Koreans rally amid fears over job losses with US move south
SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of Korean civilians who work on U.S. bases, many for decades, rallied Saturday outside the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan amid rising fears about possible job losses and benefits when most American forces move south.
The demonstration, which began with speeches outside the Korean War Memorial, came as the much-postponed relocation is gaining momentum. The move was originally scheduled to take place in 2008 but was delayed until 2012, then 2016, and most recently 2017.
But the military recently announced the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment will move from Camp Hovey near North Korea to Camp Humphreys in July, making it the first unit to relocate.
The 8th Army also said it is sending an advance team of about 100 people to Humphreys this summer.
With the end date in sight, many Korean nationals fear they may lose their jobs as the U.S. military reorganizes and hires new staff in preparation for the relocation to Humphreys in the port city of Pyongtaek and other regional hubs south of Seoul.
“I think they’re going to cut a lot of employees,” said Yi Kyong Nim, a housing management assistant who has worked at Yongsan for 21 years. Yi said his main concern is that U.S. forces will hire Koreans to staff the housing office at Humphreys and there will be no spots left for him because he will be needed at Yongsan until the last minute.
“We have a lot of family to support,” he said before joining other demonstrators waving flags and banners in a march alongside the concrete wall topped with barbed wire that surrounds Yongsan. “I’m already 55. If I lose my job, what will I do?”
U.S. Forces Korea has urged patience, insisting efforts are being made to minimize job losses and to facilitate the moves of Korean as well as American civilians.
“We are fully committed to taking care of our civilian workforce, just like they’ve taken care of us,” USFK commander Gen. Vincent Brooks said in a press release issued Friday.
“Our dedicated employees are an integral part of our team,” he said. “As such, we remain committed to an open dialogue throughout this entire transformation process.”
But American officials acknowledge there are no guarantees, particularly with units that need to duplicate tasks in each location, such as the directorate of public works.
The Korean Employees’ Union, which organized Saturday’s demonstration, said many of its members already have been informed that they’ll be reduced to working part-time. About 5,000 Korean nationals work in areas that will be affected, half of them on Yongsan, according to the union.
Several demonstrators on Saturday also expressed concern that they won’t receive sufficient help with housing and other benefits.
“I’ve lived in Seoul for a long time. My friends and family live in Seoul,” said Kwon Ku Hyon, a geologist who said he has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 13 years. “We need some support; we need cheap houses; we don’t want to be fired.”
He and others said one of the main problems is a lack of information about the move, which gives way to rumors.
U.S. Forces Korea says it hopes to change that with a series of town halls to share information with all employees, including relocation plans for Korean nationals. It also has set up a website focused on the move: http://8tharmy.korea.army.mil/transformation/