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POSCO workers to leave militant umbrella union

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Rep. Sim Sang-jeung of the minor opposition Justice Party, fifth from left, speaks during a press conference on the launch of the POSCO union affiliated with the Korean Metal Workers' Union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions at the National Assembly building in Seoul in this September 2018 file photo. Newsis
Rep. Sim Sang-jeung of the minor opposition Justice Party, fifth from left, speaks during a press conference on the launch of the POSCO union affiliated with the Korean Metal Workers' Union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions at the National Assembly building in Seoul in this September 2018 file photo. Newsis

By Park Jae-hyuk

One of two unions at steelmaker POSCO agreed to withdraw from the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) in a vote held from Monday to Wednesday.

After ballot counting started at 5 p.m., Wednesday, the union announced its withdrawal plan won the support of 69.9 percent of its members with a voter turnout of 58 percent. If the plan wins the support of more than two-thirds of members with a voter turnout of at least 50 percent, the steelmaker's union can leave the militant umbrella union.

The POSCO union's attempt to withdraw is attributed to the KMWU's negligence in protecting the rights and interests of the steelmaker's workers.

"The KMWU wants us to work for KMWU and exist for KMWU," the POSCO union said in a statement last Wednesday. "The KMWU punished our leaders appointed by POSCO workers, citing that they have worked for the sake of POSCO employees, not for the KMWU."

POSCO's unionized workers have also reportedly complained about the KMWU's lack of support for restoration work to normalize the company's main steel mill in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, which was flooded after Typhoon Hinnamnor struck in September.

POSCO Group Chairman Choi Jeong-woo clears away mud and water at the steelmaker's main steel mill in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, in this October file photo. Courtesy of POSCO
POSCO Group Chairman Choi Jeong-woo clears away mud and water at the steelmaker's main steel mill in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, in this October file photo. Courtesy of POSCO

In the previous vote taken between Nov. 3 and 4, more than 66.9 percent of the union's members voted for the withdrawal plan.

But the POSCO union had to hold another vote, after the labor ministry accepted KMWU's claim that the schedule for voting should be announced seven days in advance.

"Our plan to change the type of organization has been pursued legally," the POSCO union said. "In order to disturb our efforts, KMWU and some of our members have made groundless arguments that our transformation is illegal."

POSCO workers organized a labor union for the first time in 1988, but a corruption scandal involving the union's leader led it to disband in 1991.

After nearly three decades without any union, two unions were organized in 2018 ― affiliated with the KCTU and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU). The latter has the right to collective bargaining, as it has over 6,000 members. The former initially had over 3,300 members, but the number of its members is now estimated at around 500.

Once the POSCO union cuts ties with the KCTU, unionized workers of other companies could follow the recent trend of leaving the umbrella union.

In October last year, GS E&C and Ssangyong E&C unions left the Korean Federation of Construction Companies Unions under KCTU. In April, the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) union declared its withdrawal from the Korean Finance & Service Workers' Union under the KCTU.

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering's (DSME) unionized workers also sought to drop out of the KMWU in July, as the umbrella union supported a 51-day strike by the shipbuilder's subcontract workers. Although the withdrawal plan failed to win support votes from more than two-thirds of the voters, over 52 percent of the voters backed the DSME union's attempt to leave the umbrella union.
Park Jae-hyuk pjh@koreatimes.co.kr


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