Samsung's largest union calls its first-ever strike

Union membership grew after the company pledged to stop squashing organized labor activities.


Samsung's largest workers' organization, the National Samsung Electronics Union, has announced that it's planning to stage a walkout next week as part of its fight for fair compensation. Members are threatening to skip work for a day, on June 7, in hopes that the company would listen to their demands after their wage negotiations over the past months had come to a standstill. If it pushes through, BNN Bloomberg says it'll be the first strike ever by the company's employees since Samsung was founded. As Reuters reports, Samsung agreed to a 5.1 percent increase in wages this year, but the union is also negotiating to add one more day to workers' annual leaves and for more transparency when it comes to performance bonuses.

"What we want is not a 1-2 percent wage increase. What we want is to be paid fairly for the amount of work done," union leaders said in front of Samsung's offices in Seoul. "We want to be compensated for our labor fairly and transparently."

The National Samsung Electronics Union has 28,000 members, which represent over a fifth of the company's workforce. Union leaders aren't expecting the strike to have a significant impact on Samsung's production since most of its manufacturing processes are automated anyway, but they're still hoping that their walkout could compel the company to take them seriously. The union certainly has more power to negotiate now — apparently, its membership grew four-fold over the past couple of years after the company pledged to stop its union-busting schemes.

Samsung used to be notorious for suppressing organized labor activities. In 2018, board chairman Lee Sang-hoon was indicted for sabotaging legitimate labor activities by threatening to lower wages of employees who join them, deliberately stalling negotiations between management and laborers and digging up dirt on key union personnel to persuade them to cease their activities. Lee stepped down as chairman of the board in 2020, the same year Samsung's Executive Chairman Jay Y. Lee promised to end the company's union-busting practices.

The union said, however, that there's "no change in the management’s attitude" despite Lee's promise to eliminate non-union management. "We can no longer stand by the company's lack of will to negotiate," it added. If the company refuses to engage in meaningful talks, the union is planning to stage more walkouts in the future. A Samsung spokesperson told BNN Bloomberg, however, that "the company remains committed to engaging in good faith negotiations with the unions, and is making every sincere effort to an agreement."