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The Issue of the Semester: Laborer Strife
Kim Ji-sun  |  jisunkim@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2015.06.28  20:43:41
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THE STRUGGLE against the abrupt change of working conditions of numerous cleaning workers based at the Yonsei International Campus in Songdo has definitely been the hottest campus issue this semester. At the end of 2014, 23 among a total of 72 female cleaning laborers were discharged without forewarning to reduce school budget. The service charge, which according to the school general manager takes up about 12.3% of an average undergraduate’s tuition, has been increasing by around 22% annually for the past years. To confront this situation, the laborers and the student committee guarding labor rights have united to seek what they regard as “justice.” Armed with empathy and passion, they carried out a sit-down strike against the service company *Seantec*, in school that lasted for a hundred and nine days. However, technically speaking, the discharge was done by the service company that had signed a contract with the school- therefore the school would not have any legal liability pertaining to the issue; the school is neither directly involved in the workers’ employment process. At last on May 1st, the labor service enterprise and the (its) YIC labor union reached an agreement, ending the seemingly endless sit-in. Let us walk through the main events of the dispute and see how the parties have reached consensus.

 

Pinwheels of different colors lined up in front of the Underwood Hall:

   Pinwheels were the symbol of the labor union, the Pinwheel Solidarity and the committee of supporting students. Densely packed along the garden in front of Underwood Hall, the pinwheels would ride the gracious spring breezes and spin through the whole semester. Pinwheels and the sound of them spinning in the wind have been constant reminders of the ongoing struggle.

 

A tent planted in the intersection of *Baekyang-ro*:

   A shaky but dignified tent remained present throughout the struggle at the three-way intersection at the upper end of *Baekyang-ro*. The pavilion was used as a resting place for the exhausted workers and as a mead hall for the labor union of *Seantec*.

 

“The Pinwheel Solidarity”: graffiti drawn on a fence of *Baekyang-ro*:

   Students conveyed their empathy and support by making hand-written posters and banners. Banners with phrases and vibrant colors filled up *Baekyang-ro*, keeping the campus community informed about the situation. Examples of such phrases follow: “Cleaning staffs, another family member of Yonsei University”, “Please secure justice within the school society”, “I am scared to go out to the big world because of you.” Cleaning laborers and guards around the school wore pink vests with phrases to express their support for the dismissed cleaning ladies.

The school, which could not understand why the protestors were striking against the school rather than the service company that have directly contracted an employment assigned the cleaning worker’s relocation, implemented extreme measures. On May 17th, the school head office had submitted to the District Court an injunction application against the laborers to prohibit disturbance- a single chant, a pinwheel and printout would cost a fine of \500,000, and the tent, \1,000,000. However, the possible penalty could not weaken the ardor and strong support from the students, with the number of banners on display increasing after the administration’s threat. Pertaining to the protest that had been growing more and more aggressive, Park Hae-rin (Sr., Dept. of History) has commented that, “The biggest problem of the ongoing struggle is the school board’s attitude, keep evading the communication. The school administrators would not listen but would only sit back and ignore the protest.” Yet this, again, was because the school had no direct or legal faults pertaining to the issue.

 

Scenes from the sit-in:

   The sit-in did become aggressive at times. The western branch of the Public Traffic Service Workers Union united with the labor union of Yonsei University and carried out a large-scale propaganda war not only big in size but also big in sound. The sounds of gongs, drums and verbal chants resounded around the campus. Several broadcasting media outlets also covered the protests and the larger controversy.

 

Workers, students, and governors celebrating their reinstatement:

   The required a great deal of effort over a long period of time, but it did finally come to an end. On April 30, the labor service enterprise, the labor union,  (Possibly), indirectly, held their final negotiation, and settled with a promise to reinstate all 23 workers. On May 1, the very next day, the outcome was confirmed by the local labor relations commission. On the same day, the cleaning workers held a news conference outside the front gate of Yonsei University Sinchon Campus.

    The compromise reported by the school board follows: a gradual reinstatement of all 20 laborers excluding three that had dropped out in the process, to work under the same conditions, with 12 reinstatements scheduled to take effect in June, 5 in September, and 1 each in October, November and December.

    The labor union has celebrated the resolution but many have expressed regret over the school’s past negligence and indifference pertaining to this issue. As Lee Hak-geum (branch manager, Incheon branch of Women’s Labor Union) put it, “If the school had shown a more responsible attitude, the laborers could have resumed their job positions altogether, not successively.”

*                 *                 *

The Underwood Hall field, now all clear, looks forward to a bright and clean future

   The “battle” that was initially between the discharged cleaning workers and the service company had grown into a massive opposition among the cleaning laborers, the labor union, students, and Yonsei. It has become somewhat of a struggle of the minorities, the weak to secure their rights against a stronger force. Yes, it is true the school does not hold any direct liabilities, therefore is legally out of the frame. However, what the school does hold is its moral and ethical responsibilities. Instead of hesitating and evading the issue, the school should have actively participated, listened to and defended the weak. The school should have shared the nature of the problem, and as a socially stronger subject, should have acted as a bridge-building agent.

   Before the reporter makes a closing remark, she would like to clarify that the article had not been written with any kind of political intention. It is up to you, the readers, to judge and decide how to feel about the situation. However, as students and participants of Yonsei community, it is necessary to acknowledge the issue. At the current time stage where the situation had finally come to an end, the reporter would like to congratulate all personals who have been both directly and indirectly associated with the situation for their efforts. After all, a peaceful resolution is definitely something to celebrate.

 

Intentions:

   The conflict that started last winter between the three subjects – Yonsei University, the labor union, and the service company - has finally been resolved last month. Because it fundamentally embraces the social problems sprouting from temporary positions, and unbalanced power dynamics within society, the issue is not limited merely to Yonsei University, but is relevant to the society as a whole. Therefore, the article intends to objectively review the incident and carefully view the stance of the three subjects.

 

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