USFK, Korean workers union reach deal on labor dispute
June 19, 2005
SEOUL — U.S. Forces Korea and Korean Employees Union officials Friday reached a labor agreement in a dispute that had touched off worker protests in recent weeks, according to American and South Korean sources.
The union had filed a grievance with the South Korean Labor Relations Committee on May 18 after USFK announced it might cut as many as 1,000 jobs. Senior U.S. military leaders said the proposed cuts were necessary because the South Korean government reduced the amount it pays to help host U.S. troops on the peninsula by 8.9 percent, to 680.4 billion won (about $680 million) annually.
USFK said Friday evening that the command has agreed to:
Refer the pay cap issue — in which the union sought pay increases — to the U.S. Department of Defense Wage Setting Authority through appropriate channels;Reduce the number of separations to a minimum, with full consideration of union input;Discuss severance payments in the labor subcommittee of the Status of Forces Agreement Joint Committee as one possible measure to mitigate effects of the reduction on individual employees.Kang In-shik, union president, confirmed the agreement was made during a meeting on Friday. Kang provided additional details, saying that USFK agreed to:
Institute a hiring freeze and fill positions with internal candidates.Minimize temporary duty and overtime expenses.Look at replacing South Korean contract employees with internal employees.A USFK spokesman could not confirm those details Friday.
Kang said he wasn’t completely satisfied with the agreement and had hoped to save all 1,000 positions. On May 20, 112 South Korean workers from Osan and Kunsan air bases were the first to lose their jobs, officials said.
Kang said the important thing now is to ensure USFK sticks to the agreement.
The proposed job cuts stirred an emotional response from the Korean employees. About 90 percent of the 13,000-member union voted to hold two major protests.
In South Korea, companies are forbidden by law to lay off workers as a means to save money, Brednon Carr, an American-trained lawyer based in Seoul, has told Stripes.
Carr, who represents foreign companies that deal with union issues, said from a Korean’s perspective, USFK’s cuts are a rarity that target individual workers’ pride and competency.
USFK said in a statement Friday that it “values the contributions of our Korean work force, and we are happy with this successful mediation.”