USFK, civilians go to arbitration in 'standby pay' case
June 6, 2005
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — A dispute in which nine Army Corps of Engineers civilians are seeking thousands of dollars in back wages because of a mandatory overnight curfew will be turned over to a federal arbitrator, the union representing the civilians said.
Jeffrey L. Meadows, president of Local 1363 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, will meet with U.S. military representatives at 10 a.m. Monday at the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul to work out details of the arbitration, he said.
According to Meadows, both sides agreed to ask the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to appoint an arbitrator who would come to South Korea, hear both arguments, and render a decision.
“What’s going on now is that the claim is going to be arbitrated by an independent judge, so it’s like going to court, so to speak,” Meadows said. “We’re getting together Monday to iron out the specifics of arbitration, hopefully.”
The two sides will seek agreement on a choice of arbitrator from a list of five that the agency will supply, and related details, Meadows said.
Gloria Stanley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Far East District, said Friday evening she couldn’t immediately locate management representatives in the dispute, and could therefore not provide confirmation or related details on the arbitration.
Meadows said employees are seeking four to five months of “standby pay” stemming from events that began last fall.
On Sept. 24, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte began requiring all USFK personnel and invited contractors to observe a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in response to a “specific threat” the State Department received against Americans in South Korea.
The curfew was amended in October to begin at midnight.
The mandatory compliance requirement for civilians was lifted March 1.
The union filed a grievance in March demanding the back wages on grounds the curfew had effectively confined them to their quarters and placed them in a standby status. That, they contended, entitled them to standby pay under terms of their contract with the U.S. military.
In April, the U.S. military denied their claim, saying it was not filed within the proper time limit, and that the grievance failed to show in detail how the nine workers were “restricted to living quarters, had activities substantially limited, and were required to remain in a state of readiness.”
Meadows on Thursday said the union has yet to compute precise figures on how much back wages each employee will seek. But preliminary estimates work out to about $16,000 or more per employee, he said.
Although the union is currently representing only the nine employees, the U.S. military could eventually face claims by other government civilians who were affected by the curfew.