Samsung workers in South Korea begin 3-day strike — labor union striking for first time in Samsung's history

National Samsung Electronics Union strike, labor strike
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Samsung's largest labor union is beginning its three-day strike in South Korea. The union is now 36,570 members strong, making up a quarter of Samsung Electronics' workforce, according to reports from The Korea Herald. It is demanding one more day of annual leave, a change to the company's draconic bonus structure, and better pay overall.

This marks the first labor strike in Samsung Electronics' history after multiple rounds of negotiations stretching back to January. "The company's post-arbitration plan does not consider workers as being on equal terms and still treats them like expendable items," said the union in a recent statement. "We are holding the company accountable for all this through a strike." In the pouring rain, the National Samsung Electronics Union began its strike with a rally outside of the company's Hwaseong semiconductor plant this morning, packing the five-lane road leading to the fab's gates.

The union has 6,540 members participating in the strike, and the union says 5,211 of these are workers involved in semiconductor manufacturing. Many media outlets have characterized this turnout as disappointingly low.

It must also be said that of the 30,000+ union members, not all or most work the semiconductor lines, which is one of the most impactful parts of Samsung's business to strike from. Due to the specialized work in the semiconductor fabs, it is unlikely Samsung will be able to hire scab workers to replace the union for three days.

A major dispute between the company and the workers is how Samsung pays out bonuses to its employees. While Samsung executives receive bonuses based on personal performance goals, workers receive a flat bonus based on low cuts in operating profit, an "opaque" calculation that workers say is unequal. Samsung has not budged on the bonus structure nor met the union's requests for annual leave or increased pay, instead offering a more flexible pay structure.

This week's three-day strike is not estimated to seriously impact Samsung's productivity, but the union has pledged to begin a second five-day strike next Monday if demands are not met in time. Thanks to the increased publicity of the first strike, this strike would likely attract even more workers.

This collective action comes at an opportune time for the union as Samsung Electronics is on shaky ground in the AI market surge. Competitor SK hynix has taken a commanding lead over Samsung in the AI market craze thanks to its position as the leader in supplying HBM (high bandwidth memory) chips for GPUs. Nvidia's H100, H200, and GH200 platforms rely on SK hynix's HBM3 memory chips, and Samsung's slow development in HBM has it at risk of falling behind its largest domestic competitor, which has already sold out its supply of HBM for the year.

The National Samsung Electronics Union blames Samsung's slow development in HBM3 for this. The union is eager for negotiations to go well this week so it can return to work and help Samsung compete in the market.

Dallin Grimm
Contributing Writer

Dallin Grimm is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware. He has been building and breaking computers since 2017, serving as the resident youngster at Tom's. From APUs to RGB, Dallin has a handle on all the latest tech news.