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Labor Unions And Korean Small Business
From JoongAng
April 24, 2003

Unionism is spreading among workers of Korean small businesses. It promotes a labor movement against Korean-owned groceries and delis and has been increasing constantly.

Local 1500, one of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local Unions based in New York City, for instance, successfully initiated the first employee organization at Korean groceries in September, 2001. Although successful in some places in Manhattan, the labor movement was quiet on the surface since then. However, the movement has begun to be visible recently.

According to one Korean owner of a deli on 49th Street in Manhattan, the union seems to be appearing in other shops around his grocery as well. The UFCW Local 1500, before it formally organized a union, approached Hispanics working in Korean-owned shops and asked for information such as hourly wage, working hours, working condition, overtime wage, and any delayed paychecks. If one of these does not satisfy their criteria, Local 1500 uses the information [against] the Korean owners by reporting it to the police.

The labor union itself has a legitimate reason to promote rights of employees through improving working conditions and welfare of employees, and their ultimate goal serves the growth of business. It is a necessary vehicle for workers. However, it is true that [the labor union] uses illegal procedures and improper activities and protests to achieve its aim.

There is no way to stop the labor movement because the law ensures and protects workers’ rights to [organize]. Therefore, once employees seek to organize, it is reasonable for employers to find a way to co-exist and compromise with them through conversation.

There is a more fundamental and important task for employers. Labor organizations are persuading workers to pursue collective action, by stating a violation of labor’s working condition. If employers provide employees with proper wage, adhere to legal working hours, ensure a working environment that satisfies employees, and treat them equally, there is not as much reason for employees to join a labor organization. The labor conflict [exists because employers have problems, not] employees. Like the old saying, it is better to manage the horse and the stable than to lock the stable after the horse is stolen.

The Police Department of New York State provides a “Code of Conduct” for Korean small businesses that suffer from labor activities. If the owner signs and follows the rules, they are reprieved of the search and penalty. However, only 7.5 percent of Korean owners signed the Code, which shows the lack of effort and recognition.

Korean small business has to consider its business beyond the short-term interest at hand and move toward reasonable and proper management so that it can confront the labor movement without any worries.

Translated from Korean by JooYeon Lee

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