Cornell University

International Programs

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Visiting Fellow Profile

Byoung-Hoon Lee, South Korea

Byoung-Hoon Lee

My passion for collective bargaining began when I was a union activist in South Korea. To give you a brief idea - union activity in Korea operates at an enterprise level. I was elected as the general secretary of the union at IBM and organized a hunger strike against management at their office. I also participated in a number of union solidarity initiatives with other unions of MNC’s operating in South Korea. These experiences were very rewarding and I learnt a lot from taking part in these initiatives.

While my enthusiasm and conviction in the labor movement initially fuelled the drive to lead the unions in the beginning, I gradually began examining the way we were going about organizing ourselves and questioning whether this was indeed the right way. I felt that the union movement in Korea needed some professional expertise to make a difference. We needed to start thinking strategically of what we wanted to achieve and what would be the best way to get management to buy into our ideals. This thought led me to decide to study further in an attempt to resolve this gap.

I was admitted into the MS/Ph.D program in the department of Collective Bargaining at the ILR School in 1991. Throughout the duration of the program I was able to interact with some of the brightest minds in the field of labor relations. This really helped break some of my preconceived notions about the US and more specifically the strength of the American labor movement. Thanks to the myriad of courses offered in the school and the wise counsel of my advisors I was able to break out of my narrow outlook and learned to develop a broader approach towards assessing situations in the industrial relations and labor movement. I found the program to be very practical as I was able to spend time on the shopfloors of a number of US and Korean plants. My thesis dissertation was on the comparison of US and Korean Labor Relations systems.

One of the unique characteristics of the ILR School is the exceptional support that a student receives from the faculty. Contrary to my experience in Korea, I found that faculty at the ILR School are very approachable and always willing to sit down and talk through some of the challenges I faced in my coursework and while I was preparing my thesis.

Now back as a visiting fellow, it feels like I am back home but there are certainly a lot of changes. For one, the number of international students in the program has increased. I think this mix helps diversity of thought and the ILR School provide a great environment for people to learn from each other’s diverse backgrounds, abilities and experiences. The facilities such as the library are only raising the bar as far as research facilities go. I will be working with my old committee faculty (Dean Harry Katz, Lowell Turner, Sarosh Kuruvilla, and Rosemary Batt) on a number of research projects, such as globalization’s effect on employment relations, union strategies for revitalization, international comparison of call center workforce, and assessment of Korean social dialogue experiences. I’m very excited about getting back here to see these nice people and work with them again. Moreover, I’m happy with the peaceful Ithaca lifestyle that my family enjoys for this sabbatical year.

Byoung-Hoon Lee is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Chung-Ang University, South Korea. He received the Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from the ILR school, Cornell University and the B.A degree from the Seoul National University in South Korea. His dissertation is on shopfloor politics of workplace innovation at auto plants. His faculty sponsor at ILR is Sarosh Kuruvilla. Lee is visiting from September 2005 to August 2006.

- Byoung-Hoon Lee

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Byoung-Hoon's CV (pdf)