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SEOUL — Major protests and a full strike are what the Korean Employees Union president will recommend to his union after meeting with senior U.S. Forces Korea officials at Yongsan Garrison on Monday.

Kang In-shik said he met with USFK Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell and other senior U.S. officers to discuss the military’s proposal to lay off 1,000 South Korean workers.

Campbell announced the possible layoffs during a news conference in early April. The announcement came 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 Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, told JoongAng Daily in recent reports.

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.

Kang said he had hoped USFK would agree Monday to downsize USFK’s Korean workforce through attrition, rather than layoffs, helping avoid a possible strike.

But during more than two hours of negotiations, Kang said, U.S. leaders repeated their position that the cuts are unavoidable measures brought on by the Korean government failing to cover the costs of keeping U.S. installations in Korea.

A U.S. Forces Korea spokesman, contacted late Monday afternoon, stated via e-mail that “it would be inappropriate to discuss the details on the meeting.”

Kang said he provided suggestions to the Americans on how they could minimize damage to the Korean employees, including limiting overtime hours and temporary duty travel. He said USFK seemed open to the suggestions.

Kang said he understands that the funding shortfall might mean some workers would lose jobs but that cutting 1,000 employees is a “big ‘no-way’ for us, no matter what.”

The union will go to its 12,000 voting members beginning this week to see if they’ll vote for a strike, Kang said. He said he was confident they would support the walkout. The next step, he said, is to submit the paperwork to South Korea’s government, seeking permission to strike. He has told Stripes that process normally takes about 45 days.

Kang told Stripes in previous interviews that he also wants 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 told Stripes in interviews earlier this month. “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.”

He said major protests are to begin at every U.S. facility in South Korea beginning May 12.

Teri Weaver contributed to this report.


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