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The rail workers struck against government-owned Korail’s intention to base wages on performance. Korail runs both freight and passenger trains.
“Imposing performance-rated pay would increase competition among workers and pressure not to work safely,” KPTU spokesperson Wol-san Liem said by phone from Seoul Oct. 15.
South Korean law deems rail an “essential” service, she said, and requires the union to ensure a minimum level of operations during strikes or face stiff penalties. Korail hired scabs and shifted some freight workers to passenger service to keep commuter trains running.
But after a truckers’ strike threatened to shut down the ports, Korail shifted some workers back to freight, slowing passenger service, she said.
The truck drivers are striking against government plans to deregulate trucking, which drivers fear would drive down rates, increase pressure to overload trucks and threaten safety.
“Every year 1,200 people die in truck crashes,” Liem said.
All cargo truck drivers are owner-operators; they get paid by load and distance, not by the hour, she said. Drivers demand the government withdraw its deregulation plan, introduce standard rates and recognize their right to a union.
Attempting to break the strike, the government deployed 100 military trucks, sent 6,000 cops to the Busan Port and threatened to cancel strikers’ fuel subsidies and licenses. Prior to the strike, cargo was piling up because of the bankruptcy of maritime giant Hanjin Shipping.
Labor Minister Lee Ki-gwon accused drivers of “abusing the situation for their own benefit.”
“If the government wants to stop devastating the economy, it should sit down and negotiate with the union and not come up with policies that put workers in a race to the bottom and put safety at risk,” Liem said.
Earlier that day 750 members of UNITE HERE Local 26, who serve 25,000 campus meals daily, walked out. Their contract expired Sept. 17.
The union is demanding a minimum yearly wage of $35,000 and lower health care costs. Under Harvard’s proposal, an employee with two dependents will contribute a premium of $233 a month and increased co-pays, reported the Boston Globe.
The unionists also want year-round work. “Our bills don’t stop coming in the summer,” Carlos Alvaro, an assistant cook for 16 years, told the Militant. “They have the money. They can pay us.”
Meal plans are mandatory for undergraduates at Harvard, who pay about $63,000 for tuition, fees, room and board. Harvard’s $37.5 billion endowment, the largest of any U.S. university, funds about one-third of the school’s operating revenue.
The Harvard Undergraduate Council and the Harvard Crimson editorial board have endorsed the strike.
The day the strike began, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103’s electronic billboard beside Interstate 93 through Boston read, “Support Harvard dining hall workers.”