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Archive for April, 2019

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Lee Jong-ran (right), labor attorney with SHARPS, helps Hwang Sang-ki (left), a SHARPS founder, put on a clean suit ahead of a rally against Samsung in 2016. Samsung listed Lee and Hwang as “persons of interest,” and put them under surveillance.  SHARPS activists often don clean suits to highlight the work hazards of Samsung’s chip labs.

 

The Samsung corporate star chamber has flouted laws and placed SHARPS under watch even at a time when the advocacy group and the company began dialogue, independent daily Kyunghyang reported on April 18, citing court records.

Secretive Office

Two confidential Samsung documents surfaced during a criminal hearing on April 16 for 32 Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd directors and executives indicted for allegations of illegal union-busting, confirming long-held beliefs that Samsung had placed SHARPS under illicit surveillance.

The two records were among a trove of documents the government seized two years ago from the Future Strategy Office of the Samsung Business Group, the secretive office of 200 staff handpicked and used by the conglomerate’s founding Lee family to perpetuate its control of 63 affiliates.

Samsung’s Fears of a Union and Two Comic Books

In one document, the office made a list of juyo inmul, or “persons of interest,” including Hwang Sang-ki—a SHARPS founder and father of a publicly known victim of Samsung’s blood-disorder cluster—and Lee Jong-ran, SHARPS’s labor attorney.  The document included such private information as photos of the two activists, their national ID numbers, and their descriptions as well as those of their personal friends, according to Kyunghyang which reviewed the documents.

The document was drafted in late 2012, when Samsung contacted SHARPS to start its first dialogue.

In the other, the office laid out its own analysis of A Dustless Room and The Smell of Humanity, the two graphic narratives about Samsung’s occupational disease cluster and victims.  In 2012 when the books came out, even independent publications refused to run advertisements for fear of Samsung’s retaliation.

“As the cluster issue gained publicity,” Kyunghyang quoted a prosecution document as saying, “[the Future Strategy Office] watched not only employees at risk of unionization, but also SHARPS.”

No Future for Future Strategy

The Future Strategy Office was placed under public scrutiny in 2016 when a probe by the special prosecutor revealed its pivotal role in Samsung’s heir apparent Lee Jae-yong’s bribery of then-president Park Geun-hye.

In early 2017, findings of the investigations landed Lee and Park in jail.  A year later, Lee was released as his sentence was waived. However, a highest court ruling is still pending for him.

In the period leading to the pair’s arrests, the government executed search warrants on the Future Strategy Office, which led the seizure of hundreds of documents proving many illegalities Samsung committed apart from the aforementioned briberies.

In September 2018, some of these records led to the indictments of Lee Sang-hoon, executive chairman of Samsung Electronics, and 31 other executives, for allegedly sabotaging a unionization effort at its network of after-sale repair services in 2013-2016.  During these years, Samsung’s brutal union-bashing, coupled with harsh working conditions, left at least three workers to die in accidents or commit suicide in protest.

In 2014, Samsung allegedly used a police officer to bribe the father of a worker who committed suicide in protest of its union busting to steal his body from the morgue.

In February 2017, Samsung said it would dissolve the Future Strategy Office.

As of this writing, SHARPS is still discussing what legal action it should take based on the new revelations.

 

 

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Lee Ga-young, 26 years old, died of lymphoma on April 8, 2019, after four years of on-the-job chemical exposure at Seoul Semiconductor, an LED maker in Ansan, Korea. While she was in her sickbed, the employer sought to have her workers compensation nullified.

A young female worker has died due to the cumulative effects of her on-the-job chemical exposure, amid threats by her employer seeking to invalidate her workers compensation.

On April 8, 2019, Lee Ga-young, 26 years old, died of malignant lymphoma, about two years after her diagnosis with the fatal condition, and about four years after she began to work at LED maker Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd, where she mixed mold parts since February 2015.

Chemically Drenched Death

Lee worked ten- or twelve-hour shifts mixing such high-risk, high-temperature silicone materials as OE66030A and OE6630B, which emit formaldehyde and benzene at 150°C or higher.  She was not warned of or educated on the risks of these materials.

Two years after her first diagnosis, in Sept. 2018, the malignant lymphoma returned with a vengeance.  A month later, her petition for workers compensation was approved.  However, hematopoietic stem cell transplants in Jan. 2019 turned out to be too late and too little to save her.  Lee died three months later.

Common Tragedy 

Lee’s death adds to an ongoing, commonplace tragedy in South Korea’s electronics industry, in which on-the-job chemical exposure continues to leave young workers dead or impaired while corporations shirk responsibility on the pretext of trade secrets.

However, her death came with a nasty twist.

In Jan., when Lee was probably receiving the transplants, Seoul Semiconductor filed a lawsuit seeking the nullification of her workers compensation.

It is almost impossible to understand why the world’s fifth largest LED maker made such a move against a worker who fell fatally ill while helping it generate $870 million in annual revenue.

Nothing to Win, Nothing to Lose

Management equated Lee’s workers compensation with an attempt at corporate defamation, according to SHARPS, because it considers Seoul Semiconductor a good corporation in full compliance with safety regulations.  The LED maker was not alone in attacking worker compensation petitioners.  In Jan. 2019, a new law took effect to curb the rise in these corporate abuses by delinking workers compensation payouts from rises in workers comp premiums.

Seoul Semiconductors stands little chance of winning the nullification.  However, it probably believed it had little to lose if the purpose of the lawsuit was to harass the victim in a sickbed and her family.

On April 9, in meeting with Lee’s family, a Seoul Semiconductor representative director said he would discuss at the coming management-labor meeting whether to withdraw the lawsuit.

On the morning of April 10, SHARPS issued an open letter to the management and labor council of the company, calling for the company to withdraw the lawsuit.  Seoul Semiconductor said in the afternoon it would comply with the demand.

 

 

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