U.S., South Korea labor deal shows ‘power of our alliance’

U.S., South Korea labor deal shows ‘power of our alliance’


About 4,500 South Korean civilians who work at U.S. military bases on the Korean Peninsula will soon head back to work now that the government in Seoul has agreed to pay their salaries for the remainder of 2020.

U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) placed the employees on unpaid leave in April 2020 after funds to pay their salaries ran out while the allies were negotiating a larger defense cost-sharing agreement, Agence France-Presse reported.

While that cost-sharing pact worth billions of dollars is still being negotiated, the South Korean government in early June 2020 offered more than U.S. $200 million to pay the employees’ salaries for the remainder of the year, Agence France-Presse reported.

U.S. Army Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of USFK, called Seoul’s decision “another positive sign of the power of our alliance.” He added, however, that the agreement is only a short-term solution for sharing labor costs. The larger Special Measures Agreement is needed to preserve the peace on the Korean Peninsula and more equitably share defense costs, he said.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense welcomed Washington’s decision to end the furloughs, saying the allies will try to reach a cost-sharing pact “at an early date,” according to Agence France-Presse. (Pictured: A man and woman wave flags during a ceremony in June 2019 at Camp Humphreys in South Korea commemorating the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Eighth Army.)

USFK commands 28,500 U.S. service members in South Korea. The U.S. has been negotiating a new agreement to more equitably share the cost of that forward deployment and has been in similar discussions with other allies around the world.

“This question of burden-sharing is not just about the Republic of Korea, but as our president has said, we think that we need fair and equitable burden-sharing with all of our allies around the world,” James P. DeHart, senior advisor for security negotiations and agreements at the U.S. Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, told reporters in December 2019. “It’s in part because of the forward presence that the United States has had for many decades that countries like Korea have succeeded democratically and economically, and today are in a position — we think — to contribute more to the alliance,” DeHart said, according to a transcript of his interview provided by the U.S. Department of State.

The previous Special Measures Agreement expired December 31, 2019, when the allies deadlocked over U.S. requests that South Korea sharply increase the amount it pays. USFK used funds already programmed to pay the South Korean employees for the first three months of the year, according to Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military newspaper.

Those funds ran out March 31, 2020, triggering the furlough. Pak Song Chin, 54, who worked at the motor pool at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, said he and many other furloughed workers have been trying to make a living by getting loans and working part-time jobs. “We have been going through a pretty tough time,” he told Stars and Stripes. “We’re ready to get back to work.”