Leave the question to majority ruleArticle 5 of the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act states, “Workers shall be free to establish a trade union or to join it.” However, when you join an industry union, it is not easy for a member to withdraw freely. Valeo Electric System’s case sparked controversy over the issue of changing union structure and withdrawal of members.
Valeo Electric System Korea is an automotive parts company that France’s Valeo Group had set up in 1999 by acquiring Mando plant in Gyeongju. The labor union of Valeo joined the metalworkers’ union in 2001 through members’ decision. When the company was faced with difficulties in 2010, it outsourced security and reassigned five guards to production posts. Opposing the decision, the metalworkers’ union branch in Valeo took up a slowdown and refused overtime and night shifts. The company countered by closing down the plant. Worrying about losing their jobs altogether, 550 union members convened a general assembly. 536 people supported the plan to leave the metalworkers union and convert to a company-specific union. The metalworkers’ union raised a lawsuit that the decision was not valid, arguing that the only entity that can decide secession from the metalworkers’ union is the metalworkers’ union itself. The metalworkers’ union won the first and second trials, and Valeo Electric System Workers union appealed to the Supreme Court.
Considering the significance of the case, the Supreme Court is to hold a public defense before deciding. Both the company and the union are highly interested in the decision, as the jobs of 3,000 workers at Valeo and subcontractors depend upon it.
After deciding to leave the metalworkers’ union, Valeo union cooperated with the company’s management normalization plan and the company grew by more than 30 percent annually. And the company returned 25 percent of the profit to the employees every year.
If the final decision rules that Valeo union’s leaving the metalworkers’ union is not valid, the metalworkers’ union is likely to demand a new contract, claiming that various agreements between the union and the management made since 2010 are invalid. Also, the relationship between the union and the management may be aggravated if the union makes unreasonable demands and goes on strike if the company does not accept its demands. We hope for a final decision that respects the intention of the majority of members.
Park Chan-ho, Managing director of the Federation of Korean Industries