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Samsung workers union announces first strike for chipmaker

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Samsung workers union announces first strike for chipmaker

A major union representing tens of thousands of people at South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics said Wednesday that workers will go on strike for the first time, potentially threatening key global semiconductor supply chains.

A spokesman said union members, around 20% of the company’s workforce, or 28,000 people, would use their annual leave to strike for one day on June 7, leaving the door open to a possible general strike in the future.

Management at the company, the world’s largest producer of memory chips, has been locked in negotiations with the union over wages since January, but the two sides have failed to narrow their differences.

“We are declaring a strike in light of the company’s abandonment of workers,” a spokesperson for the Samsung National Electronics Union said in a live-streamed news conference. “We have tried to resolve the problem through dialogue.”

Union president Son Woo-mok said the union had accepted the company’s proposed wage increase but was asking for an additional holiday plus “a transparent system to measure performance bonus based on sales profits.”

“The company does not listen to us and they have not communicated since our last negotiation session,” he said.

A Samsung official said: “Samsung will maintain dialogue with the union in the future as before.”

“It could lead to a general strike,” the union spokesperson said of the one-day strike, confirming that the action was the company’s “first strike,” (and) we believe it is significant.

“The responsibility for all collective actions from now on lies directly with the company. “We are declaring our stance against the company’s negligence and interference in our peaceful struggle so far.”

Samsung Electronics is one of the world’s largest smartphone makers and one of the only companies globally to produce high-end memory chips used for generative AI, including top-of-the-line AI hardware from industry leaders like Nvidia. . It is the flagship subsidiary of the South Korean giant Samsung Group, by far the largest of the family conglomerates that dominate business in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

For nearly 50 years, Samsung Electronics avoided unionizing its employees (sometimes adopting cutthroat tactics, critics say) as it rose to become the world’s largest maker of semiconductors and smartphones.

Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, who died in 1987, was adamantly opposed to unions, saying he would never allow them “until I cover my eyes with dirt.”

Internal documents from 2012 obtained by a South Korean parliamentarian instructed managers to control “problematic staff” who tried to establish unions.

“To avoid allegations of unfair labor practices, fire key organizers before forming a union,” it said, among other recommendations.

But in 2019, organizers seized the opportunity presented by the leftist government of President Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer representing unions, and the controversy surrounding the bribery trial of the company’s then-vice president, Lee Jae-yong. grandson of the founder, to form a union.

“Having 20% ​​of its workforce on strike will have a significant impact on the company as a whole, especially at a time when it needs to act quickly in the ever-evolving semiconductor industry,” said Kim Dae-jong, professor of business at Sejong University.

“Unlike Hyundai Motor, which has faced strikes almost every year, Samsung’s management will find it difficult to control this situation because it has never faced a strike before.”

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