, becuase he believes USFK is not making sure its contractors paid their workers.
“I still welcome U.S. troops to … my neighborhood, but I just hope they are concerned for people like me living from hand to mouth,” he said.