Costco workers poised to strike over unresolved labour disputes and worker death


Costco workers poised to strike over unresolved labour disputes and worker death

The Costco Korea Workers Union, a member of UNI Global Union affiliate the Korean Federation of Service Workers Unions (KFSU), has announced plans to strike on 27 April 2024, as a result of ongoing labour disputes with Costco Korea management and the company’s lack of response to the needless death of a young worker in June 2023.

This would be the second such strike undertaken this year. One of their key demands includes the guarantee of 5,000 hours of full-time exemption for union activities, as stipulated by the Labour Standards Act. The union had earlier launched a one-day strike on 4 February, after an arduous 21 rounds of negotiations that failed to yield any positive outcome.

Costco Korea’s continual recalcitrant attitude has caused the union much frustration since it was established in August 2020. The management has consistently refused to engage in collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations, while the company continues to bring in huge profits.  

In 2023, Costco Korea recorded annual sales of 6 billion Korean Won, making it one of the most profitable stores in the Costco global market. On 14 March 2024, the Kyunggi-District-Labour Commission ruled that Costco Korea’s actions constituted unfair labour practices and recognized that the union’s demands were basic provisions. However, the management has remained unmoved.

The union’s frustration has been further compounded by the shocking and preventable death of a 29-year-old male worker on 19 June 2023. The worker, who was assigned to the parking lot, died of heat-related causes after working long hours without appropriate protective measures provided by the company.

The Sungnam branch of Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Services designated his death as an industrial accident on 31 October 2023. Despite this, Costco Korea CEO Cho Min-Soo has not visited the bereaved family or apologized for the incident.

Sister Chung Min-Jeong, President of KFSU-Mart Workers Union, emphasized that Costco Korea Workers Union has submitted numerous amendments and conceded on issues such as incentive payments and seniority allowances. She noted that market competitors like E-Mart, HomePlus and Lotte Mart have been more willing to negotiate with their respective unions on wage increases and CBAs this year.

Bro Kang Gyu-Hyok, KFSU President, condemned Costco Korea CEO Cho Min-Soo for intentionally avoiding negotiations. He highlighted that despite the company’s astronomical profits, management has resisted installing back-end chairs for cashiers and pressured workers not to use sick leave. “We will fight to change these kinds of evil practices of Costco Korea management,” he declared.

UNI Asia & Pacific Regional Secretary, Rajendra Acharya, expressing solidarity, said, “We stand firmly with our affiliate, KFSU in supporting their member, Costco Korea Workers Union in fighting for fair labour practices and ensuring the safety and well-being of their members.”

As the strike date approaches, UNI Global Union strongly supports the Costco Korea Workers Union’s fight to ensure major transnational companies respect and uphold workers’ rights.