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Legal battles, education sessions and firings – Inside the fight for unions at Samsung


When Jo Jang-hee, an eating place manager at a Samsung entertainment park, tried to set up a labor union in 2011, human assets managers collected him and some 60 colleagues into a basement seminar room. Showing images of Detroit’s foreclosed homes and rusted car plant life on a huge screen, the officers had a message to deliver: Unions have been in charge of the downfall of the U.S. Vehicle enterprise. “Everyone: Decide whether or not it’s miles better to have a union or now not,” certainly one of the officials stated, in step with a transcript provided via Jo, a 22-yr veteran at Samsung’s Everland theme park.

“Then managers provided to offer me something I want – higher pay, merchandising, you call it,” Jo stated. Jo says he becomes fired days after he went on to start a union in July that year. Samsung said his repeated violation of organization regulations turned into the motive for the layoff, in keeping with court files. But five years later, the Supreme Court dominated the sacking turned into retaliation in opposition to Jo’s union activities, and the enterprise reinstated him.

“The business enterprise has reputable the Supreme Court’s ruling that the layoff became excessive even though a few grounds of its disciplinary motion have been customary and the agency has finished measures which include reinstatement,” Samsung C&T, the unit that runs Everland, said in an announcement to Reuters. It denied Jo’s declare that he changed into presented higher pay or a promotion.


A hundred pages of courtroom files from Jo’s criminal conflict with Samsung reviewed by Reuters, and interviews with seven former and modern employees, offer a glimpse into how South Korea’s maximum powerful circle of the relatives-run conglomerate has for decades undermined employees’ efforts to organize labor. Samsung’s union approaches are now being investigated after prosecutors acquired company documents in April allegedly showing some other Samsung Electronics unit discriminated in opposition to subcontracted workers for joining a union.

Samsung Electronics, the flagship business enterprise of the sprawling organization, stated in a declaration for Reuters its restore unit turned into completely cooperating with the investigation. The company declined to comment further because the probe is nevertheless underway. The scrutiny is the modern-day setback for Samsung, lengthy respected for assisting catapult u. S . A. Into Asia’s fourth-largest economy, but which has also faced allegations of bribery and corruption in addition to its activities around unions.

Worker profiling

Amid criticisms about self-hobby and, on occasion, militant strategies, union participation charges in South Korea have halved for the Eighties to around 10 percent. That is the second one-lowest after Turkey amongst member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. At Samsung, the rate is a lot decrease. Unions say much less than 300 of Samsung’s 200,000 South Korean workers throughout its extra than 60 associates are unionized, compared with 74% of Hyundai Motor’s sixty-eight,000 people.

Some Samsung employees say there may be excessive danger in joining a union for the little obvious benefit. “My organization treats me simply pleasant, and I am no longer satisfied if there may be any benefit for taking the threat to enroll in a union,” said a Samsung Electronics engineer in his overdue 30s stated, inquiring for anonymity as he isn’t always authorized to speak to media. Some evidence in Jo’s case but confirmed Samsung had countering attempts to organize labor.

Samsung claimed the record should be excluded from proof because it did not specify the other thor; however, courts over-ruled that argument. A document, which the court stated changed into written via Samsung Group, details plans for managers to profile capacity “troublemakers” who have been possible to try and set up unions. Once such people have been diagnosed, managers have been advised to make them “allies” by providing advertising or raises or putting together severance applications if they violated employer guidelines or bad performance.

Samsung affiliates also set up “paper unions” led by pro-control employees, earlier than unbiased unions might be installed, keeping the record tendered in court. Until 2011, the simplest one union changed into allowed for every company under Korean regulation. And there have been lectures. Park Jong-Tae, a former Samsung Electronics employee, recollects a session where a human resources reputable claimed Hyundai Motor’s effective union was on strike for greater than half of each 12 months and became looking to carry down the corporation.

“The message becomes – union pastime is bad and globally successful businesses do not have unions,” Park said. Samsung Electronics started around 2010; it supplied education approximately main companies’ organizational cultures, consisting of some content on labor relations. “But presently, our organization’s schooling programs do not have labor relations-associated content material,” the organization stated in the written announcement. Park said Samsung fired him in 2010 for motives inclusive of negative paintings performance after he posted a notice through an employer intranet that he wanted to shape a union and ask his colleagues to enroll in him. Samsung Electronics stated it brushed off Park for no longer accomplishing duties for numerous years. The legitimacy of his layoff changed into upheld with the aid of the Supreme Court.

Signs of Change?

Lee Byung-Chul, who founded Samsung in 1938, regularly stated, “I may have earth cover my eyes before a union is permitted at Samsung,” Bruce Cumings, a prominent American historian of Korea, wrote in his 1997 e-book “Korea’s Place in the Sun”. Samsung has because publicly said unions “create needless conflicts” and “it strives to offer advanced working situations, so its personnel does not need to form a union.” Asked approximately its mindset in the direction of unions, Samsung Electronics said: “The corporation respects law and standards and legally ensures employees’ status quo of unions and activities on loose will.”

Geneva A. Crawford
Twitter nerd. Coffee junkie. Prone to fits of apathy. Professional beer geek. Spent several years buying and selling magma in Miami, FL. Spent a year lecturing about psoriasis in Las Vegas, NV. Managed a small team writing about circus clowns in Las Vegas, NV. Garnered an industry award while writing about lint in the financial sector. Spoke at an international conference about getting my feet wet with dust in Libya. Spoke at an international conference about researching rocking horses in Bethesda, MD.