Korean Air moves to block strike by pilots

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Korean Air moves to block strike by pilots

Korean Air has filed for an injunction at the Seoul Southern District Court, in a bid to suspend further industrial action by its unionized pilots.

A majority of unionized pilots voted in favor of industrial action last Friday. They took part in industrial action from Saturday.

The union said the industrial action is legal, though the airline maintains there were faulty procedures during the voting and claimed the action is unlawful.

The dispute intensified after the airline and pilots failed to reach an agreement during recent wage negotiations. The pilots are seeking a 37 percent pay increase, while the company is offering 1.9 percent.

The company applied for the injunction on Wednesday after the vote and also issued a press release. In the press release, the company accused the union of violating the Labor Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Act.

Under the law, a majority of union members have to agree on industrial action for it to attain legal rights, and the roll of voters must be preserved for operational transparency. All voters must also be guaranteed anonymity.

However, the airline claimed those conditions were violated by the union.

Two unions represent the pilots, the Korean Air Pilot Union and the relatively smaller New Korean Air Pilot Union. Members of the new union weren’t listed as voters due to a disagreement between union leaders.

Regardless, members of the new union were included in the count, which added up to 189 votes. If the new union members are considered invalid, 917 union members will have voted to approve the strike among a total membership of 1,845, less than the required majority.

According to the company, the two unions violated the anonymity rule under the labor law by using different-colored voting slips.

“It is a complete violation [to give different slips] not guaranteeing anonymity in the voting process, and they even prolonged the total period of voting,” a Korean Air spokesman said. “It is possible that the union delayed the vote until its desired results came out.”

The total period for voting lasted 39 days after three extensions.

The union maintains there was no procedural problem and that validation of each vote could be checked since each voter was confirmed before the vote.

It is not the first labor dispute for the airline. Industrial action was approved in 2005, and the company reportedly experienced 200 billion won ($162,000) in losses. The company said “not much damage or customer complaints have been reported yet” in the latest dispute.

Before the airline sought an injunction, union members attached stickers saying “work to employees, money to the CEO” on their luggage on Wednesday as part of their protest against the company.

In response, Korean Air filed criminal charges against the union leaders for defamation.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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