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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The union that represents civilian U.S. Army workers in South Korea is planning this week to ask for thousands of dollars in back pay for the more than 700 hours its members have spent at home complying with U.S. Forces Korea’s curfew policy, according to the union’s president.

The union says its current contract with USFK and the 8th Army requires the government to pay the normal wage for hours spent on “stand-by duty” in response to military restrictions that require civilian workers to remain home in a state of readiness.

Since September, USFK leaders have ordered civilian workers to comply with the troops’ nightly curfew to ensure safety and readiness among all personnel — servicemembers, civilian workers and private contractors — who support the military mission here on the peninsula.

The expected request from Local 1363 of the National Federation of Federal Employees will ask for an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 for each civilian worker and will serve as a first step toward filing a formal grievance on the issue, the local’s president, Jeffrey Meadows, said Friday from his Army Corps of Engineers office at Humphreys.

“We respect the authority the Army has to impose the curfew on us,” Meadows said during a phone interview. “We believe that management should compensate us for it.”

USFK responded by issuing a brief statement on Friday, a training holiday for many servicemembers in South Korea.

“It would be inappropriate to provide any response to a media request for reaction to second- and third-hand reports on any topic,” Lt. Col. Deborah Bertrand, the deputy public affairs officer, said in a written statement.

Since Sept. 24, when the curfew was instated, the policy has drawn complaints and accusations from civilian workers who say the requirement interferes with their personal lives and exaggerates the nightly readiness needed to respond to a crisis.

USFK repeatedly has defended the curfew as a necessary tool to protect and prepare those who are a part of the U.S. military effort in South Korea. Part of that effort includes enforcing a 51-year-old armistice between North and South Korea, as well as responding to the more modern threat of terrorist acts, USFK spokespeople and commanders have said.

Two weeks ago, USFK commander Gen. Leon LaPorte issued a 12-page memo of talking points for military commanders filled with explanations about his authority, justification and responsibility for ordering the curfew. In it he argues that readiness is a key reason for the curfew.

“Readiness is paramount,” according to the memo, which came with directions from LaPorte for each commander to talk to troops and civilian workers about the curfew and other USFK policy shifts in the past year.

“The mission of USFK is to deter aggression against the [Republic of Korea] and, if necessary, fight and win decisively,” the memo states. “Therefore all USFK military personnel must be prepared to fight tonight. Civilians and contractors must be prepared to support military operations at any time. Readiness is improved when personnel are focused, can be easily located, and are mentally and physically prepared.”

The union points to these talking points in their argument for back pay.

“If he wants to maintain readiness, we deserve to be compensated,” Meadows said.

A portion of the union’s current contract states civilian workers should be considered on the job if “the employee is restricted to his or her living quarters or designated post of duty; or has his or her activities substantially limited; and is required to remain in a state of readiness to perform work.”

On Tuesday, a handful of union members plan to put their argument to paper, Meadows said.

The union will help about a dozen workers at Camp Humphreys prepare and submit letters to their local commanders asking for the back pay. The letters will include details from each worker about how many hours were spent at home in compliance with the curfew, he said.

Under advice from the union’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Meadows decided to start pressing the issue with a small group of workers in an informal, but written, request. If that is rejected or ignored, the union plans to start a formal grievance process with the same dozen workers, he said.

If that proves successful, the complaint could come to include all civilian workers on the peninsula, he added.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time,” he said.


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