Under the warm spring sunshine in May, red and white banners with crooked handwriting on them were hung over the Gonzaga Plaza. They read, “The actual employer of the Gonzaga Hall cleaners is the school president,” and “We stand together with Gonzaga Hall cleaners, Malgeum.” Some students just glanced over those banners and quickly passed by. However, others who had entered the school in 2015 or before lingered a while in front of them, feeling a strange sense of deja vu. The banners are not totally a new thing. The Gonzaga Hall's Cleaners Union (GHCU) published similar slogans back in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Now in 2017, the union put out the banners once again.
Gonzaga Hall’s Cleaners Union
The GHCU was established in September 2013. At that time, cleaners working in the Gonzaga Hall were in a far worse condition than the present. They were paid less than the legal minimum wage, legal paid rest-time was not granted and even there was no food expenses. Therefore, seven cleaners set up the union and enrolled in the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union (KPTU). After a series of negotiations and demonstrations, the GHCU finally signed a new contract which guarantees “legal” wage and treatments. “Compared to prior years of 2016, labor conditions are much better now,” said the union head. However, she added that the betterment is only relative. The GHCU is requiring another improvement in payment.
Pay Raise; How Much?
According to the GHCU, the average wage of the 16 school cleaners union of the KPTU Seoul and Gyeonggi branch is 6,950 Won per hour, while the GHCU receives 6,850 Won. The average wage that the GHCU members receive is 1,551,000 Won excluding regular allowances, such as long-service allowance and non-duty allowance. When including those subsistence allowances, the average earnings of the GHCU becomes above 1,900,000 Won. It is close to the average monthly earnings of a similar occupational category (facility management and service): 1,990,000 Won in 2015, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO). Yet, the GHCU asserts it is not enough: another report from the NSO states that the minimum living expense of a two-member household is 2,200,000 Won and that of a three-member is 3,300,000 Won. "I heard that other cleaner unions in Sogang University signed a new contract and that they will be paid about 7,600 Won per hour. Only the GHCU is under paid," the union head argued. Those other school cleaners belong to a different labor union and service company.
What arose the 2017’s fight is the annual salary negotiation for 2018. The union and the company explain the situation very differently. The GHCU claims that they asked for a pay of 10,000 Won per hour but Dongwoo Enterprises, a labor-providing service company that hired the GHCU, rejected it and said that a 450 Won pay raise is the best suggestion they can make. Dongwoo Enterprises firmly denied this statement through the interview with The Sogang Herald. They said that salary negotiation has not been opened yet, and there was no official suggestion. To this point, the union head admitted that she has not sat at negotiation table yet, but it was due to the company's negative attitude to the pay raise. She has also boycotted the meeting with the company scheduled on July 10th. Dongwoo Enterprises asserted that actually the GHCU’s wage is not lower than other school cleaners: “Working 209 hours a month is based on a calculation that the worker works eight hours a day. However, the GHCU’s daily working hour is seven hours and half. So if we calculate the working hour strictly, their wage per hour is higher than 6,850 Won.”
Other unions facing trouble with wage bargaining including Korea University, Yonsei Univeristy, and Ewha Womans University went on a solidarity strike on June 30 this year. It was part of a general strike led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU). The KCTU's main slogans are “An immediate raise of minimum wage to 10,000 Won,” and “An immediate abolition of the non-regular working employment.” The KPTU and those 17 school cleaner unions chanted after the KCTU's relatively radical direction in the strike. The GHCU also participated in the strike in June as a sub-union of the KPTU. However, their requirements were not exactly same with those of the KCTU or the KPTU. "It is hard to say we did an actual walkout. We left the Gonzaga Hall at 4 p.m. after finishing what we have to do,” the GHCU explained.
Pay Raise; By Whom?
The GHCU points that the system of indirect employment as the cause of this struggle. The employment contract was signed by the cleaners and Dongwoo Enterprises. Yet, when the GHCU asked for the pay rise, Dongwoo Enterprises argued that they are mere employees as well. They shifted the blame to the Sogang Limited Liability Company (SLLC), who employed Dongwoo Enterprises to hire the cleaners. “Where is the Gonzaga Hall? It is located within the Sogang campus. It is Sogang University's dormitory. So, who do you think our employer is?,” the union head asked. To this question, the school answered that the owner of the Gonzaga Hall is SLLC and Sogang University has no responsibility to the situation. However, the GHCU argues that the Gonzaga Hall belongs to Sogang University, since a Jesuit priest Bae Sung-moon, former Jesuit Center chief of administration, is the co-president of the Gonzaga Hall.
Dongwoo Enterprises see the matter in a different point of view; they stated that who actually pays the GHCU is Multi Asset, the company who owns the SLLC. The Gonzaga Hall is a privately invested dormitory, and Multi Asset is the investor as well as co-representative. Therefore, to raise the cleaners pay, Multi Asset’s sanction is prerequisite. “Multi Asset is an asset management firm. They need investors’ agreement to make the decision. Would the investors approve higher wage?” Dongwoo Enterprises said. They also made an additional remark: “SLCC appropriated only 6,470 Won per hour for personnel expenses, but we pay the cleaners about 6,850 Won per hour. That means we burden the extra labor costs.”
To raise awareness among students, they made hand written banners and hung them over the Gonzaga Plaza. Malgeum, a student community which supported the GHCU in 2014 and 2015, took part in this campaign. Through a survey conducted by The Sogang Herald, Sogangers expressed their opinion towards this matter. The 'pros' took the fight of the GHCU as a reasonable right of workers. "Fighting for a better work environment is valuable in itself," an anonymous student stated. Another argued that: "Their wage is not acceptable considering their intensity of labor." This 'intensity of labor' was questioned by another student: "I think the Gonzaga Hall has better working environment than other parts of the school campus. The cleaners’ struggle is an exaggeration of the situation." Some worried that pay raise for the GHCU will lead to raise of dormitory fee or tuition.
Sogang University's official stance to the GHCU is one of disregard. While the school neglects the problem, some students reject to do so. Quoting from an anonymous student who participated in the survey, “Whether one supports the GHCU or not, they must pay attention to this struggle, as it taking place in our school campus. It is Sogang University's problem and matter for all Sogangers. We should not walk away from it.”
By Kim Gyu-yeon (Campus Reporter)