Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

By Lance A. Compa; Stephen F. Diamond | Go to book overview
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Chapter 12
The Pico Case Testing International Labor Rights in U.S. Courts

Frank E. Deale

In February 1989, a United States-based multinational electronics corporation suddenly shut its subsidiary in South Korea. Nearly 300 workers, almost all women, lost their jobs. The closure was in violation of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the Labor Union of Pico Korea, which represented the Korean workers, and the Pico Korea Company, a subsidiary of New York-based Pico Products, Inc. The shutdown was also in violation of Korean laws requiring advance notification of the closing, severance pay, and back pay for work actually performed during the month of February.

After unsuccessful efforts in South Korea to track down company officials and bring them into compliance with their labor contract and with Korean law, the union members took the bold step of bringing their struggle to the doorstep of Pico Products in Liverpool, New York, a suburb of Syracuse. Beginning their campaign with a sale of pens on the streets of Seoul to earn air fare to the United States, four members arrived in the United States in April 1990 and started a historic political education campaign and legal battle against the company in the courts of the United States.

This chapter explores issues raised by the struggle of the Pico workers for recognition of their legal and contractual rights, and, just as important to them, their dignity. The case is the first of its kind, and presents new issues that go to the heart of the battle to establish internationally recognized and justiciable labor rights.

International investment and the widespread mobility of capital have two major and apparently contradictory effects on workers. As the en


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