Authorities arrest three union leaders of Korail

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Authorities arrest three union leaders of Korail

Three leaders from the labor union of the Korea Railway Corporation, or Korail, were arrested on separate occasions on Tuesday, underscoring long-standing tensions among unionized workers, company management and the government.

Following the end of the longest-ever railway strike, police stepped up their efforts to arrest those leaders, who were accused of orchestrating the 22-day walkout. The strike was spurred by Korail’s controversial decision to put a new operator in charge of a new bullet train and was subsequently declared “illegal” by the government and law enforcement agencies.

Authorities claimed that the issue was not a legitimate reason for a strike because it was not linked to working conditions. The union, however, regarded Korail’s decision as a step toward privatizing the railway company and argued that privatization would affect working conditions.

With Tuesday’s arrests, six out of the 35 wanted union members have been apprehended since the court issued warrants last month at the peak of the strike. Choi, 51, identified only by his surname, had been sheltered at the Korail office in central Seoul. Police arrested him on site and transferred him to Namdaemun Police Precinct.

The other two were caught in Jecheon, North Chungcheong, and Cheonan, Gyeonggi.

“We’d like to investigate the members and later decide whether to seek warrants to detain them for further investigation,” said a police official.

So far, all of the arrested members have been detained.

The majority of public attention so far has been focused on the whereabouts of the high-ranking members. It remains to be seen whether they will turn themselves in or if the police will raid the places they sought refuge.

Currently, Kim Myung-hwan, the president of the railway workers’ union, is staying in the headquarters of the Korea Confederation Trade Union, a militant umbrella trade union.

The police vigilantly raided KCTU headquarters during the strike without a search warrant, an operation that drew severe condemnation, but Kim was not there at the time.

Park Tae-man, Korail’s deputy union leader, is holed up in Jogye Temple, and spokesman Choi Eun-cheol is being harbored at the Democratic Party headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul.

Choi asked for an intermediary role from DP lawmakers, with parliamentary representatives drawing up terms of agreement. On Dec. 30, Kim, the union leader, agreed to end the strike in exchange for the establishment of a subcommittee dedicated to resolving issues in the railway industry.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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