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SEOUL — The union leader representing South Korean workers at U.S. military bases throughout South Korea said Wednesday that he has asked U.S. and South Korean officials to consider downsizing the work force through attrition, rather than layoffs, to resolve a funding dispute.

But the union also is making preparations to strike if U.S. Forces Korea’s proposal to lay off 1,000 Korean workers cannot be avoided, said Kang In-shik, the union’s president. The union also may try to persuade its emergency services workers — such as those in health care or firefighting, normally excluded from strikes — to join the picket line.

“Certain types of occupations such as fire service, communication, hospital, electricity, water supply are not permitted to strike,” Kang said through a translator on Wednesday. “But in case we have no choice but to resort to a tough and drastic measure, we are (considering a) full-scale strike regardless of any conditions. Because this is a life-or- death matter to us.”

Kang said he is meeting on April 25 with Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, USFK’s chief of staff, who announced earlier this month the layoffs could happen because South Korea is paying too little to cover costs of U.S. military installations here.

Kang said he also met this week with South Korea’s minister of labor.

To strike, the union’s 12,000 voting members must approve the move. The union also must seek permission from South Korea’s government before mounting a walkout, Kang said.

The tensions have come as the United States and South Korea are trying to agree on how much that nation should pay toward the $1.2 billion cost of maintaining USFK. Last year, South Korea paid about $621 million. This year, it has proposed cutting that amount by $60 million, South Korea’s defense minister, Yoon Kwang-ung, told JoongAng Daily last week.

That “shortfall” is prompting USFK to consider tightening its belt, Campbell has said. In addition to the proposed layoffs, other changes could include canceling 20 percent of existing contracts with South Korean businesses and cutting spending on military equipment and services, the general has said.

Campbell also has stressed the cuts, if necessary, would not affect U.S. troop strength or jeopardize safety and security throughout the country.

Kang said he is waiting to see how his meeting with Campbell goes before taking the next step. If the meeting goes poorly, he said, the union likely will organize large protests and apply for permission from South Korea’s government to strike. That process typically takes 45 days, he said.


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