28,000 Samsung Workers Strike First Time in 55 Years Over Pay Dispute Using Coordinated Vacation

The union argued that the raise offered by Samsung (around 5.1%) wasn't enough, particularly considering the average national increase was higher (around 6.5%). 

Introduction

In an unprecedented move, around 28,000 Samsung workers from the National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU) walked out for a strike, using a “coordinated use of vacation” strategy.

This unique method of industrial action coincided with a day many employees typically take off anyway, following South Korea’s Memorial Day holiday.

On June 7th, 2024, the National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU) launched their first-ever strike in protest of wage and benefit disputes. This marks a significant moment in the company’s labor relations history, considering Samsung’s long history without worker strikes.

The strike involved around 28,000 workers, roughly representing a fifth of Samsung’s workforce. It was described as a “soft start” with some reports suggesting the walkout might have been more symbolic than disruptive.

The key reasons behind the strike were disagreements over pay and benefits. The union argued that the raise offered by Samsung (around 5.1%) wasn’t enough, particularly considering the average national increase was higher (around 6.5%).

Whether this is a one-day event or escalates into a larger movement depends on how negotiations with Samsung management progress. The union has indicated they’re willing to go on a full strike if their demands aren’t met

The National Samsung Electronics Union, with about 28,000 members, or more than a fifth of the company’s total workforce, has said it will stop work for a day as part of broader protest measures

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Samsung strike: A Polite Protest

The deputy union chief, Lee Hyun-guk, described the workers’ decision to use their holiday allowance as a respectful approach to protesting working conditions.

This strategy ensured minimal disruption, as taking Friday off for a long weekend is common practice. Some local media even suggested that Samsung management encouraged employees to use their annual leave on this day.

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Samsung strike: Membership Discrepancies

There are questions regarding the actual number of strikers, as the NSEU has faced accusations of inflating its membership numbers.

Internal messaging boards revealed allegations from the head of Samsung Electronics Device Experience branch. He claimed the union used stolen internal account information to falsely register non-union employees.

Despite these allegations, the NSEU did not disclose the exact number of participants. They left it to employees to voluntarily share their involvement.

Notices plastered on Samsung facility doors indicate that the protest is proceeding as planned, marking the NSEU’s first strike.

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Samsung strike: Grievances and Demands

The union’s grievances include broken promises to improve vacation benefits. They also highlight the recent awarding of bonuses to core executives while regular employees received none.

According to a notice posted on the NSEU website, management has dismissed the demands for better conditions. They have blamed employees for the company’s poor performance. The union attributes this to management failures.

Examples of these failures include the subpar performance of Samsung’s high bandwidth memory products. The 2022 Game Optimizing Service (GOS) incident also stands out. This incident led to a Fair Trade Commission investigation after Galaxy smartphones underperformed.

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Samsung strike: Failed Negotiations

Negotiations between the union and Samsung have reportedly deteriorated into shouting matches.

The union is demanding a 6.5 percent wage increase this year, while Samsung management has set it at 5.1 percent during a labor-management council meeting that did not include union participation.

Additionally, the union wants bonuses to be calculated using operating profit alone, rather than a combination of operating profit and cost of capital, which resulted in no bonuses last year.

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Samsung strike: Background

Samsung Electronics, a key player in the global technology market, has long faced scrutiny over its labor practices.

The company’s rapid expansion and significant contributions to South Korea’s economy have not shielded it from criticism regarding employee treatment and working conditions.

Over the years, there have been multiple reports highlighting the disparity between executive compensation and that of regular employees. The formation of the NSEU was a response to these growing concerns, aiming to provide a collective voice for Samsung workers in their quest for fair treatment and better working conditions.

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Minimal Visible Impact

On the ground, there are few visible signs of a strike outside Samsung facilities. According to Lee Hyun-guk, the strike is intended as a “soft start” and a “symbolic move.” However, he warned that if management continues to refuse communication, an “all-out general strike” could follow.

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Market Impact

Market analyst firm TrendForce has noted that the strike is unlikely to impact DRAM and NAND Flash production or cause any shipment shortages. The timing, aligned with a commonly taken leave day, allowed for pre-emptive adjustments in production scheduling and manpower allocation. Moreover, Samsung’s fabs rely heavily on automated production, which requires minimal human labor.

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Conclusion

This polite but significant protest by Samsung workers highlights growing discontent over working conditions and wage issues within one of the world’s largest electronics companies. As the situation develops, both the union and Samsung management face increased pressure to find a resolution, with the potential for more disruptive actions if negotiations fail.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
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