The Korea Herald


Samsung’s first integrated labor union sets sail

Questions raised over bargaining power amid lukewarm membership rate

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Feb. 19, 2024 - 15:42

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Leaders of Samsung Group United Union, the first integrated union of four Samsung companies, hold their inauguration ceremony in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) Leaders of Samsung Group United Union, the first integrated union of four Samsung companies, hold their inauguration ceremony in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

A labor union comprising workers of four Samsung Group affiliates was officially launched Monday, as employees seek ways to break away from the unreasonable relationship between workers and management.

Samsung Group United Union, representing Samsung Electronics' Device Experience division, Samsung Display, Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance, and Samsung Biologics, held an inauguration ceremony earlier in the day in Seoul.

“Our purpose is to establish independence in the relations between workers and management at individual affiliates and establish wages, welfare and working conditions suited to each company's circumstances through flexible negotiations under equal relationships,” the integrated union’s statement read.

According to the union chief, Samsung's wage negotiations have been controlled by guidelines without reflecting the actual conditions of affiliates in the wage increase rate. Although the union has no plan to officially create a joint proposal on the wage deal, it has requested separate bargaining rights for each affiliate.

The union aimed to spur a new wave of labor culture in Korea, vowing to realize a legal and reasonable work culture and focus all its capabilities on the economic interests of Samsung workers, a balance between life and work and the establishment of healthy working conditions.

The integrated union, the first of its kind, has become one of the biggest labor groups under Samsung Group, with about 15,800 members -- some 6,100 members from Samsung Electronics’ smartphones and home appliances unit, 4,100 from Samsung Display, 3,400 from Samsung Fire and 2,200 from Samsung Biologics.

About 2,100 unionists working for Samsung Electro-Mechanics, another Samsung unit, are set to join the union in May after the revision of regulations. Industry sources said other Samsung affiliates unions may also join the integrated union in the future.

Despite the integrated labor union's establishment, sources predicted that the organization's impact would be limited as negotiations are conducted by each affiliate under the current law. However, there are concerns that the union's growing power could turn into a political campaign with collective action.

Recently, key Samsung affiliates have experienced difficulties in reaching agreements in wage talks and collective negotiations.

Alongside the wage increase, Samsung employees have demanded the reformation of criteria for the overall performance incentive system, as bonus rates did not reflect each affiliate's business performance.

The labor-management council of Samsung Electronics, which recorded its fourth consecutive quarter of losses in the chip business, reportedly demanded a 5.74 percent wage increase, and the union requested an 8.1 percent wage hike, while the company countered with a 2.5 percent base wage increase.

Samsung Electronics could face its first-ever labor strike, as unionized workers consider applying for labor dispute mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission if both the company and the union fail to narrow the differences on the wage hike after a sixth round of talks scheduled for Tuesday.

As employee dissatisfaction grows, the number of union members nearly doubled to 17,000, or 14 percent of the company’s employees, in the last two months, compared to 9,000 at the end of last year.

Last week, union members of Samsung Display and Samsung Biologics also decided to apply for labor dispute mediation as they declared a rupture in negotiations with their respective management counterparts.

Upon receiving the mediation application, the union and the company form a mediation committee and attempt to reach a deal for 10 days. If both sides fail to narrow their differences despite mediation, the union obtains the right to strike legally through a vote.