On May 28, an eight-member delegation of SHARPS, led by Hwang Sang-ki, father of a Samsung leukemia victim, met with a new delegation of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Continue Reading »
South Korean police have seized and effectively hid the body of a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. contractor who committed suicide after about eight months of financial and emotional hardships he suffered for representing his union local—a sign that the world’s largest technology company still has yet to address a mountain of thorny labor issues even after its recent promise to pay due compensation to victims of its leukemia cluster.
Teargas In The Morgue
On the evening of May 18, about 400 police raided the morgue of Seoul Medical Center and seized the body of Yeom Ho-seok, the Samsung Electronics Service union representative who committed suicide two days earlier. After two hours of a standoff with some 100 unionists surrounding the building, the police arrested twenty-four and used tear gas to disperse the protestors and seize the body.
The Third Death
On May 17, a day after his suicide, Yeom’s body was found in his car, with two handwritten notes, one for his parents and one for the union, and burnt charcoal. Since August of last year when the 34-year-old local convener helped form a local of the Samsung Electronics Service union in the metropolitan area of Busan-Yangsan, management had substantially reduced assignments for him, who, on a contract basis, did on-site repairs of a variety of Samsung home appliances. Over the past eight months, Yeom took home about U$400 a month while working for the world’s largest technology company in a country with a median annual wage of U$37,000.
Yeom’s death is the third, and the second by suicide, at Samsung Electronics Service, the corporate giant’s outsourcing network for after-sale maintenance and repair of 107 regional contractors with about 6,000 temporary workers. In October 2013, Yim Hyeon-woo died of an overwork-caused brain hemorrhage. A month later, Choi Jong-beom committed suicide, devastated by stepped-up discipline and substantial cuts in job assignments after he helped form a nationwide union.
Outlandish Police Response
In one of his notes, Yeom requested his body “remain in state until his local wins [recognition].” Yeom’s father at first permitted–with a written note–the union to proceed with the funeral process. However, according to the police, he called the police emergency line to ask the government to claim Yeom’s body which he reported the union kept against his and his family’s will—despite the fact that Yeon’s birth mother protested the police when they seized the body. A mobilization of 400 police was an outlandish police response over a dubious dispute over one dead body in a quiet morgue.
About 400 riot police scuffled with about 100 unionists for two hours to snatch Yeom’s body.
The police did not place the body in a Busan mortuary where they said it would be stored. Samsung Electronics Service unionists found that a number of crematory and mortuary spots in the Busan area were booked under Yeom’s name. On May 20, Yeom’s body was said to be cremated in a crematory far outside Busan. His father remained out of contact.
Following Yeom’s death, as many as 700 Samsung Electronics Service unionists encamped at the Samsung Electronics corporate headquarters in southern Seoul, calling for union recognition and full-time employment status.
The following are full translations of Yeom’s notes. All brackets [ ] are added.
To My Local Unionists,
I am in Jeongdoingjin [famous for its scenic sunrise]. This is where the sun rises. I chose here because I believe our local will not lose its light and will win just as the sun will rise again tomorrow.
I really thank comrades of the Busan-Yangsan local and across the nation for caring for and showing their concern for me like I was their own brother. It was a great joy for me, a nobody, to stay with them. Because I can no longer sit by as more sacrifices and more pain are wrought upon our unionists and because I can no longer sit by their hardships, I am dedicating myself.
I wish our local victory on [my sacrifice]. If you find my body, please put it in state until our local wins [recognition]. After triumph, please scatter my cremated ashes here [in Jeongdoingjin].
One last thing. The father of one of our local unionists is still in hospital. Hospital bills have become mountainous. Please help him with the bills when negotiations ended [successfully with management].
Dear Father and Mother,
I am sorry that this is the first and the last time I write to you. I always want to be the son of whom you are proud, but I always make you worry—and I am now about to hurt you deeply in your hearts. Your son is making a difficult decision, but not a bad one. I believe this decision to be right as long as my sacrifice can help better the lives of all Korean workers. I am sorry to leave this note, even without calling you.
There is one favor I need to ask of you. Please hold a funeral only after a good result comes to my local of the Samsung Electronics Services union. Please scatter my ashes here in Jeongdoingjin where the sun rises.
Samsung Electronics Co.. Ltd. has finally made a public apology to the victims of a leukemia cluster at its chip plants and promised compensation for them—seven years after the SHARPS campaign borne out of the death of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of the cluster, and six months after stalled negotiations with the victims’ families and the advocate group.
Apology without Concession
In a cautiously worded statement May 13, Samsung vice chairman and CEO Kwon Oh-hyun said the world’s biggest technology company should have sought a solution sooner, but stopped short of conceding a direct link between the company’s lax safety measures and the outbreak of leukemia and other blood diseases among workers at its chip plants.
Mr. Kwon said Samsung would discontinue intervention in workers’ compensation lawsuits filed by the victims. In the past seven years, the company used an army of high-paid lawyers to delay and derail the legal proceedings until the victims and their families were exhausted emotionally and financially.
Mr. Kwon’s apology fell short of promising to withdraw a number of civilian and criminal charges the company has pressed against the victims’ families and SHARPS activists for picketing the company or holding rallies.
Mr. Kwon’s statement corroborated the proposal made by Sim Sang-jeung, a former labor activist and a lawmaker of the minor Justice Party. Mr. Kwon promised to compensate the victims directly via an arbitration body that he said was proposed by Ms. Sim and SHARPS. However, SHARPS is not party to Ms. Sim’s proposal.
SHARPS cautiously welcomed Mr. Kwon’s statement. In a statement <Korean> posted on its website, the advocacy group reiterated its call for Samsung to restart negotiations with SHARPS. The negotiations have been stalled since December 18 of last year.
The following are full English translations of the statements by SHARPS and Mr. Kwon of Samsung [All brackets are added by the translator]:
SHARPS on the May 14 Statement by Samsung
1. We welcome the statement for the following reasons:
—Because Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. admitted that there are “employees [of Samsung] who became ill or died as a result what can be suspected of workplace accidents.”
— Because it admitted that it had been negligent in [addressing] their pain and hardships.
—Because it decided to stop intervention in workers compensation claims [filed by the victims]
—Because it promised to earnestly seek not only ways to compensate the victim but also measures to prevent the recurrence [of industrial accidents.]
2. However, a third, new arbitration body is not part of our proposal, which we have repeatedly clarified on April 14 and 17. It is regrettable that Samsung claimed that the arbitration body is part of our proposal.
3. Nevertheless, we expect Samsung will use the statement as its primary step toward a sincere solution to the [occupational disease] issue.
4. As such, we propose the following:
—Restart dialogue, stalled for five months, with SHARPS.
—Accept SHARPS as [formal] negotiator and comply in good faith with our demands.
The Statement By Kwon Oh-hyun, vice chairman and CEO of Samsung
I would like to speak about the issue of leukemia at Samsung.
I would like to announce Samsung’s position regarding the employees who became ill or died as a result of what is suspected to be industrial accidents, their families, SHARPS, and a proposal made [by lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung] in her April 9 press conference.
[Certain] employees who had worked at our workplaces have been suffering from leukemia and other incurable diseases. Some of them have passed away.
During Samsung’s growth, countless employees dedicated themselves to working hard for the firm. Along the way, there were people like them who suffered. This is truly regrettable and heartbreaking.
Also, we were sometimes negligent about the pain and hardships they and their families faced. We should have solved this matter sooner. We feel heartbroken for we did not. We would like to use this opportunity to offer a sincere apology.
We will address this issue in earnest. We proactively accept the proposal made in an April 9 press conference [by lawmaker Sim], and will pay the victims and their families appropriate compensation.
As proposed, we will discuss with the parties directly involved in the issue and their families to form a third-party arbitration body. We will follow the terms and coverage of compensation and others decided on by that body.
We would like the families, SHARPS, and lawmaker Sim—the parties to the proposal—to make further proposals to conclude the issue.
Also, we will have an independent expert examine the safety and public health management of our semiconductor plants to implement measures to prevent the recurrence of [similar industrial accidents]
In addition, we will withdraw our third-party intervention in workers compensation proceedings filed by the victims and their families against KCOMWEL.
We hope our acceptance of the proposal is the opportunity to address the issue, so the pain of the victims and their families can be lessened, if only a little bit.
On April 10, the day when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5, Bloomberg Businessweek ran “Samsung’s War at Home,” an extensive report highlighting the leukemia cluster at the world’s biggest technology company and SHARPS’s advocacy efforts for the victims. The following is the link:
On April 14, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. abruptly announced that it would proactively solve “the issue of occupational disease.” The company came in response to a proposal made by labor activist-turned lawmaker Sim Sang-jung, of the Justice Party. Samsung appeared to agree to a third party-brokered compensation scheme in a move to sideline SHARPS by installing a new third party in its own terms.
This is not the first time that Samsung maneuvered to isolate SHARPS, a seven-year-long campaign working on behalf of Samsung occupational-disease victims. In 2012, the company announced it would negotiate with SHARPS without first contacting SHARPS. The first round of negotiations took place in December 2012. The negotiations have since become stranded because Samsung continued to question SHARPS’s qualifications as rightful negotiator.
The following is a full English translation of a statement released by SHARPS after Samsung’s announcement. All brackets [ ] are added by the translator.
Our Concerns and Demands
First of all, we would like to welcome an announcement today by Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd that it is sincerely considering demands raised by SHARPS and the families of [occupational disease] victims.
However, over the past seven years, Samsung has never admitted to its wrongdoing in connection with the issue of its occupational disease [cluster].It has offered neither a formal apology nor formal compensation. Worse, Samsung still alleges that leukemia and other diseases contracted by the victims are personal problems that have nothing to do with the company’s working conditions. It has been maintaining blogs called “Semiconductor Story” [Korean] to falsely allege that the company has thorough safety management and has been proactively facilitating petitions for workers’ compensation.
This is not all. SHARPS’s negotiations with Samsung have been stalled since its first meeting in December 2013. At the meeting, Samsung did not even mention such mutually agreed items on the agenda as apologies, compensation, and preventive measures but instead consistently took issue with whether SHARPS qualifies to party to the negotiations.
Samsung’s negotiators said they would not accept the word “victims” and referred to them as “case patients.” “We only have dialogue with case-patients,” Samsung negotiators said. “SHARPS activists should bring a power of attorney from the case-patients.” Samsung insisted on these although the victims’ families clearly said they would negotiate with Samsung in the name of SHARPS—just as they had fought in the past seven years.
In the past four months since the first meeting, SHARPS has repeatedly demanded that Samsung negotiate, the company’s response remains unchanged.
Then Samsung abruptly said it would announce a new position on its occupational disease victims, a day ahead of a session of the National Assembly’s environment and labor commission to discuss a resolution on [Samsung and its occupational disease crisis].
Samsung’s about-face raises more concerns than expectations.
We articulated our demands in an official letter we sent to the company in December. Central to the letter is about a public apology and a commitment to prevent the repeat [of an occupational disease cluster]. It would first respond to our demands if Samsung keenly felt the sadness and sufferings of the victims’ families and genuinely considered their demands. A solid settlement should be through already initiated negotiations with SHARPS
Samsung maneuvered the same in October 2012, ahead of Congressional inspections. Samsung passed up SHARPS and leaked a story to the press that it would have direct dialogue with its victims and their families. Doubts were cast over whether Samsung’s move whether it wanted genuine dialogue or a one-time scheme to mislead public opinion. Today’s announcement is not different. If Samsung had seriously reviewed SHARPS’ demands it should have contact SHARPS first before it contacted the press.
Once again, SHARPS calls on Samsung to sincerely negotiate with us.
A proposal by Sim Sang-jung, lawmaker of the Justice Party, calls for a third party-brokered compensation scheme. The proposal clearly included our demands on compensation, and called for Samsung’s clear response. The proposal made clear that the third part is SHARPS and called on Samsung to negotiate in good faith.
We demand the following:
First, Samsung management should officially respond to the list of demands we made in our December letter.
Second, Samsung should not stop short at announcing its unilateral positions and sincerely negotiate with SHARPS to rightly solve the issue of its occupational disease [cluster].
published by SHARPS April 14, 2014
The supply chain of Samsung Electronics is shrouded in a series of avoidable deaths as two electronics repairmen died within about 30 days apart, after the world’s largest technology company stepped up pressure on its after-sale network in a move to crush an ongoing unionization drive and to retain its chokehold on labor discipline.
Choi Jong-beom, a repairman, was found dead in his car on Oct. 31. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning as evidenced by consumed charcoals found in the vehicle. Choi was a contractor for Samsung TSP, an after-sale service provider of Samsung Electronics Service, the wholly owned unit of Samsung Electronics. The following is the suicide notes that the 31-year-old worker texted to his co-workers and union leaders:
This is Choi Jong-beom. Please capture [the screenshot] of this text message [for me]. It’s been excruciating for me to work at Samsung Electronics Service. It’s pained me because I was starving. It’s been excruciating for me to see others suffering [like I am]. I could not act the way [the late labor activist] Chon Tae-il did, but I made the choice. I wish I could help anyway.
Chon Tae-il was a 22-year-old worker who set himself afire in 1970 in protest of rampant violations of labor law in the South Korean garment industry of that era.
Death and Suicide
Choi’s death came on the heels of the tragedy of Yim Hyeon-woo, the 36-year-old Samsung repairman who died in late September of an overwork-caused brain hemorrhage. In the four months leading to his death, Yim worked spent an average of 60 hours a week repairing Samsung products at homes and offices.
Apologies and Smearing
In a rare move, Samsung Electronics Service expressed regret over Choi’s death Nov. 1. However, its contractor—and Choi’s employer—Samsung TSP quickly smeared him. Samsung TSP CEO Yi Je-keun said Choi, an employee of four years, took home an average of KRW 4.1 million (U$3,900) and KRW 5 million (U$4,700) during peak season.
A survey by the independent daily Hankyeoreh <Korean> belied CEO Yi’s allegations. According to the newspaper, for September this year, a Samsung repairman of six years working in Pohang, the city about the size of but richer than Chonan where Yim worked, took home KRW 1.05 million (U$980) after out-of-pocket expenses and costs. The take-home pay is slightly higher than a legally mandated subsistence level of KRW1.01M (U$942).
Both Yim and Choi were contractors who worked for regional contractors for Samsung Electronics Service, to which Samsung Electronics outsources all after-sale services such as repairs and maintenance of its garden-variety of electronics goods. Samsung Electronics Services owns only nine of its 107 repair branches. The remaining 98 are contractors who hire the most of Samsung’s about 6,000-strong repair staff mainly on a piecework basis.
The multi-layered supply chain enables the global electronics giant to ruthlessly pass costs on to the bottom of the hierarchy. Choi, his wife, and their ten-month-old daughter did not literally starve because his pay managed to stay above the subsistence level. However, Choi often skipped meals to keep up with schedule which often ran from 7am through 9pm in peak season.
Crushing the Union
Choi’s death came amid rising tensions between Samsung and its 6,000-strong repair staff. In August, about 1,600 workers from 64 branches formed a trade union, demanding Samsung Electronics Service to grant them full-time status in the company. Samsung has since been transferring jobs from unionized branches to non-unionized ones, cutting the unionists’ already meager wages.
Management’s harassment played the role in Choi’s suicide. A few days before his death, Samsung TSP CEO Yi threw expletives at Choi over a flimsy customer complaint against him.
The Seoul administrative court ordered KCOMWEL, the quasi-government entity responsible for workers compensation, on October 18 to withdraw its earlier decision and to pay industrial-accident payouts to the bereaved family of a former Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd employee who died in 2009 of leukemia.
The ruling is a posthumous victory for Kim Kyung-mi, who had waged a long fight until her death four years ago. Kim began work as a wafer etcher at the Giheung plant of Samsung in 1999, after graduating high school. Until 2004 when she got married, Kim has worked at the same plant where Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of Samsung’s blood disorder cluster, developed leukemia.
Marriage, Miscarriage, And Acute Leukemia
In 2005, she had a miscarriage—probably the first sign of physical anomalies because there was no family history of miscarriage. After a regimen of fertility medications and treatment, in 2007, Kim gave birth to a child.
However, in 2008, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia after she suffered bruise-like rashes on her body. The following year, she died, aged 29, after failed marrow transplants.
By 2012, KCOMWEL twice rejected petitions by Kim’s family for workers compensation. In February 2013, her family brought a lawsuit against the workers compensation entity.
Samsung victims’ lawsuits against KCOMWEL meant more than just taking on obtuse bureaucrats. Usually, the lawsuits quickly turned into a war by proxy as an army of shrewd corporate lawyers, hired by Samsung as expert witness or in other capacities, packed the courtrooms. All these have been making the legal proceedings more costly and longer for Samsung victims and their families.
More Battles to Come
KCOMWEL and the administrative court have a mixed history of workers compensation payouts in connection with Samsung.
In December 2012, KCOMWEL concluded the breast cancer of a Samsung female worker was caused by an extensive period of night work.
However, in May 2013, KCOMWEL’s six-member appeals panel, which included a doctor employed with Samsung’s hospital franchise, turned down a petition by the family of Yun Seul-ki, the female employee who died of leukemia in June 2012, after working at the Giheung plant.
In August 2013, the Seoul administrative court upheld a decision by KCOMWEL to deny a 40-year-old Samsung employee with Lou Gehrig’s disease workers-compensation payouts.
KCOMWEL has a 14-day window to appeal the decision.
A court ruling is scheduled for Han Hye-kyung, a wheelchair-bound victim of the Samsung blood-disorder cluster, for November 1.
SHARPS has obtained an internal brochure of Samsung Group, in which the conglomerate enumerates ways to respond to and eventually bust unionization drives.
The 115-page brochure, published in 2012 for an annual seminar for executives and human resources managers at Samsung’s 78 affiliates, is an intriguing read. It reveals how management of the world’s largest technology company views its employees and how it treats them. In the next two or three posts, StopSamsung will discuss and analyze the anti-union brochure.