Union for workers’ sake

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Union for workers’ sake

The Supreme Court has ruled that a worker is free to quit an umbrella union group to join a corporate union instead. The bench of the highest court unanimously determined that the union of automotive-parts maker Valeo could bolt out of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, which is affiliated with the hard-line Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), overruling lower court decisions that a branch union was not independent and therefore bound to its umbrella group. The case could send huge repercussions in the labor sector as more and more unions are choosing to leave the higher union groups for more individuality.

Valeo’s court battle has been closely watched as it could set a precedent amid simmering conflict between branch unions and industrial or umbrella union groups. In June 2010, workers of the company voted to leave the Metal Workers’ Union. Of the 601 unionized workers, 550 voted in favor of the decision after they lost monthly income from a shutdown by the management for joining a strike led by the Metal Workers’ Union. The industrial union claimed the vote was not valid and filed a lawsuit. The umbrella union won the trials in the lower courts, saying workers could not freely walk out of higher union groups.

The top court’s decision set straight the freedom of choice for labor unions in a democratic society. The union serves workers and must work toward improving labor conditions for workers. The status of a higher union organization must not come before the interests and rights of workers.

The KCTU and Metal Workers’ Union must seriously contemplate the primary function of the industrial union group. The broader union group representing each industry was created in order to narrow the gap among workers in the same field. It should have worked to ensure the earnings of Hyundai Motor are shared with smaller supply providers. But it served primarily those unions of large workplaces, and made the lives of workers in smaller companies more difficult by forcing them to join antigovernment strikes and protests. As a result, inequities between large and small workplaces have only widened. Employees of Valeo and others will continue to leave their umbrella unions if they serve their own purposes instead of the workers.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 30

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