S. Korean base workers to rally in protest of proposed job cuts
June 2, 2005
SEOUL — More than 6,000 South Koreans who work on U.S. military bases are expected to rally in Seoul on Friday to protest proposed job cuts, union officials said Monday.
Almost 90 percent of the 13,000-member Korean Employees Union members voted in early May to protest a U.S. Forces Korea announcement that it would cut up to 1,000 jobs because South Korea reduced the money it pays the United States to base U.S. troops on the peninsula.
In late April, the two nations signed a two-year agreement that requires the South Koreans to pay 680.4 billion won (about $680 million) annually, an 8.9 percent drop from last year’s 746.9 billion won payment.
On May 20, the U.S. Air Force announced the first cuts: 112 workers from Osan and Kunsan air bases.
Air Force officials also instituted a hiring freeze and minimized overtime and premium pay for all South Korean employees.
Most of those who lost their jobs — 75 at Osan and 37 at Kunsan — worked in building maintenance, road repair and plumbing and electrical positions, U.S. and South Korean officials said.
Air Force officials said many of the jobs were seasonal “overhire” positions related to specific tasks but union officials said some of the employees had worked on base for more than 10 years.
Under terms of the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, South Korea shares the cost of keeping U.S. forces on the peninsula. The United States has called on South Korea to boost its contribution to make it more in keeping with what other nations pay toward stationing of U.S. troops within their borders. Japan, for example, pays about 75 percent of U.S. military costs there.
But South Korean officials have said they wanted their costs frozen or cut this year. They cited Pentagon plans to gradually cut U.S. troop strength in South Korea by a third. And South Korea has said it should pay less because of other contributions it makes, including the 3,600 troops it has deployed in Iraq.
About 3,000 employees also gathered outside bases across South Korea on May 12, the first of the two scheduled protests.
Union officials have said they’ve hired lawyers and will submit paperwork to the South Korean government seeking to strike.
USFK officials had no comment as of early Monday afternoon.
Hwang Hae-rym and Franklin Fisher contributed to this report