Hyundai Motor President and CEO Yoon Gap-han visits Moon Yong-moon, chairman of the Hyundai Branch of the Korea Metal Workers Union, to formally ask the union to resume contract negotiations.
Moon did not agree Friday to reopen bargaining, but only to discuss the possibility in a working-level meeting Saturday, Aug. 17. A union official tells WardsAuto Yoon, who is in charge of Hyundai production operations and industrial relations, did not indicate the auto maker is willing to meet any of the union’s demands.
The union says 80.4% of its members, comprising workers at both Hyundai and Kia plants, voted Aug. 13 to authorize a strike. Awalkout cannot be called until Aug. 19 because both sides are meeting independently with mediation teams from the National Labor Relations Commission.
Friday’s meeting between Yoon and Moon follows an Aug. 14 union demonstration at Hyundai global headquarters in Seoul, where national police set up barrier walls to keep the demonstrators away from the buildings.
Police also broke up a funeral procession union members were holding as part of the demonstration in memory of Park Hyeon-Je, general secretary of the union representing contract workers at Hyundai’s Asan plant. The union official reports police charged into the procession and destroyed the funeral bier grieving protesters were carrying.
Park killed himself last month to protest the auto maker’s refusal to grant full-time regular employee status to all of the plant’s temporary contract workers who have completed two years of service, a longstanding union demand.
The 1,500 demonstrators included regular workers in the Hyundai branch of the KMWU and the irregular branch of the union that represents temporary workers and in-house suppliers’ contract workers.
The protest was held to confront Hyundai officials over a purported secret document allegedly detailing the auto maker’s plan to infiltrate the union, interview key members and obtain information that could be used against it in the contract talks.
“The company took the position that it would look into only the authenticity of the secret document,” a union official tells WardsAuto.
Missing from the demonstration was Hyeon-je Park, chairman of the union representing part-time contract workers at the Ulsan plant. He is in hiding to evade an arrest warrant issued by Ulsan police alleging he instigated a clash between union demonstrators and 200 hired security guards.
Nearly 90 people were hospitalized following the violence, which broke out during a rally at which the union demanded fulltime status for qualified part-time workers. Police reportedly are seeking warrants for security guards as well as union protesters.
The demonstration at Hyundai headquarters was held the same day 45,000 workers received a letter from Yoon stating his desire to resume negotiations following the Aug. 6 breakdown of talks and subsequent walkout by frustrated union representatives.
In his letter, Yoon calls the threat of strike action archaic and says Hyundai will offer to pay workers based on their performance. It does not indicate whether the auto maker will meet the union’s wage-increase proposal or any of its other demands first submitted to management May 10.
Some analysts are hopeful the Sept. 18 Chuseok Thanksgiving holiday and Moon’s retirement that month will prompt the union to scale back some of its demands. The union official denies that.