Representing 1.5 million members of the AFT, dozens of the union's leaders and staff, along with members of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, protested on June 19 in support of the quarter-million South Korean education support workers who are an integral part of students' educational programs yet have no job stability or fair wages.
The Americans declared their unity with the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers' Union, Education Workers Solidarity Division (KPTU-EdSol), in front of the South Korean embassy in Washington, D.C.
About 20,000 Korean education support workers lack formal, stable employment, and their wages are not based on experience. A school support employee with many years of experience can be paid the same as a worker in his or her first year.
Sandra Davis, chair of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRP) for the Baltimore Teachers Union and a member of the AFT PSRP program and policy council, hand-delivered a letter at the embassy from AFT secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson and AFT PSRP chair Ruby Newbold to South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
"We know that school support workers are the foundation of education, and they play a vital role in improving the quality of the institutions where they work. They are the lifeline of our schools and protect and enrich our students' lives every day," the letter said. "We call on your government to acknowledge the vital work of KPTU-EdSol's members and negotiate with them on the basis of what is just for workers and what is best for students."
The protestors met with two staffers from the South Korean embassy who came outside and received copies of the letter. One was a member of the embassy's education staff and the other the South Korean first secretary for political affairs.
Meanwhile, members of AFT local unions across America were gathering to send group photos expressing solidarity with their South Korean colleagues.
"All your support is incredibly uplifting," said Wol-san Liem, director of international affairs for KPTU, after hearing about the protest in Washington. She expressed hope that our unions can begin a longer-term exchange by learning more about each other's work and the challenges employees face at their schools and colleges.
A massive rally is planned for June 22, in which tens of thousands of South Korean workers are expected to call on the South Korean government to engage in collective bargaining. [AFT press release, Annette Licitra/AFT photos]
June 19, 2013