South Korean workers threaten strike at US bases
By JON RABIROFF AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 7, 2012
SEOUL — The union representing local workers at U.S. military bases in South Korea is threatening to go on strike if the U.S. military goes ahead with plans to reduce some full-time employees to part time.
U.S. Forces Korea recently notified about 200 South Koreans of the cutback plans, according to Yu Ki Hyon, a spokesman for the USFK Korean Employees Union. The move — combined with the layoffs of more than 500 Koreans over the last year and a pay freeze for the remaining 12,000 full- and part-timers — has the union considering a strike, he said.
“We’re frustrated,” Yu said. “We want raises and we don’t want any more layoffs. We will strike until our demands are accepted.
“South Korean employees are involved in almost every field of work on (U.S. military) bases … so most of those bases won’t be working right if we start our strike,” he warned.
USFK spokeswoman Jennifer Buschick said some base operations could be adversely impacted if Korean workers walk off the job.
“The KEU has the right of collective action, including a strike, except in cases where the (Status of Forces Agreement) Joint Committee determines such action seriously hampers the military operations of U.S. Armed Forces for the joint defense of (South Korea),” she said.
The U.S. Army announced last year that it was moving forward with plans to reduce the size of its civilian employee workforce around the world by approximately 8,700 positions by the end of this month due to cuts in federal funding. The Army said the cuts would impact 70 locations across eight commands and agencies, with 90 percent of the reductions coming from Installation Management Command, Army Material Command and Training and Doctrine Command.
Yu said more than 500 union members were laid off as part of that effort, leaving about 9,000 Koreans employed full time, making an average of roughly $30,000 per year, and 3,000 employed part time.
Buschick said it is not clear exactly how many Korean employees will be ultimately impacted at U.S. bases across the peninsula.
“To meet current fiscal year budget requirements, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command- Pacific; Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities are downsizing operations,” she said.
However, Buschick added that effective Dec. 1, “About 60 positions will be converted to part time … (and) some employees in eliminated positions may be placed in lower-graded positions as a result of the workforce restructuring.” She said the wage freeze for 2011 and 2012 was at the order of President Obama for all federal employees, in the U.S. and abroad.
“This policy was applied fairly and consistently, including for Korean employees on our bases,” she said.
Yu said it is not fair that KEU workers’s salaries have been frozen since December, while the pay of Korean civil servants has gone up about 8 percent over the same period.
“We are not Americans,” he said. “We’re South Koreans.”
Mediation efforts are under way between the U.S. government and the Korean Employees Union to resolve the dispute, Buschick said.
Union members have protested outside U.S. military bases in recent weeks, Yu said, and further protests are planned for later this month.