SodaStream
Employees prepare carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinders at the SodaStream International Ltd. factory near Jerusalem. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski/Bloomberg
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The 60 Palestinians who were fired earlier this month from the SodaStream plant in the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim received verbal notice only prior to being axed and were not given pre-dismissal hearings, as required by law. In addition, they were barred from entering the factory even before receiving written notice of dismissal, which was the result of a dispute over the food provided by the company to break the day-long fast during the month of Ramadan.

The dispute began in early July, when Palestinians working the night shift at the factory that makes the popular home soda machines claimed that the food they received was insufficient and demanded larger rations. They had the support of WAC-MAAN, the independent trade union that represents them. When management did not answer their demands, employees said it would be difficult for them to work through the night without more substantial food. In response, the shift supervisor sent the workers home, telling them he was cancelling that day’s night shift.

The next day, a SodaStream executive called each worker and informed them that they were being terminated and must return their employee IDs and their uniforms. In a recording, obtained by TheMarker, of the call to Alaa Rawidi, the executive reads out a dismissal letter. It says the workers were terminated for refusing to return to work, an act that harmed the company. Rawidi was told that if he failed to return his uniform and ID immediately he would be charged 500 shekels ($145).

When Rawidi asks the executive why he wasn’t given the opportunity of a hearing, he is told: “Because of the seriousness of the matter, we will deliver a dismissal letter either to your home or by hand, whichever you prefer.”

WAC-MAAN director Assaf Adiv contacted SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum this week and demanded that the workers be reinstated. Adiv argued that they were long-time employees with no major disciplinary infractions in the past. In a letter to Adiv, SodaStream VP Human Resources Mika Mazor rejected the demand, stating in part that the unplanned work stoppage caused “major economic damage” to the factor. In effect, she wrote, the employees carried out a “wild rebellion,” knowing they were disrupting work at the plant “without authority and contrary to instructions, while causing deliberate damage.” The workers’ conduct “bordered on violence,” Mazor said.

SodaStream has been targeted by foreign boycotts because of the factory’s location — in Mishor Adumim, the industrial zone of Ma’aleh Adumim. Company officials have countered that the plant employs many Palestinians.

In a related case, Palestinian workers at the Zarfati garage in Mishor Adumim are striking to protest the firing of the garage’s union head. The WAC-MAAN coordinator for Jerusalem, Yoav Tamir, was arrested yesterday at the site for disturbing the peace.