A list of the Sookmyung body would include its students, professors, President Hwang, and office educational personal. However, there is one group that tends to be overlooked, but without them, the school would be at risk and students would have to study in unsanitary conditions. Regrettably, school authorities do not appreciate their effort and treated them harshly. Recently, security and cleaning personal have stood up to show their anger and fight for their rights. The Sookmyung Times investigated the Spring 2016 semester campus issue more deeply.
Long Term Mistreatment Brings on Resistance
Early morning, before students and professors arrive on campus, security workers and cleaning staff arrive at school to begin their work. Thanks to their hard work, Sookmyungians do not fear crime at or near campus and can enjoy a sanitary study environment. They are always friendly and smile at students. Despite the smiles, real life is not something to smile about. After beginning their work for the day, it continues all day long. In some case, they can work up to 3 days straight without a break. With this much work required of them, you would expect them to have a rest area. Unfortunately, there is no such facility on campus for them to rest. In the case of guards who work the night shift, they are not free to leave their post, so they often take short naps at their posts. During rain or snow, there are no measures to keep out of the bad weather. They have no choice but to face the weather during work. Also, despite their hard work, some educational personal insult them using very negative language. In terms of earnings, security workers and cleaning staff earn 6,700 won per hour, which is 200 won less per hour than those at other universities. What is more shocking is that this 6,700 won was earned only after struggling with the university. In addition, when an employee takes a day off, the day is considered unpaid vacation. To add wood to the fire, at the end of March, the school was scheduled to make a contract with a new security firm that would install security cameras throughout the campus to monitor the university. Employees asked the university to guarantee their jobs, but the school refused to listen and said that it would let 15 security workers go. Moreover, Sookmyung said that since it does not directly hire them, it was not its responsibility to guarantee their jobs safe. This comment and stance by school triggered the fury that forced the security workers and cleaning staff to take action.
Suppressed Voices Coming Together
Protesting poor labour conditions and the university’s irrational response, the two groups took to the campus grounds to demonstrate during morning and lunch hours over a 2-week session from March 7th to 22nd. They were seen wearing red vests on campus, scouting out, “Our right to survive should be protected.” Jo Deukyoung, one of the guards that participated in protest, said ”Because the university and subcontractor refused to response to our requests about job security, we had no choice but to protest. We also voiced concern for the safety of students by decreasing the number of guards on campus and that CCTV surveillance would not provide the same level of security, but they didn’t respond.” Their plight was seen all over campus in red placards that were hung on campus buildings. They tried to spread their plight to others on campus in the hopes their voices would be heard and understood. The news was picked up by Sookmyung’s internet community sites like Snowe, Snorose, and Everytime. These sites called for voluntary activities of solidarity by Sookmyung Women's University students. Online, students said anonymously that surveillance cameras wouldn’t make the campus safer and argued that firing the workers was a disgrace. Students were also seen posting messages of encouragement on Facebook to the protesters. Offline helps were started, too. On campus, about 4500 students signed a petition that objected to the discharging of workers, and some students founded a union for part time employees at Sookmyung. One student from the Department of History & Culture made a huge poster that blamed school authorities for the workers’ hardships. It read: “Will surveillance cameras really keep students safe?” Along with her poster, several school clubs posted handmade posters on campus walls to ensure the school body understood the seriousness of the situation. One such poster by S.F.A, Gachi, and Cum, called for improved labor conditions and offered words of encouragement like “Don’t ignore the guards and cleaning staff. They are also Sookmyungians.” Lee Mihyang, a member of S.F.A, said “When I came across the protesting place, I saw the phrases they were saying “Give us the right to work and the right to survive”. Then, I made myself a promise. I would do whatever I could for them.” On the morning of March 18th in Renaissance Plaza’s lobby, a number of students gathered to discuss the workers situation. Students at the gathering learnt about the plight of the workers by talking directly with security guards. After the gathering, the campus saw a huge increase in the number of online and offline posting and posters. Along with the posters, students created badges related to the situation to show the guards and cleaning staff that students were on their side. On Facebook, students gathered badge design ideas, but in the end, the accepted design was one that contained two snowflakes and one security guard and one cleaning staff. The two workers were holding hands and words on the badge said, “We are all Sookmyung Family.”
Victory through Hard Times
The long struggle paid off. On March 23rd at 3 p.m, an agreement settlement was reached between Sookmyung Women’s University and the labor union. In the agreement, the school promised to raise the salary from 1,500,000 won a month to 1,900,000 won a month, ensure sufficient breaks, guarantee workers’ retirement age, grant workers five paid days of vacations a year, prepare uniforms for the workers, and create resting areas for the laborers. Besides these stipulates, workers will also receive a bonus on New Year’s Day and Chuseok. Each of these aspects will surely make the work environment of the guards and cleaning staffs better. The biggest win was that except for 3 workers who are scheduled to retire due to the retirement age law all workers will be keeping their jobs even after the school makes a contract to set up security cameras. The plight ended well, and all protesters are satisfied that the school listened to their voices. “I’m satisfied with the agreement. Still, I hope that Sookmyung Women’s University continues to care about the workers and does not ignore part of its family,” said one of guards. Once students knew the result, they were elated that their effort had paid off. One student said, “It’s great that the issue has been resolved. I felt so upset every time I read the placards hanging just outside our university. I wish the best for everyone at Sookmyung.” At the end of the affair, workers handed out badges originally made to cheer them on during the protest to students as way to say thank-you for their supports and understandings.
Sookmyung, Look to your Shadow to Expand Your Wings
All Sookmyungians managed to overcome the crisis and protected their family. They have often used the petition signing method to help people by fighting for their plight. Still it is not done yet. The school didn’t do the new contract with the workers yet. If the school doesn’t make the promise again, this crisis will repeat over and over again. 2016 marks Sookmyung Women’s University’s 110th anniversary and it will be a year of change. However, before making big change, Sookmyung Women’s University should take this opportunity to improve the university campus environment and make attempt to better communication among family members. If our family is broken, our family will not see success. Only by working as one will Sookmyung truly embrace society and show its strength. Thus Sookmyung, keep your words and go a step forward to the future where every smiles.
* We corrected the interviewee, a member of S.F.A, Kim Mihyang to Lee Mihyang. In published megazine, the interviewee's name is written as Kim Mihyang, but the corrected name is Lee Mihyang. SMT officially apologize for not checking fact. SMT will try our best not to make same mistake.