Half a paycheck, still no pension

Payday should be on the 5th of every month.  We accepted that we wouldn’t get it before our week off so thought the paychecks would be deposited the day of our return on January 6th.  Wrong.  Today is Friday and this whole week we’ve been working without pay, and have gotten zero answers about our pension accounts.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I called the National Pension office and confirmed that my account in fact has ₩0 in it.  So I’ve got that going for me.

A friendly letter with clearly stated advantages & disadvantages of diligent payment was drafted.  It outlined how employee morale has bottomed out highlighting the stress of not being paid, the revelation about our fraudulent pensions and the uncertainty of the future.  It further stated that the simple solution to avoid complications at the school was to adhere to our contractual payday.

I really wanted to have this translated and left on the boss’ desk but I was out voted.  Only myself and the author were willing to sign our names.  I guess it doesn’t bother me too much since I didn’t really think there would be any effect other than some angry Korean.  It was more of a symbolic olive branch to try and fix the problems while helping our CEO see the benefit to a good business practice aka paying his employees.

Its bad enough on a normal Monday morning but everyday past our payday it grows harder and harder to remain motivated to do any work and to come each in morning.  I look forward to leaving this job in a way I have never before experienced.  I chalk most of the trouble up to the language barrier and cultural differences.  If Mr. Bae spoke any English or we spoke Korean well enough to have a conversation perhaps he could convince us what he was doing made sense.  Well, no chances are it would make me hate him even more if I understood what he was saying.

As a result of the stress and uncertainty we have had some interesting developments.  This week there have been a handful of absences; they can largely be attributed to catching viruses like the devil I brought back from the Philippines but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two were directly related to the lack of pay.  I know I’m planning on taking at least 1 ‘sick’ day next week to give myself a 3-day weekend for my birthday and am certain the remaining 7 weeks will include coworkers following suit.

The unfortunate side of a teacher calling in sick is that we are required to give up our prep periods to sub.  Today that backfired on one of our administrators.  Roughly 10 minutes before the class started (the teacher has been absent all day yet they waited until the last minute to ask) they approached a teacher with a prep this afternoon asking her to cover.  It got a little ugly when she refused; stating significant work (including a private school application) and the intent to visit the doctor since she had been sick.

As teachers we can’t understand why our principal doesn’t cover on these occasions.  Her main responsibility is to develop our curriculum (which she fails to do) and online shops or chats on her phone most of the day.  She deals with parents when the need arises but usually pawns that responsibility off to our coteachers who are on the phone most of the school day as a result.  Well, anyway a screaming match ensued in the hallway; it was exacerbated by both parties lack of pay and resulted in a “warning” letter which was mistranslated as a “call to immigration.”

Continue reading

A Friday fight for my letter of release

2 weeks ago I officially submitted my letter of resignation to CPIS for February 28th, 2014.  This week I was told my school owner called the school that offered me a job and accused them of poaching.  I responded by compiling a list of reasons I was leaving and submitted them with a note stating if I didn’t have the letter of release by Friday I would bring the grievances to the ministry of labor.  Today is that Friday.

I stopped by my principal’s office at 9:00 and she was nowhere to be found.  I asked the vice principal and she informed me “she isn’t in yet.”  I made a few copies and waited for her arrival.  When she hadn’t arrived by 9:10 I went upstairs again; I couldn’t waste my morning waiting around for her and I took this as a bad omen.  Our old principal would routinely arrive after the first few buses and I hoped this wasn’t the new trend.

I went back to my room to get a few things ready and went down to her office at 9:25 to find Mr. Bae and her conversing in the hallway.  He left as I walked up and we walked into her office together.  I asked her if Mr. Bae had written the letter of release.

She immediately began telling me “you know it is not good for you to leave like this.  If you want to teach in Korea.”

“Yes, but it is not good for me to stay here.  I need my letter of release today,” I replied.

“oh, have you, will you, pay the flight?” She asked.

“No, that is an absurd request.” I reiterated my statements from our previous conversation. “My contract says I don’t need to repay the flight after 6 months of employment. If I don’t have my letter I will contact the ministry of labor as I said earlier in the week.”

“You know I didn’t tell Mr. Bae yet.”

Wait, what?  Why would she go all week without even bringing it to his attention?!?  I was starting to lose my trust in this women and wanted to scream.  I wanted to tell her I would call the ministry right now if I don’t have the letter; oh the things I wanted to say.  I used the advice and patience I’ve learned through teaching, working with special ed and fencing for many years to say nothing and let her continue.

“It is bad idea for you to do that.  You know all owners know each other in Korea and it will make it very difficult for you.”

“I agree that all the owners know each other.  In the two interviews I’ve had they knew about (insert school name here) and the problems we are having here before even asking me for an interview.  I have had 2 job offers already and have more interviews scheduled.  I need the letter of release.”

“Okay, I see.  You really need to negotiate with the school.  You know the bad financials it is in.  You should repay half the flight.”

“No.  You need to give me the letter of release.  If that is the only way you will than before I can agree to pay anything I need my letter and a document stating the amount I will be paying and why.”

With that she left to finally speak to Mr. Bae.  I sat quietly staring at the clock. Tick… Tock…  Tick… Tock…  My students would be arriving in my classroom momentarily if they weren’t already bogging down my co-teacher.  She came back a few minutes later.

“Okay, you know this is bad idea for you but if you need the letter we can do that.  I spoke to the accountant and she is getting the amount of flight.  When do you need the letter by?  You need a document too?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I need a document stating the amount I would be repaying and I need the letter today.”

“Yes,” she said, “I will do that.  Are you okay?  You have money?”

“I am fine.  I have American money and have saved from my few Korean paychecks.  So I will have the letter of release today?”


With that I told her my students had already arrived and excused myself from her office.  A coworker overheard the discussion in the hallway and came to the same eerie conclusion I had.  “Was that Mrs. Yi?”  She laughed a little, we both cringed and then agreed that the appearance of this new side of our principal was even more of a reason to get out.

I taught my Kindergarten classes and made my best to ignore my morning conversation.  It was unsettling but I left with a good feeling about the coveted letter of release.  I taught my students about Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and we played the dreidel game before doing our regular centers and working on fact families in math.

My after school group went swimmingly well as we talked about past tense and going places using plural and singular pronouns.  When they had a break for snack with Sae, a Korean teacher downstairs, I bumped into [the director] in the hallway.

“Do you still need the letter?  I spoke with [the owner].”  She asked, as if I might have changed my mind.

“Yes.”  I said matter of factly.

“Just stop by my office.”

“Okay, I am done teaching at 5.” I replied as she went back to guiding her tour of prospective parents.

My class finished uneventfully and I went down to her empty office.  I continued walking towards Mr. Bae’s office and noticed the two of them discussing something in Korean.   I waited a few moments before deciding to let them finish and get back to work in my room.  Around 5:10 my phone rang and [the director] asked me to come down to her office.

I walked in and yet again she asked me if I was sure I wanted the letter.  When I reaffirmed my stance she took out an envelope and stapled piece of paper.

“Is it okay if its Korean?” my principal asked.

“As long as it is the letter of release I can get it translated.” I replied.

She unfolded the letter and said the top line in Korean, explaining that it means letter of release.  The dates no it seemed in order and she pulled out the next sheet of paper, a billing receipt for my flight ticket to Korea for ₩856,259 (roughly $850).

“You are okay to pay half?” she asked

“I can, but I need a receipt.” I responded.

“I cannot do that today, this is embarrassing but when will you pay?” She asked me.

“We get paid on December 5th right?” I told her, knowing that was when we SHOULD be paid.  “When I get my paycheck if I have the receipt I can give [the owner] the money.”

“Maybe.” She responded.

Wait, maybe?  So I guess I should expect the next paycheck to be delayed too.  I guess “maybe” I’ll pay them for this release letter.  At least the fight for it is officially over!  I can accept the other position and with a week to spare there shouldn’t be any more issues.

My coteacher confirmed that it is in fact a letter of release.  I took a picture to send to my current dream job at Young Hoon Elementary school before making a few copies of the documents.  My next fight will be over whether or not the half flight repayment is in fact warranted but for now I’ll celebrate.  Even if I end up shelling out a few hundred bucks its worth it for a much better job that will make up that difference with one month’s pay and I won’t have to deal with all the garbage that this place throws at us!

A job offer without a letter of release

I got an email today saying I have a job offer but that they will only hold it for a few weeks without a letter of release from CPIS.  Its the job I REALLY want and the email sounded great until I got to “your owner actually phoned our school and that indirectly or directly accused us of poaching his teachers.”  After reading that it was difficult to finish teaching.

I was seething with anger at the school owner.  How dare he!  Refuse to pay us on time, lie to us and then have the audacity to contact a future employer and try to keep them from hiring me?  Apparently this isn’t the first time that happened either.  One of my coworkers had an offer last month that Mr. Bae “sat on” until the last minute when he threatened a law suit at the other school.  Suddenly the offer vanished.  Luckily it was lunch time; I got some fresh air, gimbap with a coworker, and vented while figuring out my plan of action.

I knew I needed to talk to him today or at least get a message translated.  To help myself calm down I wrote up a list with “15 reasons I’m leaving” which included “5 contract conditions” that are, at best, subpar.  I added a line at the bottom notifying him that I need the letter of release by Friday November 29th (today is Tuesday) or I would “bring these grievances to the Korean ministry of labor.”

After discussing it with a few coworkers and making some edits I decided it was best to first bring this to [the new director’s] attention.  I first apologized for putting her in the middle of all of this on her 2nd day (the old principal’s last day was Friday) but quickly brought her up to speed.

I spoke to her about my letter of resignation the other day but at that time nothing was final.  I let her know that the owner’s actions upon contacting my potential employer were the last straw and handed her the list.  She read it over and I said that I am not trying to hurt the school; I would like to finish out my 6 months here but that I need to look out for my own interests.  We discussed the situation for a little longer before I returned to my room.

Luckily I was in the middle of a prep; I had to head back down to make a few copies and she called me back into her office.  She had spoken to Mr. Bae and he was interested in “negotiating.”  Wait, what?  How do you negotiate about this?  He ruined any chance of keeping me around as an employee for the 15 reasons that I listed.  Well I guess I’ll hear it out.

Continue reading