Samsung union stages its first ever strike – very politely

Members stop work – on a day many take off, anyway – in pursuit of better conditions

Around 28,000 Samsung workers upset over wages may have walked out in protest today, but probably used their holiday allowance to do so. Rampant industrial militancy, this is not.

The workers are members of the National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU) and are employing a "coordinated use of vacation" according to deputy union chief Lee Hyun-guk.

Using leave to protest working conditions is a very polite way to go about an industrial dispute. This one is made even more polite by the fact that Thursday was South Korea's Memorial Day holiday, so taking Friday off to enjoy a long weekend is not unusual.

One local media report even alleged Samsung management encouraged employees to use annual leave on this day.

The quantum of potential strikers may also be less than 28,000 – NSEU has been accused of inflating its membership numbers.

The head of the Samsung Electronics Device Experience branch reportedly used internal messaging boards to accuse the union of coopting stolen internal account information of non-union employees to falsely register them.

NSEU has committed to not disclosing the number of people on strike, saying it's up to employees to volunteer info about their choices.

Whatever the real numbers, union members have plastered notices on Samsung facility doors, and the workers' protest is taking place as planned. The move marks the NSEU's first ever strike.

A copy of the notice placed on the door was posted on NSEU's website on Thursday.

It alleged that promises to improve Samsung employees' vacation benefits were broken and laughed at by management. It also points out that core executives have recently received bonuses while employees have not.

"They are telling employees to tighten their belts and shifting the [blame for] worsening business performance that comes from management failures," accused the NSEU, as determined by machine translation. Examples given of those perceived failures include poor performance of Samsung's high bandwidth memory products, and the 2022 game optimizing service (GOS) incident that saw Samsung apologize to shareholders and customers after some Galaxy smartphones performed poorly.

The GOS incident prompted a Fair Trade Commission (FTC) investigation, as Samsung advertised its most recent smartphones as offering improved performance.

The union and chaebol have attempted to negotiate. However, local media reports alleged that talks devolved into shouting matches.

The union is reportedly vying for a 6.5 percent wage increase this year, but management set it to 5.1 percent during a labor-management council staged without union participation.

As for the sensitive issue of bonuses, the union would prefer Samsung calculate them using operating profit instead of a formula that includes operating profit and cost of capital – a method that resulted in no bonus for workers last year.

According to media present onsite at the protests, few visible signs of a strike outside Samsung facilities are evident.

Lee Hyun-kuk, deputy secretary general of the union, told Bloomberg that the strike was a "soft start" and "symbolic move," and that if the management refuses to communicate, an "all-out general strike" could materialize.

Market analyst firm TrendForce warned last week that the strike was brewing, but that it "will not impact DRAM and NAND Flash production, nor will it cause any shipment shortages."

TrendForce noted that the timing of the strike – on a date when many had already applied for leave – allowed "for pre-emptive adjustments in production scheduling and manpower allocation," and that "fabs rely heavily on automated production and require minimal human labor" anyway. ®

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