S. Korean workers protest potential layoffs
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Unionized local employees on U.S. bases in South Korea are rallying against what they fear could be massive layoffs resulting from recently announced troop-reduction and base-realignment plans.
One group of workers rallied Friday in Paju, near American bases along the Demilitarized Zone; a second, larger protest is scheduled for June 24 at the Korean War Memorial, steps from the American headquarters at Yongsan Garrison.
The workers union says it fears as many as 40 percent of them will lose their jobs when officials implement a plan to reduce the U.S. force in South Korea by one-third.
U.S. Force Korea officials said a small number of layoffs announced this week are not related to the reduction or relocation plans.
“We’ve been working for the nation as ‘private ambassadors’ during the past 50 years, and now we’re being thrown away like worn-out shoes,” Mun Yeong-bae, head of the Paju branch of the Korean Employees Union of U.S. Forces Korea, told Yonhap news agency this week.
“We’ll protest, as it is an issue of our livelihood.”
In recent days, Mun said, at least 41 union members have received layoff notices from USFK.
While he and other employees attribute the layoffs to base closures, USFK said in a statement to Korean media outlets the layoffs had nothing to do with the proposed relocations or reductions.
The job actions were the combined result of a previous agreement to hand over many of the Joint Security Area missions to South Korean troops and a reorganization of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs at those bases, USFK said.
About 100 South Korean employees will be affected by the Oct. 31 mission handovers at the JSA, according to USFK, with some of those employees being reassigned and some laid off. The MWR job actions were driven by economic decisions.
“Declining business revenues over the past year is the reason for the position reductions. MWR activities are required by U.S. law to be self-supporting,” read the USFK statement, according to Korean media outlets.
U.S. officials will “work closely with the [Korean Employees Union] by providing information of the loss of jobs as far in advance as possible to minimize disruption,” the statement said.
USFK officials did not respond to a Friday request by Stripes for the statement.
Union officials say there are 18,000 South Koreans working on U.S. bases throughout South Korea. The South Korean government pays 70 percent of their salaries, under agreements with the U.S. government.
Union officials say their other major complaint is that the South Korean government does not have plans for job training or support if troop reductions cause widespread layoffs.
“We called on our government to take appropriate measures to protect us, but there was no answer,” Kang In-shik, a union leader, told another Korean newspaper.
“Many of us have served as civilian ambassadors in the Korea-U.S. relationship and earned hard currency for our country over the past decades. Now no one cares about us, and we are falling victim to the reduction and re-stationing of U.S. troops here.”