Samsung Faces Strike Action as Big Tech Labor Mobilization Goes Global

Its biggest union announced Wednesday that it will stage a one-day walkout on June 7 with workers using their paid annual leave.

Photo of Samsung's San Jose office
Photo via Samsung Newsroom

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Workers of the world aren’t exactly uniting, but they do seem to be stirring, at least in techland.

South Korean phone and chip giant Samsung is facing a strike action from the National Samsung Electronics Union, its biggest union representing roughly 28,000 workers. The union announced Wednesday that it will stage a one-day walkout on June 7 with workers using their paid annual leave en masse, with potentially more strikes to come without management concessions. It’s an uncomfortable first for Samsung, and it shows that the trend of rank-and-file workers for tech giants mobilizing is going global.

A Global Sensation

Unionization is a fairly new chapter in Samsung’s history — Samsung’s leadership maintained a strict anti-union stance until 2020 when executive chairman Jay Y. Lee came under massive public scrutiny amid a succession scandal and promised to reverse Samsung’s long-held anti-union policy. “From now on, I will make sure that Samsung is not criticized for ‘union-free management,’” Lee said at the time.

Smash-cut to Wednesday, when the union live-streamed its accusation of Samsung’s “union repression,” per Reuters’ reporting. But this isn’t the first taste of union action that Samsung has faced. In 2021, workers for its Samsung Display division (the part of the company that makes screens) staged a 90-minute walkout, per The Korea Times. However, this is the first honest-to-goodness strike action it has experienced that brings the potential for escalation. And Samsung isn’t the only tech giant with a workforce preparing for its first strike:

  • Earlier this month, unionized workers at an Apple store in Maryland voted to authorize strike action after what it said was “over a year of negotiations” with Apple reached a sticking point.
  • Tesla, which also has a history of being anti-union, is readying itself for a US unionization drive from the United Auto Workers union. Meanwhile, it’s still in a drawn-out battle with striking Scandinavian union workers.

Not Great, Not Terrible: As news of the Samsung strike took its shares down about 4%, another bit of bad news blew in. South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission announced it’s launching a probe into Samsung after two of its workers at a semiconductor plant had to be hospitalized for radiation exposure. Samsung’s PR team had better be ready for some fallout.