Lessons Learned From a 434-Day Strike

      September 01, 2008 10:40

      After a strike that dragged on for 434 days at New Core Department Store, management decided to rehire 36 temporary workers on a contract basis, while unionized workers retracted their demand for the company not to change the employment status of cashiers to an outsourcing company. Considering that the key demand of unionized workers was that management does not outsource staff, labor has lost out in this epic dispute. Unionized workers at New Core began striking on June 23, 2007 after the store posted cashiers hired on a temporary basis to the outsourcing company. Most of the 350 unionized workers who rejected management's decision to change their status have quit the company.

      The agreement was achievable even in the early stages of the strike. On July 17 last year, labor and management almost agreed to halt outsourcing workers and rehire the temporary workers who had been posted to the outsourcing companies once their contracts expire. Temporary workers at Homever, an affiliate of E-Land, the parent company of New Core, had also been striking. Management there decided to grant full-time employment status to temporary workers who had been there for at least 18 months. But the strike dragged on for another 13 months after unionized workers suddenly made new demands, such as dropping all civil and criminal lawsuits against striking workers. Unionized workers at Homever are still striking, centered around their leaders. E-Land Group is in talks to sell Homever to Samsung Tesco, and Samsung Tesco is performing due diligence on Homever right now.

      The circumstances surrounding labor strife involving temporary workers are difficult, and no one side can make all of the concessions. For management, giving all workers full-time status would undermine the company's financial health, while temporary workers naturally want to be hired on a more secure basis. In the case of E-Land Group, which specializes in product distribution, there are so many cashiers hired as temporary workers that it was impossible to resolve the problem in one try.

      But seeking to support New Core and Homever workers, on July 8, 2007, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions mobilized 4,000 of its members to hold sit-ins at 12 outlets operated by the two department stores. Their aim was to drive E-Land sales to a grinding halt. Unionized workers at New Core vowed to strike until the end, shackling themselves to the store if needed. This type of "support" from the KCTU aims to drive the company to bankruptcy and leave the workers to shoulder the damage. The unionized workers probably didn't see this coming, even though they had seen this behavior from the KCTU many times before. In light of this, management should take a flexible approach to the lawsuits filed against labor. As for the Homever strike, it's about time that stopped.

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