‘Sudden strike’ leaves Yongsan taxi customers all wet
July 17, 2006
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Soldiers on Yongsan Garrison said they felt as if they were left standing in the rain, literally, when on-base taxi drivers went on strike early Saturday morning with no warning to the community.
“I’m extremely [ticked] off about it,” Pvt. Nicole Nicosia said. “At least they could have given a little warning.”
Stars and Stripes learned late Friday night that Worldcup Arirang Tourism Company Ltd. taxi drivers and dispatchers for Area I had gone on strike earlier that evening and that Area II employees would follow suit at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Many Yongsan residents stood in vain at the taxi stops Saturday until the news began to travel by word-of-mouth. By late afternoon, signs had been posted at the major taxi stops, including one outside the Army and Air Forces Exchange Service store.
“We’re so sorry for your inconvenience by drivers’ sudden strike,” it reads. “We will do our best to shorten it.”
That wasn’t much consolation for Nicosia, who had traveled to Yongsan from the Daegu area so she could have a surgical procedure completed at the hospital on Friday. Early Saturday, she was supposed to take a taxi back to the 121st General Hospital for a follow-up appointment. Instead, she said, she was forced to hike halfway across the post through the rain.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “We use them every … day.”
A dozen of the company’s black cabs sat empty in Yongsan Garrison’s commissary parking lot Saturday, the first day of a three-day holiday weekend in South Korea. Attempts to reach company officials were unsuccessful.
But a driver and a union official who talked to Stripes on Friday night said they’re striking because their bosses won’t give them a pay raise. Arirang is contracted through AAFES to provide the only authorized on-base taxi service in areas I and II. No off-base taxis are allowed on U.S. Forces Korea installations.
The driver, Bae Sam-jin, said employees only make about $400 per month, plus about $170 in overtime. For each dollar drivers make in fares over a quota of $87 per shift, they keep half. Bae said drivers average about $115 in fares daily, which means they take home an extra $14 a day. The drivers also make tips.
After learning how the drivers are paid, Spc. Adalberto Echevarria said he didn’t think the drivers should strike.
“I think they’re getting paid pretty good,” he said.
But Sgt. Josh Osterkamp disagreed, saying, “It’s probably not good that they’re getting paid so little,” he said. Because they work for a company contracting with AAFES, he said, they should earn at least the standard U.S. minimum wage ($5.15 per hour or $206 per 40-hour week).
But he didn’t appreciate the lack of notice.
“They definitely made it very inconvenient to get around,” he said.
Pfc. Amanda McArthur offered a one-sentence response that seemed to sum it up for most of the people who were affected Saturday.
“It’s raining, so it’s very annoying,” she said.