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.
[the director] brought up my flight to Korea and the money he paid the recruiter saying that Mr. Bae feels he is “owed something.” I said that I was owed paychecks, reasonable working conditions and everything in the contract which he failed to deliver (ranging from an appropriate curriculum to work with to forcing me to work overtime while leaving the field blank on my contract to avoid paying me). She said that if I repay my flight and moneys paid to the recruiter that he would give me a letter of release.
That sounded an awful lot like extortion; I kept my cool. My heart was racing again and I wanted nothing more than to scream but I knew it would simply make matters worse; [the director] was merely the messenger. I told her how absurd that was pointing out that my contract explicitly says I have to repay that UNLESS I complete 6 months of work. Precisely what I was doing. She said she understood but kept referring to a negotiation and compromise, that’s the Korean way. I told her that my answer is “no” but that I can’t even reconsider without an actual number that he’s talking about. She mentioned 1 million won ($1,000) and I laughed telling her my flight cost $660; I looked the one way ticket up back in August when I got my flight info.
I had to go finish teaching. Luckily, I planned a thanksgiving craft for the afternoon so it was easy not to seethe over the situation as I watched my students trace their hands on multicolored paper; we were making turkeys! In between Kindergarten and my after school book club I stopped by some coworkers to get their feelings on the situation. They all agreed it was absolutely absurd and pointed out that it was in fact extortion; we looked up the Korean translation and I held onto that as a trump card.
The discussion solidified my thoughts that its absurd but I couldn’t help but thinking “if it only costs me $500 and I make $X more every month in a new job where I don’t have to deal with him, plus months of vacation instead of weeks…” No. That’s ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to pay to receive a letter of release. I was giving Mr. Bae my list of grievances rather than going directly to the Korean ministry of labor. That was my initial negotiation and I’m sticking with it.
It took me a while to get to [the director’s] office since she now had a handful of my coworkers concerned that Mr. Bae would try to pull the same stunt on them. Even upon completion of a contract a letter of release is required and they decided they wanted it in their hands pronto!
Finally it was my turn to head into her office; I showed her a highlighted clause of my contract where it states after 6 months I no longer have to repay airfare. I told her my answer is still “no” but if he refuses than I need,
“in writing, a note stating explicitly how much he is asking me to pay and what date I will have the letter of release in hand. Let him write it in Korean, I’ll have it translated. Once I have the note I’ll consider it but will need the letter of release immediately.”
We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Tonight I’m off to my first Korean class and will hopefully blow off some steam. Here’s to hoping for good news soon!