March 16 (UPI) -- South Korean employees on U.S. military bases are expressing strong concern regarding a furlough notice that U.S. authorities say will go into effect on April 1, if no deal over military burden sharing is reached between the two countries.
Son Gi-o, secretary general of the U.S. Forces Korea Employees Union, said Monday placing Korean staff on unpaid leave would ultimately hurt regular operations on base, South Korean news service News 1 reported. There are 28,500 U.S. troops stationed across about a dozen bases and garrisons in the country.
"U.S. troops in South Korea need to eat at canteens on base, but [in the event of a furlough] would the cafeterias operate properly?" Son said, referring to the South Korean staff members who serve the meals.
The South Korean union representative went on to say for communications, utilities and basic services, bases would be running under the conditions of minimum viable operations.
"Administrative capacity would be paralyzed if auxiliary tasks related to transportation and training are not being performed," Son said.
Son also said these major changes are coming in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. All 9,000 South Korean employees on U.S. bases are "essential" for the proper functioning of bases, he said.
The U.S. military has said the furlough would go into effect if South Korea does not agree to substantially increase its defense contributions. Last year, U.S. officials said on record they are seeking as much as a five-fold increase in South Korean contributions, or about $5 billion annually.
Seoul has resisted U.S. demands but has also stressed the importance of the bilateral security alliance.
Jeong Eun-bo, Seoul's chief negotiator in defense negotiations, left for Los Angeles on Monday to meet with his U.S. State Department counterpart James DeHart, EDaily reported Monday.
Jeong says he expects the furlough to be raised as an issue.
South Korea has been assisting USFK with COVID-19 testing since the outbreak. In the absence of a U.S. FDA-approved test, the U.S. military has been able to obtain test results within 24 hours with the help of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USFK Commander Gen. Robert B. Abrams said Friday.