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Samsung Electronics union kicks off historic 3-day strike over wage dispute

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Unionized workers of Samsung Electronics kicked off a historic three-day strike on Monday, raising concerns of a possible disruption in chip production, especially after more members than expected expressed their intention to participate in the walkout.

The National Samsung Electronics Union (NSEU), the biggest labor group at the company, held a rally in front of its chip-manufacturing facilities in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, on Monday, marking the start of the first multiple-day walkout in Samsung’s 55-year history.

The union said some 6,540 members have demonstrated an intention to participate in the walkout as of Monday morning, exceeding the target of 5,000.

Of those participating, the union said 5,211 are from the company’s manufacturing or equipment teams, implying that the collective action “is destined to take a toll on the chip production.”

Unionized workers of Samsung Electronics participate in a rally in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, on Monday morning to mark the start of its three-day strike. [YONHAP]

If no substantial consensus is reached during the three-day strike, the NSEU said it would commence another five-day strike starting July 15.

The union has been seeking a higher pay raise than the 5.1 percent offered by management on top of asking for an overhaul of the incentive system, which the labor groups sees as unfair, as well as an extra day of paid annual leave.

“As a high number of engineers who are in charge of facility maintenance are participating in the walkout, production disruption is inevitable,” said Lee Hyun-kook, vice president of the NSEU, on stage during a livestreamed rally Monday morning.

“More than 4,000 participants are from Samsung’s main chip facilities such as those in Giheung, Hwaseong and Pyeongtaek.”

Samsung Electronics did not have a comment on the issue.

Talks between the union and management started in January, but a consensus could not be reached even after the union met with Jun Young-hyun, the new head of the company’s Device Solution (DS) division in charge of the chip business.

The number of NSEU members from the DS division grew after its incentive rate was set at 0 percent in the wake of a 15 trillion-won ($10.8 billion) loss last year due to a cyclical downturn.

The union staged a one-day strike last month by encouraging employees to use their annual leave on the same day, but low participation failed to disrupt production.

“There should already be a contingency measure at Samsung Electronics, but if this walkout continues as more than a one-off event, a disruption in chip production could be possible,” said one industry insider who wished to stay anonymous.

The union said its membership grew to 30,657 as of Monday morning, representing 24 percent of Samsung Electronics’ 125,000 employees.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]