Judge Natan Baron
Judge Natan Baron Photo by Guy Raivitz
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A recent ruling by Israel's trade union umbrella organization could force dozens of people to leave union committees in their own workplaces. The judicial authority of the Histadrut labor federation ruled that managers and other employees with executive status cannot belong to the local union committees in their place of work.

The ruling was issued after Eyal Deri, a letter carrier for Israel Post, decided to take legal action against four members of the union committee who were in managerial positions: three post office managers and one vice president in the government-owned company. Deri argued that the presence of representatives of management on the workers' body constituted a conflict of interest.

At a hearing last week the four defendants attempted to minimize the seniority of their positions. The State Employees Union, which was also named in Deri's suit, argued that there was no conflict of interest because the defendants' authority in the company was operational rather than managerial in nature, and that they were in effect carrying out the directives of senior management.

Judge Natan Baron found for the plaintiff and ruled that employees in managerial positions cannot belong to workplace union committees due to the risk of conflict of interest: Managers must display loyalty to their employers, and must execute their directives even if goes against the interest of the employees. Union committee members, on the other hand, must be loyal to the workers and must protect their rights, sometimes in the face of management opposition.

Baron rejected the defendants' characterization of their positions. "What would happen if an employee who has been reprimanded by the manager turns to the union committee for protection, perhaps even filing a complaint against that manager?" Baron asked. "It's unreasonable for the workers to find the same manager he complained about sitting on the union committee."

Baron ordered the four defendants to resign and ordered the Histadrut to force them out in the event they refused.

Baron's ruling is expected to lead to a flood of similar suits in places like Bank Hapoalim, the Israel Airports Authority and the seaports where managers are members of the union committees.