South Korean Ends Yearlong Tower Protest After Samsung Apologizes

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SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean man who spent 355 days at the top of a slender traffic-camera tower in a protest against Samsung ended his demonstration on Friday after the company apologized and agreed to resolve his grievances.

The man, Kim Yong-hee, 60, climbed the 82-foot tower near Samsung’s headquarters​ in Seoul on June 10, demanding that the tech giant apologize and offer compensation for what he called its illegal decision to fire him ​25 years ago ​for union activism. He chose his midair protest site, ​overlooking the busiest intersection in the South Korean capital, to highlight his ​grievance against the country’s​ most powerful conglomerate.

“I hope my struggle helps Samsung build a new management-labor relationship,” Mr. Kim ​told the South Korean news media after climbing down on Friday.

He decided to end his protest after Samsung agreed to meet some of his demands. But other than the apology, the details of the signed agreement between Samsung and Mr. Kim’s representatives were not disclosed.

“The company expresses its apology to Mr. Kim Yong-hee for not resolving the issue sooner and also offers a word of consolation to his family,” Samsung said in ​its apology sent to the news media. “We will continue to try to communicate with the society in a humble attitude.”

Samsung’s apology was part of a broader attempt to address growing pressure to reform its management.

ImageMr. Kim atop the 82-foot tower in Seoul last month.
Mr. Kim atop the 82-foot tower in Seoul last month.Credit…Woohae Cho for The New York Times

This month, Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s vice chairman and son of its chairman, Lee Kun-hee, apologized for ​corruption scandals that have bedeviled his conglomerate, declaring that he would be the last of his relatives to lead Samsung. ​The heir is on trial on charges of bribing Park Geun-hye, the country’s former president, who was impeached and ousted for corruption and abuse of power.

Mr. Lee — known as J.Y. Lee in the West — ​also ​apologized for “all those who have been hurt in labor issues,” renouncing Samsung’s decades-old “no union” philosophy and vowing to respect its workers’ right to organize independent labor unions. Samsung’s tight control of labor activism was often cited as a key reason the company was able to grow so rapidly while other conglomerates, like Hyundai, were often crippled by militant labor activism at their work sites. ​

But in two court rulings in December, 39 people — most current or former Samsung managers — were convicted of illegally conspiring for years to sabotage efforts to organize independent unions at two Samsung affiliates and their subcontractors, and of plotting to keep the conglomerate free of union activism. Several top Samsung figures were sent to prison.

Mr. Kim said Samsung had fired him in 1995 for trying to organize an independent labor union. Since then, his life has been an endless series of sit-ins and hunger strikes near the company’s headquarters​, demanding his job back, compensation and an apology.

“This is my last stand against that evil behemoth,” he said in an April interview from atop the tower, explaining why he had decided to climb it.

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