Welstory staff form Samsung’s first labor union

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Welstory staff form Samsung’s first labor union

Employees of Samsung Welstory, the conglomerate’s catering services provider, have formed a labor union, setting a potential precedent for the famously “union-free” Samsung Group.

Emboldened by President Moon Jae-in’s labor-friendly policies, the workers at Welstory are the first group of Samsung employees to set up their own union to collectively bargain with the conglomerate. While some workers in Samsung’s sprawling business empire are individually part of trade unions, organizing collectively is notoriously difficult because of the company’s structural barriers to unionizing.

Now, attention turns to whether workers at other Samsung affiliates might organize.

The union at Welstory began last month, when cooks and nutritionists at the company filed an application with the Ministry of Employment and Labor. After the ministry approved the union, the workers affiliated themselves with the Federation of Korean Chemical Workers’ Union under the umbrella Federation of Korean Trade Unions, and sent a document on Oct. 24 to Welstory’s management demanding collective bargaining rights.

“There have been limitations to representing the rights and interests of laborers with the existing labor-management relationship, and the intensity of labor was excessive,” a union spokesman said.

The union plans to focus on stabilizing employment for its members, improving their work conditions and demanding transparency from the management.

Kang Hoon-joong, a spokesman with the Federation of Korean Chemical Workers’ Union, said, “Some other Samsung affiliates tried to proceed with launching their own labor unions and went as far as obtaining a certificate from the government, but all their efforts foundered because of sabotage from management.”

Kang expects Welstory’s case to influence other affiliates. Some companies like Samsung C&T, Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance, and S1 have union members, but they belong to groups specific to their trade. These unions, such as the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, occasionally intervene and bargain on their behalf.

The union at Welstory is expected to wield vastly more power because it can independently negotiate with the company’s management and more easily organize collective action.

Welstory operates cafeterias and provides corporate catering. It was once part of Everland, Samsung’s amusement park operator, before it was spun off after the merger of Everland with Cheil Industries.

The company has 3,000 cooks and nutritionists, 50 of whom joined the union. The group aims to raise membership to 1,000 in the next year.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]
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