1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Anti-Samsung protester Kim Yong-hee
Image: picture-alliance/AP/Yonhap/Yun Dong-jin

Fired Samsung worker ends year-long tower protest

May 29, 2020

Dismissed in 1995 for union activism, one man took on South Korea's most powerful conglomerate and has finally reached a settlement. For over 300 days, supporters passed the protester food and clothes using only a rope.


A former Samsung employee who spent 354 days atop a traffic camera tower in the South Korean capital ended his protest Friday after the business conglomerate apologized and agreed to a settlement to resolve his 25-year-long grievance. 

Sixty-year-old Kim Yong-hee waved a banner with a Samsung logo and a protest slogan while a rescue worker on a fire-truck ladder helped him down from the 25-meter (82-foot) high tower. Supporters gave him a bouquet of flowers as he landed.

On June 10, near to Samsung's headquarters, Kim climbed the tower overlooking the busiest intersection in Seoul and demanded that the multinational apologize and offer compensation for what he called its illegal decision to fire him in 1995 for trying to set up a labor union. 

Read more: Samsung signs deal to compensate factory cancer victims

Kim had relied on supporters and activists to bring him food, clothes and phone batteries, which he then pulled up from the ground by a rope. 

Kim Yong-hee is given flowers
Kim Yong-hee spent 354 days atop a traffic camera tower in South Korea's capital, SeoulImage: picture-alliance/AP/Yonhap/Yun Dong-jin

"I suffered panic disorder and had to constantly fight the urge to jump off ..." Kim told French news agency AFP, describing how he lived on top of "such a small space" that he could not even stretch his legs. 

"I hope Samsung will now really guarantee all union activities of all employees," he said. 

Samsung apologizes, 25 years later 

In its apology, Samsung said it should have done more to ease Kim's "pain and agony." The company also apologized for "failing to promptly solve the issue."

However, the firm did not clearly acknowledge Kim's claim that he lost his job due to union activism. At the time he was fired, Kim had been working at Samsung's now-defunct aerospace unit. 

Neither Kim nor Samsung discussed details of the settlement reached, or whether Kim would be reinstated at the company. 

Activists representing Kim announced in a statement that the former employee views Samsung's apology as redeeming his honor.

Read more: South Korean officials raid Samsung, national pension fund offices

The occasion came weeks after Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong apologized for the company's previous "no labor union" policy that lasted for decades until 2019. Lee, who is currently on trial over corruption charges, promised to end decades of union sabotaging practices at the South Korean conglomerate. 

Lee Sang-hoon, the former chairman of subsidiary Samsung Electronics, was imprisoned last year for union-busting activities.

Samsung is the largest of South Korea's family-controlled conglomerates – known as chaebols. The company's overall turnover is equivalent to a fifth of the national gross domestic product. Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics is the world's biggest smartphone maker. 

mvb/mm (AFP, AP, dpa)

Every evening, DW sends out a selection of the day's news and features. Sign up here.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics

Related topics