(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead to update evening rush hour situation; ADDS more details in paras 6-8, additional photo)
SEOUL, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) -- Unionized workers at Seoul Metro, the city-run operator of the subway system in Seoul, went on a strike Wednesday, causing some service disruptions during the evening rush hour.
Allied labor unions of Seoul Metro, representing some 13,000 workers, or 80 percent of the firm's entire workforce, kicked off the walkout early Wednesday morning, one day after their eight-hour negotiation with the company broke down without a breakthrough.
The strike affecting Subway Line No. 1 trough No. 8 marks the first of its kind in six years since the last one in September of 2016.
The unions have been protesting against Seoul Metro's plan to downsize its workforce by more than 1,500 employees through 2026.
The subway operator proposed temporarily putting off the restructuring plan during the negotiation Tuesday, but the unions rejected it as going against their previous agreement in 2021 that forswore any unnegotiated downsizing on account of a financial crisis.
Few subway disruptions were reported during the morning peak hours, but commuters faced chaos during the evening rush hours over travel delays.
As of 7 p.m. trains on Subway Line No. 1 through No. 4 were delayed for up to 33 minutes, though Line No. 5 through No. 8 were running smoothly.
Seoul Metro was mobilizing retired employees and non-unionized workers as replacement workers to keep train operations at the normal level, but train operation rates between 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. fell to 85.7 percent of the normal level.
The Seoul city government has been increasing bus operations during morning and evening rush hours to minimize any fallout from the strike.
The Seoul Metro unions predicted some 9,700 subway workers will join the strike on weekdays and 14,000 on weekends.
In a following rally held next to Seoul City Hall, the unions pledged to block the restructuring plan and denounced Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon for his remarks that the strike is "politically oriented." The rally brought together about 5,000 union members.
"Our strike is not a political one but a walkout against a restructuring plan. We will fight together to block it," Kim Jong-tak, a labor official, told the rally.
In a press conference earlier in the day, Oh defined the subway workers' action as a political strike organized in connection with the ongoing cargo truckers' strike, saying the public won't condone taking public transportation hostage.
(2nd LD) U.S. remains committed to using full range of capabilities to defend S. Korea: Blinken
Korean American Rep. Young Kim named chair of House Indo-Pacific subcommittee
(LEAD) Opposition party takes to streets to protest prosecution probes into leader
(LEAD) Families of crowd crush victims clash with police over installation of memorial altar
(2nd LD) Search under way for 9 missing after fishing boat capsizes
Yoon's visit to UAE, Switzerland ends in economic deals
(News Focus) Fate of inter-Korean military accord hangs in balance amid Pyongyang's recalcitrance
N. Korean drone incursions pose complex security challenge to S. Korea
S. Korea puts priority on tackling inflation, revitalizing exports in 2023 policy goals
Yoon's outreach to Southeast Asia keeps China in the loop