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Japanese base union plans Friday strike over pay cuts

By HANA KUSUMOTO AND VINCE LITTLE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 29, 2007

TOKYO — A Japanese base workers labor union decided Tuesday to go on an all-day strike Friday to protest the Japanese government’s plan to cut their salaries.

Leaders of Zenchuro, or the Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, met with Ministry of Defense officials Tuesday but no progress was made in the negotiations, said Tsuneo Teruya, secretary-general of Zenchuro headquarters in Tokyo.

“No gaps were filled,” Teruya said.

The strike scheduled for Friday will last eight hours and will begin at the start of the business day of each worker, according to Zenchuro officials.

Union members will picket at base gates throughout Japan and Okinawa, calling on Japanese base workers to participate in the strike. U.S. personnel and contractors may be asked to show their IDs at the picket lines but will be able to go through the gate, the union said.

Marine Master Sgt. Terence Peck, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman at Yokota Air Base, said officials don’t anticipate any problems with authorized U.S. personnel gaining access to military installations during the strike. However, as standard policy, they are encouraging servicemembers, civilians and dependents to avoid locations where demonstrations or protests are taking place, he said.

“Our component commands are taking precautionary measures to minimize the impact of a strike on emergency and essential services,” Peck said, declining to elaborate on any specific preparations.

“We continue to fully support our valued Japanese employees’ peaceful exercise of their legal rights,” Peck said.

Last month, the defense ministry proposed to abolish Japanese workers’ allowances, which make up about 10 percent of their monthly paychecks. The allowances are additional pay meant to compensate individuals for working in a different cultural environment and to reward people for using English on the job.

The proposal to abolish allowances — an $88.8 billion annual cost — came amid the streamlining of government spending, ministry officials said.

Japan employs the workers and provides the work force to the U.S. military as part of an agreement between the two governments. Under the bilateral accord, such a change must be agreed to by the United States.

Last week, the union conducted a four-hour strike, where the members picketed at 90 base gates in Japan and on Okinawa. Mission-essential Japanese workers, such as guards and firefighters, worked as usual but whether they will work Friday is up to each union regional headquarters, Teruya said.

Although no progress was seen in Tuesday’s negotiations, Teruya said he sensed a change in the ministry’s attitude.

“Officials made comments [during Tuesday’s negotiations] that the defense ministry will try its best, such as coordinating with different agencies including the U.S. side, in order to gain understanding of the union,” he said.

However, he hopes the government officials will work on the issue earnestly and closely, as it affects various aspects of U.S.-Japan relations.

“It is also necessary for the U.S. side to voice their assertion,” he said.

Teruya said the union is open to any negotiations before the strike. Union and ministry officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday, he said.

As of September, 25,530 Japanese were employed at 55 U.S. military installations throughout the country. About 16,600 of them, or about 65 percent, belong to Zenchuro, according to the union.


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