Korean union mobilizes members to impeach S. Korea’s president

A massive social movement in South Korea is calling for the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has played an important role in this movement leading and helping to lead a number of actions designed to increase pressure for President Park’s impeachment.

The KCTU and allied civic and social movement groups on December 5 staged a sit-in at the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the national trade association of manufacturers.

KCTU accuses the federation of paying bribes to President Park and for lobbying the Park regime to take actions that violate worker rights and diminish union power.

On November 30, KCTU, the second largest labor federation in Korea, also conducted a general strike involving 220,000 of its members, university students, and small business owners. The strikers demanded that the National Assembly impeach Park.

On Saturday, December 3, more than 2 million people in South Korea took part in 60 demonstrations across the nation calling for Park’s impeachment. KCTU played a role in helping to organize these massive demonstrations.

The popular calls for Park’s impeachment have come as more details about Park’s alleged corruption have come to light.

Those corruption charges center around Park’s relationship to a close confidant of Park’s named Choi Soon-sil, who leads two foundations that have reportedly received $70 million in donations from businesses and individuals seeking favors from Park.

During the November 30 general strike, workers marched through the city center of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, stopping along the way at the headquarters of Samsung and Hyundai to call out the conglomerates for making bribes disguised as contributions to the foundations headed by Choi.

During its December 5 sit-in at the FKI office, KCTU charged the federation with encouraging its members to make contributions to the foundations.

“(FKI) . . . offered bribes and lobbied the government for union busting, deregulation, and regressive labor reform. Samsung, Hyundai, POSCO, Lotte and LG should be charged for bribery and the FKI should be dissolved!” said KCTU in a post about the sit-in on its Facebook page.

Last year, Park announced that her government would try to change labor laws to make them more employer friendly.

Her attempts to change the laws bogged down in the National Assembly, but in December 2015, her government issued guidelines making it easier for companies to fire workers.

At the time that the guidelines were issued, Lee Jeong-sik, president of South Korea’s largest labor federation, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, told the Financial Times that, “President Park Geun-hye is very friendly with (the country’s leading corporations). I see her government trying to give favors to Samsung and Hyundai.”

President Park has also cracked down on unions. Her government has imprisoned more than 20 labor leaders and activists including the Han Sang-gyun, president of the KCTU.

Han received a five-year prison sentence for leading demonstrations for workers rights, farmers rights, LGBT rights, and a demonstration to demand justice for victims of the Sewol Ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people, most of whom were secondary school students.

Han and other demonstrators claimed that the government was partially to blame for the disaster because of its lax enforcement of safety regulations.

The demonstrations for which Han was arrested have been dwarfed by the most recent demonstrations that have called for Park’s impeachment.

On December 3, 2.3 million people–1.7 million in Seoul alone–took part in nationwide demonstrations calling for Park’s ouster. According the conservative Korea Herald, the December 3 action was the largest mass demonstration in country’s history.

At one time it looked as if Park might ride out the growing scandal, but the mass demonstrations that KCTU has helped organize have made it impossible for her to do so.

Recently, she offered to resign but said that her resignation wouldn’t become final until April.

When that offer did little to appease the public, she said that she would leave her fate up to the National Assembly.

Her supporters in the Assembly have tried to stall for time before impeachment proceedings could begin, but the massive turnout for the December 3 demonstrations made these stalling tactics untenable, and the impeachment proceedings have been set to begin on Friday, December 9.

As the impeachment process approaches, KCTU and other opponents of Park have been holding around-the-clock vigils in front of the National Assembly.

Civic groups and social movements demanding the resignation of Park also have stepped up their activities. Among other things, activists are calling on people to surround the National Assembly on December 8 and stay there until the impeachment vote is taken.

“Lawmakers don’t impeach the president. All they do is vote on the impeachment. The president is impeached not by lawmakers but by the people,” said Han In-seop, a professor at Seoul National University, on his Facebook page.

“Shady” closing costs truckers their jobs

Out-of-work truck drivers on December 1 rallied a Minnesota freight company accusing the company of stealing their jobs.

Until November 20, the drivers, members of Teamsters Local 120, worked for Lakeville Motor Express, a regional less-than-load freight company based in Roseville, a community in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

When they showed up for work on November 20, they saw a note posted by the owner on a fence near the entrance.

It read, “Lakeville Motor Express, Inc. Effective November 19, 2016 has permanently ceased operations.”

Later, they were also notified that they wouldn’t receive their last paycheck.

But Local 120 officials said that the company hasn’t really gone out of business; it just changed its name to Finish Line Express and moved to a nearby Maple Grove.

“It didn’t close, the freight is still there, the trucks are still there, the customers are still there. All they did was change the logo on the trucks,” said Virgil Christoffersen, Local 120 business agent. “Now they are saying they won’t even pay the employees for work they had already done or benefits that have been accrued and are owed.”

The Teamsters called the closure of Lakeville, “shady” and vowed to fight it.

Earlier in the year, Lakeville’s owner began transferring trucks and equipment to Finish Line Express. Some former Lakeville customers were switched to Finish Line as well.

Finish Line is owned by a former Lakeville employee with ties to Roger Wilsey, the CEO of LME, Inc., which owns Lakeville.

Finish Line is a non-union company.

According to Local 120, work at Lakeville was transferred to Finish Line to avoid paying union wages.

“They are doing this to undercut labor costs and drive down the entire market,” said Bill Wederbrand, secretary-treasurer of Local 120. “Every step of this has been done in an underhanded and dishonest fashion. The icing on the cake, that we should all be outraged by, is that there are over 100 families who, without notice, are all of sudden wondering how they will get by, how they will put food on the table at Thanksgiving, and presents under the tree at Christmas.”

Workers had no advanced warning that their holidays were about to be ruined.

Minnesota state law requires employers to give their employees 60-days of advanced notice if they plan to shut down their business. Lakeville took advantage of a loophole in the law, which allows employers with fewer than 100 workers to avoid giving advanced notice.

During the months leading up to the closure, some Lakeville non-union clerical and administrative staff went to work for Finish Line whittling down Lakeville’s staff to just under 100.

Perhaps the harshest thing about the closure is that Lakeville management said that the company had run out of money and couldn’t pay wages that had already been earned. Lakeville also stop paying for benefits such as health insurance.

Lakeville workers protested the shady business closure with a rally on December 1 at Finish Line. Workers carried signs charging LME and Finish Line with wage theft.

At the rally, Teamster officials said that they would seek justice for the Lakeville workers.

“Every day we’re going up and down this street, trying to find (customers of Lakeville and Finish Line) and divert them in a different direction,” said Tom Erickson, Local 120’s president at the rally. “That’s the only way we’re going to win this thing.””

The union is asking people to support Lakeville workers by contacting Lakeville’s customers through  Facebook and asking them, “Will (the customer’s name) support the type of business practices used to hurt 95 families of Lakeville Motor Express by continuing to utilize their sister companies LME and FLE (Finish Line Express).”

Some of Lakeville’s more prominent customers include John Deere, 3M, and Land O’ Lakes food and beverage company.

Local 120 also plans to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board and may take legal action.

“If what they did isn’t illegal, it should be–period,” said Erickson. “This is not right, not moral, and not Minnesotan. These executives should be ashamed of themselves.”

“We won’t back down”; the fight for $15 gets bolder

A wave of militant action rolled across the US on November 29 disrupting business as usual as low-wage workers told the nation that they weren’t backing down from their fight to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Strikes, acts of civil disobedience, and other protests involving thousands of people took place in 340 cities.

Despite the US government’s turn to the extreme right in the November election, supporters of the November 29 day of action said that they would escalate their fight to raise wages and stop looming attacks on the working class.

“We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender,” said Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis. “And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers and we win justice for all people in our nation.”

In Chicago, 500 workers at O’Hare Airport walked off the job in an unfair labor strike.

The strikers carried signs reading, “Fight for $15 and a union.”

The strikers included janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and other low-wage service providers.

The workers said that they were striking to protest intimidation by their employers who are trying to stop the workers from organizing a union.

After the walkout, workers gathered at an O’Hare terminal to rally for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to join a union.

Low-wage workers at 20 other US airports joined in protests to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage.

In New York, demonstrators sat down in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway shutting down traffic during the morning rush hour.

“We are here today because we face retaliation in our stores for the gains we’ve made in our pay and our continued effort to fight for better jobs,” said Jorel Ware, a McDonald’s worker to the New York Daily News. “I’m ready to face arrest and put my own safety and freedom on the line.”

“We are here to send a message loud and clear to our employers that we won’t back down,” said Jahnay Tucker, a Chipotle worker. “We are going to keep fighting for the good jobs we deserve.”

According to the Daily News, more than two dozen protesters were arrested for their part in the sit-in.

The protesters were joined by Uber and Lyft drivers, who have been fighting for union recognition.

In Memphis, about 100 people sat in at a McDonald’s near downtown and then began to march toward Interstate 240.

Thinking that the protesters were going to block traffic on the freeway, Memphis police blocked their march.

A stand off ensued that lasted several hours. “It’s a free street,” shouted the protesters to the police blocking their way.

In Minneapolis, 250 people gathered in the street in front of a McDonald’s at Nicollet Avenue and 24th Street where they blocked traffic. Twenty-one people were arrested.

Protesters then moved to a Kohl’s store in the Eden Prairie shopping center.

Janitors who work for Kohl’s have been organizing to fight for a Responsible Contractors Policy that would require janitorial service contractors providing services at Kohl’s to pay a decent wage, provide benefits, and allow workers to join a union of their choice.

“We’ve had a lot of support; it’s crazy,” said Stephanie Gasca of Centro Trabajadores Unido en Lucha (Workers Center United in Struggle), which has helped the janitors organize, to the Star Tribune. “We’ve been involved in this movement for almost two years. It’s time to pass $15 an hour now.”

In Las Vegas, Fight for $15 supporters marched through the Las Vegas Strip in the evening to a McDonald’s where six people sat down to block traffic and were arrested.

“We’re here to say, no matter who is in the White House, we’re going to keep fighting for $15,” said Laura Martin of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which helped organize the action.

These are just a few of the actions that took place all over the US. Hundreds of people were arrested and thousands participated in street actions and strikes.

Those who took part in what organizers called “A Day of Disruption,” pointed to the gains that the Fight for $15 has accomplished in four years.

Since the first fast food workers walked off the job in 2012 to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage, 22 million minimum wage workers have gotten or will get a pay increase because the states or cities where they live enacted minimum wage increases.

In New York and California alone, 10 million workers will be lifted out of poverty because the two states increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In November, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington voted to increase their states minimum wage. In Washington, the minimum wage will increase to $13.50 by 2020, and in the other states, it will increase to $12 an hour by 2020.

Organizers of the November 29 actions said that their fight will continue until all who work are paid a living wage that keeps them out of poverty.

IT workers take a stand against “outrageous outsourcing”

Testifying before the University of California Board of Regents, information technology workers called on the board to stop outsourcing of their work.

The University of California system in September awarded a $50 million contract to HCL, an IT staffing company in India, to take over the management of IT infrastructure and networking at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

As a result, 78 career and contract IT workers at UCSF will lose their jobs in February.

At the November regents meeting, IT workers like Hank Nguyen told the regents and UC President Janet Napolitano how the board’s decision will affect workers and their families.

“The day I received a bill for my daughter’s education at UC is the same day I received a layoff notice from UC,” said Nguyen. “My daughter asked me, ‘Dad, should I continue my engineering education?’ I didn’t know how to respond to my daughter or any other kids who are pursuing STEM degrees.”

Jelger Kalmijn, president of the laid off workers union, University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119, also testified. He called the board’s outsourcing decision “outrageous.”

If companies and public institutions continue to outsource our jobs, “what future do we have left,” said Kalmijn. “People in the US are sick and tired of losing our decent paying jobs. UC should not be taking leadership on sending those jobs that are our future out of here.”

Kalmijn said that UC shouldn’t be participating in “a race-to-the-bottom, where working people are fighting each other all across the world to see who can be exploited the most.”

“I urge you to take leadership and stop this outrageous outsourcing,” said Kalmijn. “It’s going to save you a couple of pennies for massive political cost, for massive financial costs in the long run, and for massive security costs. It makes absolutely no sense.”

UCSF estimates that the outsourcing contract with HCL will save the university $30 million over five years primarily due to lower labor costs.

The workers facing layoffs and their union have received support from elected officials such as US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi wrote a letter to Napolitano urging her to “reconsider” the decision to outsource jobs at UCSF.

Pelosi noted that H-IB visas will be issued to workers hired by HCL to replace the UCSF workers, so that they can be trained for their new jobs by those being laid off.

Pelosi goes on to say that such a use of H-1B visa program contradicts the intended purpose of the law.

“The H-1B program was designed to enhance American competitiveness by supplementing the American workforce with highly skilled foreign nationals in the event of critical shortages in the US labor market,” wrote Pelosi. “Congress did not design the program to replace–to outsource–American jobs, or lower domestic wages.

US Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa also wrote Napolitano criticizing the decision to “replace American workers with lower-cost foreign workers abroad.”

The contract with HCL could have implications beyond its immediate impact on the 78 IT workers at UCSF.

UC’s outsourcing contract with HCL allows HCL to be the IT outsourcing contractor for ten campuses in the university system.

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) has been identified as one of the campuses where HCL workers could replace UCSD workers.

Computerworld reports if that happens, there could be a potential conflict of interest.

According to Computerworld, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla is a member of the HCL board of directors.

In concluding his remarks, Kalmijn said that UC’s decision to abuse the H-1B visa program to outsource jobs puts it in league with private corporations that have attempted to do the same thing.

“UC follows in the footsteps of many private companies that have been abusing the H-1B visa program, including Southern California Edison, Abbott Laboratories, Eversource Energy, Walt Disney World, Toys “R” Us and New York Life,” said Kalmijn. “But as a public institution, the University of California’s action is even more of a slap in the face to the tech workers, their families and the UC community. We will continue to fight back against this shameful attack on good, family-supporting jobs.”

Judge orders striking pilots back to work

A federal judge on the day before Thanksgiving ordered striking airline cargo pilots to return to work.

The pilots, members of the Airline Pilots Professional Association, Teamsters Local 1224, walked off the job on November 22 at ABX Air, a cargo airline whose main customers are DHL Worldwide Express and Amazon.

The workers voted almost unanimously in May to authorize a strike against ABX.

The pilots went on strike to protest under staffing at the company and the company’s violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

The collective bargaining agreement requires pilots to be on call during off days to make so-called emergency flights when no on-duty crews are available.

But the union says that under staffing has resulted in overuse of emergency flights.

“To date in 2016, pilots have been scheduled to cover over 8000 emergency assignment days on days they should have had off,” said the union in its media release about the strike.

As a result of under staffing at ABX, pilots (are) continuously being forced to work ’emergency’ assignments on their off time,” states the release.

Taking away pilots’ off time, according to the union, is a violation of collective bargaining agreement that allows pilots to receive compensatory days off after they have worked six emergency flights in a year.

Cincinnati.com reports that as of July, 59 percent of ABX pilots and 48 percent of its first officers had worked at least six emergency flights.

The lack of off time is taking its toll on ABX’s pilots and their families.

“I take my job as a pilot seriously, and I’m committed to serving ABX Air and our customers, but I’m also a father of a little girl and help care for my aging mother,” said Randy Riesbeck, a long-time ABX pilot. “On numerous occasions I have had to miss my daughter’s school events and previously scheduled medical appointments for my mother, all because ABX Air emergency assigned me to work on a day I had scheduled off. How am I supposed to explain to my daughter why I wasn’t there to see her grow up? How do I explain to my mother that I can’t take her to the doctor?”

Tim Jewell, a pilot who has worked for ABX for 20 years, said that the company’s under staffing and over reliance on emergency flights “stretches us so thin that our bodies and families are suffering.”

“ABX Air needs to restore the status quo and hire enough pilots so we can get the job done,” continued Jewell.

ABX’s under staffing problems go back to the Great Recession when the business slump caused layoffs at the company.

The laid off pilots were supposed to be called back to work when business picked up.

Eventually business did pick up and in fact began to boom after ABX reached a deal to fly cargo for Amazon.

ABX now makes 35 flights a day for Amazon.

But instead of calling back the furloughed pilots, ABX “extinguished” their recall rights and began trying to hire new lower paid pilots to take their place, said the union.

But the low pay made it difficult to attract new pilots leaving the company short staffed.

The strike threatened to disrupt Christmas season deliveries especially those that come from Amazon, and ABX went to court seeking a temporary restraining order to force pilots back to work.

The union argued that ABX’s refusal to allow pilots to take compensatory leave they earned was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, which made the strike legal under the Railway Labor Act, which regulates labor relations in the rail and airline industries.

But District Judge Timothy Black disagreed. He said that the disagreement between the union and company was a “minor dispute” over the contract’s interpretation that should be resolved by arbitration and ordered an immediate end to the strike.

The fact that ABX carried cargo for Amazon also entered into Black’s decision.

“Imagine Christmas without Amazon!” wrote Black in his decision.

Before the strike, the union had been trying to address under staffing and other issues through collective bargaining, but those negotiations have been going on for two years with no end in sight.

The union said that the pilots would return to work but would continue to fight for adequate staffing and an end to the company’s contract violations.

Latino workers fight for a union after being locked out

A group of Latino workers in a suburb south of Chicago continue to fight for their right to join a union even though their employer has locked them out.

Their struggle began in October when 70 workers at National Pasteurized Egg (NPE)/Michael Foods of Lansing, Illinois walked off the job to protest sexual harassment, unequal pay, poor safety conditions, and work shifts that can last as long as 27 hours.

After the walkout, the workers signed union authorization cards expressing an interest in joining United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881.

They returned to work, but two weeks later were locked out by the company, which hired workers through a temporary agency to replace them.

NPE/Michael Foods operates a regional egg processing plant that before the lockout employed about 140 workers at its facility in Lansing.

NPE became NPE/Michael Foods in September, when NPE was  acquired by Post Holding, the third largest cereal company in the US that makes a number of familiar brand name cereals such as Cocoa Pebbles, Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran, and Grape Nuts.

Post has been expanding and in 2014 purchased Michael Foods, a producer of egg and other food products.

In September 2016, Post purchased NPE, which produces cage-free and hard-boiled eggs at three plants including the one in Lansing, and combined it with Michael Foods.

Post reported net sales of $5 billion during its fiscal year 2016 and an operating profit of $545.7 million.

The walkout by NPE/Michael Foods workers in Lansing began October 17 about six weeks after Post announced its acquisition of NPE.

The workers who walked off the job returned to work on October 22, but on November 7 when they showed up for work, the company informed them that they were being replaced by temporary workers hired through NEXUS, a temporary staffing agency operating out of Hammond, Indiana.

The company also hired a security company called AFIMAC, which assists companies manage strikes and high risk employee terminations.

Despite being locked out, the workers continued to fight for the right to join a union.

They filed for a union representation election.

On November 17, 100 locked out workers rallied at the NPE/Michael Foods processing facility in Lansing.

The rally took place on the day before the union election was to be held.

The election took place, but the results are pending because the company challenged 107 of the votes.

Jorge Mujica of Arise Chicago, a faith labor worker center that has been supporting the NPE/ Michael Foods workers, said that the unofficial vote count was 115 yes votes for the union and 23 no votes.

Local 881 has filed charges against NPE/Michael Foods for retaliating against the workers and interfering with their right to join a union to improve their working conditions.

Fight for $15 victory in Minnesota; airport workers choose union

Workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on November 14 became union members.

They joined SEIU Local 26 after a long organizing campaign that grew out of the national Fight for $15 Movement.

“This victory did not come easy, but it was worth the effort,” said Abdi Ali, a cart driver who has worked at the airport for eight years.”We are always there for each other, and now we will finally have a real voice at the airport.”

Ali and the 600 other new union members work for AirServ, a Delta Airline subcontractor. They are baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, cart drivers, wheel chair agents, and other service providers whose work is essential but whose wages are low.

Their organizing campaign began in 2013 at about the same time that low-wage workers across the US were striking and demonstrating for an increase in the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Airport workers in Minnesota took part in the early Fight for $15 street demonstrations. After the street actions were over, they took the fight for $15 to their jobs and began organizing a union.

AirServ workers and other low-wage Minneapolis-St. Paul airport workers demonstrated, picketed, petitioned, and testified for higher wages and better working conditions.

Their organized efforts won paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for all airport workers. The new airport minimum wage was $10 an hour, $1 above the state’s minimum wage.

Those victories showed the power of collective action, but they fell short of the workers’ ultimate goal–a living wage and an organized voice on the job that could give them a say in determining the terms and conditions of their work.

So, the AirServ workers pressed ahead for union recognition. In June, the workers voted to strike unless the company recognized their union and took steps to improve working conditions.

The strike was averted when AirServ agreed to establish a process that would allow workers to decide whether they wanted to join a union without interference from the company.

But details about how workers would make this decision were left unclear.

For two months, AirServ and negotiators from Local 26 negotiated the details of a fair process.

In August, AirServ workers grew impatient and authorized another strike unless an agreement on a fair process could be reached.

Finally the union and the company agreed that the company would recognize the union if a majority of workers signed union representation cards and a neutral third-party verified the signatures.

In November after the signed authorization cards were verified, the company announced that it would recognize the union.

“I couldn’t be happier than I am today,” said Ali after hearing the news.

The union victory was especially important to Misrak Anbesse, an airplane cleaner and like most of the other AirServe workers is an immigrant from East Africa.

“Winning our union was a big step for us—and for everyone working to raise up people of color and immigrants in Minnesota,” said Anbesse.

“We’re all working together for a better life for our families,” she added.  “I know the community here in Minnesota will keep supporting us as we bargain a good contract and work to raise wages at the airport even more.”