Camp Casey invites more taxis amid dispute
Stars and Stripes May 1, 2008
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Thirty bucks, a pack of smokes and freedom.
South Korean on-post taxi drivers from Worldcup Arirang Tourism Co. say they aren’t asking for much to end the work stoppage that culminated in a strike Monday night and Tuesday.
Drivers at Camp Casey said Tuesday they would go back to work Wednesday to maintain relations with servicemembers, but would strike again if negotiations didn’t begin soon.
To make up for the taxi shortfall, Army and Air Force Exchange Service has invited more taxis from competitor Yonhap Transportation.
About 30 taxis are running at any given time at Yongsan Garrison instead of the usual 70, said Shawn Dorcy, AAFES Yongsan general manager.
“We’re kind of in a catch-22 situation,” he said. “It’s in our interest not to press the issue and terminate the contract, because we need World Cup to be able to take care of our servicemembers.”
Dorcy said AAFES was exploring alternatives but declined to say more.
More Yonhap taxis than usual were also available at Camps Casey, Red Cloud and Stanley — but fewer than the usual number of Arirang taxis.
About 100 drivers protested outside Camp Casey’s main gate Tuesday over grievances with their company management and AAFES, which oversees the company’s operations at U.S. Army Garrisons Yongsan and Red Cloud.
The drivers wore red headbands with the Korean slogan for “organize and fight” as they threw their fists in the air and listened to comments from strike organizers.
Signs questioning their employer’s morality and AAFES’ fairness hung alongside the railway bridge across the street from Camp Casey.
Drivers say they haven’t had a wage increase since 2000. Taxi drivers told Stars and Stripes in 2006 after a strike that they received a 100,000 won (about $105 at the time) one-time bonus and $2 per month for each year served with the company.
Drivers said at the time they weren’t happy with the settlement. Now they are asking for 30,000 won (about $30) per month for each driver.
“Management says every year that they’re short, they’re losing money,” driver Kim Young-soo said through another driver’s interpretation. “But if they’ve really been losing money every year, why are they holding the company?”
Drivers say they earn 400,000 won (about $400) per month in base salary. The rest of their earnings come from a percentage of meter receipts, meaning that most make about $1,000 per month.
Arirang’s labor union tried to negotiate its wages with the company from October through March 27, according to a letter to customers that the drivers published.
Multiple messages left with Arirang’s management Tuesday were not returned.
Drivers at Camp Casey on Tuesday said they were angry at AAFES for taking away base access from drivers who break minor rules — which effectively keeps them from working.
“By taking away our ID, they’re killing our family, too,” Kim said. “If it was because of a car accident or a big thing, I would understand. But these are small things.”
Specifically, drivers say their co-workers have been suspended or fired for smoking in taxis and talking on cell phones while driving.
“We get a lot of stress from some people,” Kim said. “So afterward, we want to smoke to relieve that.”
Drivers said off-post Korean taxi companies don’t have any rules about phone use or smoking, and their customers appreciate the chance to relax and smoke.
All drivers, including U.S. servicemembers and civilians, are banned from using cell phone handsets while driving. Drivers are allowed to use phone headsets, a garrison spokeswoman said Tuesday.