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GM Korea’s workers strike for first time ever

Sept 09,2019
GM Korea’s unionized workers are staging their first full-scale strike ever as negotiations with management have broken down.

Workers walked off their jobs in 1997 when the company was Daewoo Motors. General Motors acquired Daewoo Motors in 2002.

GM Korea’s union announced in a newsletter Friday that it will stop all 10,000 members from entering factories from Monday to Wednesday. GM Korea workers already held partial strikes last week at the company’s assembly plants in Incheon and Changwon, South Gyeongsang.

“The management has kicked away its base for future growth by declining to negotiate with us,” the newsletter said. “It made a wrong decision in considering its union as an enemy rather than a growth partner. The management is wholly responsible for this incident.”

Since starting discussions over wages on July 9, the union has demanded a 5.65 percent raise in basic salary, 250 percent of salary as a performance-based bonus and another bonus of 6.5 million won ($5,449) per worker. The workers also asked for improved welfare benefits, which were reduced last year.

GM Korea has refused to accept the union’s demands citing the company’s poor performance.

From 2014 to 2018, the Korean unit of the U.S. automaker recorded an accumulated deficit of more than 4 trillion won, with 859.4 billion won just last year.

The union has also demanded management provide a plan for new production at the factories in Bupyeong, Incheon, as it wants to ensure that General Motors is still committed to manufacturing cars in Korea.

GM Korea joined the Korea Automobile Importer & Distributors Association early last month. The move raised concerns that the automaker is intending to slowly give up its domestic manufacturing business and operate as a vehicle importer due to lackluster sales.

Between January and August this year, GM Korea’s sales fell 6.2 percent to 287,540 vehicles from the same period a year earlier.

GM Korea CEO Kaher Kazem denied the claims last week, saying the company is dedicated to both manufacturing vehicles on the domestic front and importing vehicles from the United States.

Yet the automaker said it does not have any plan to secure additional production volume or manufacture new cars in Korea.

As conflict between the union and management build, some have speculated that the union is launching a full-scale strike as its high-level executives are awaiting the election after the Chuseok holiday, which is when their terms expire.

The sources speculate that such high-level action is a means for the current union leaders to impress their fellow workers and gain competitive edge in the upcoming election.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]