GM Korea union picks centrist to replace hardline chief

SEOUL Wed Sep 11, 2013 4:56am EDT

Workers of the South Korean unit of General Motors (GM) work at an assembly line of GM's Bupyeong plant in Incheon, west of Seoul, in this April 8, 2013 photo. REUTERS/Shin Dong-jun

Workers of the South Korean unit of General Motors (GM) work at an assembly line of GM's Bupyeong plant in Incheon, west of Seoul, in this April 8, 2013 photo.

Credit: Reuters/Shin Dong-jun

SEOUL (Reuters) - General Motors Co's (GM.N) South Korean labor union picked a center-left unionist to replace the current hardline chief, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Jeong Jong-hwan, who garnered 59 percent of the vote, pledged to secure more production in South Korea, addressing concerns that GM may reduce its footprint in the key manufacturing base.

Mounting labor costs and militant unionism have spurred GM to rethink its reliance on South Korea for a fifth of its global production, sources previously told Reuters.

Jeong promised to call for the automaker to shift output of 100,000 vehicles from China to South Korea.

"The top priority for us is to secure production in South Korea," a spokesman for Jeong's faction, told Reuters.

The 52-year-old Jeong also vowed to demand higher wages and bonuses and the extension of retirement age to 63 from the current 60.

Jeong, who started working at GM in 1987 after graduating from high school, has been leading the union's largest faction and previously served as a union negotiator during annual wage talks. His two-year term will begin in October.

Under the current hardline leader Min Ki, GM Korea's labor union staged partial strikes in July over wage disputes with the worst walkouts in a decade last year leading to a production loss of 40,000 vehicles.

The union's South Korean peer at Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) is more prone to staging annual strikes. Hyundai Motor recently reached a wage deal with its labor union after suffering from a series of strikes.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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