Nahariya train station.
Nahariya train station. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The National Labor Court ruled yesterday that the Histadrut labor federation is the organization that should rightfully represent Israel Railways workers.

The court rejected a claim by an alternative labor group, Koach La'ovdim, which is known in English as the Democratic Workers' Organization, that it had signed up enough railway employees to legally speak for them.

A panel of judges headed by National Labor Court president Nili Arad noted in its ruling that after a year and a half of labor disputes and strikes at Israel Railways, the Histadrut and railways' management are finally nearing a deal on a special labor agreement. The agreement is designed to accommodate a new corporate structure for the government-owned rail company.

On July 1, the Histadrut decided to depose the workers' committee at the railroad, following protracted friction with committee chairwoman Gila Edrei as well as a violent outburst by committee members during a Tel Aviv labor court hearing. This move, however, was followed by an announcement by Koach La'ovdim that it had signed up enough employees to speak for all the railway workers, and that the workers' committee had been reinstated under its auspices, with Edrei still at its helm.

But after considering Koach La'ovdim's position, the court ruled that the replacement of the Histadrut by Koach La'ovdim would undermine stability and certainty in relations between management and the workers at the railroad. "In light of the principles of fairness, certainty and stability, which are a substantial part of labor relations, and also in view of the advanced negotiations currently underway between the Histadrut and railway management," the court wrote, the Histadrut should continue to represent workers at the Israel Railways.

The court's ruling not only leaves the Histadrut in place at Israel Railways, but also lets stand the decision to depose the workers' committee. The Histadrut has since appointed new worker representatives to take part in negotiations with management. A new workers' committee chairman is expected to be elected after the labor pact with the railroad is sealed.

Edrei said that the ruling apparently dealt with the question of which organization represents the workers, and not with the legality of the committee's dismissal. "1,200 of the railroad workers, which is more than half of the workers, voted no-confidence in the Histadrut and chose Koach La'ovdim," Edrei said. She said she and her colleagues are studying the ruling and considering appealing the decision.

Koach La'ovdim said the court's ruling failed to take the decision of a majority of the railroad's employees to join Koach La'ovdim into consideration. "We continue to be obligated to the railway workers and call on any worker suffering from harassment of any kind, as occurred in recent weeks, to contact us." It also called on the Histadrut to do some self-examination, claiming that it has not honored the workers' choice and "is acting like management."