A Tnuva cottage cheese shortage is leaving space on supermarket shelves.
A Tnuva cottage cheese shortage is leaving space on supermarket shelves. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Tnuva employees are yet again stepping up their sanctions over a pay dispute - having stopped supplying dairy products altogether to 400 supermarkets and stores in central and southern Israel two days ago. There have been no talks with management since then.

The sanctions have been going on for a week and a half. Initially, the employees, who are demanding 5% annual raises, stopped distributing cottage cheese. Later they halted the distribution of Shock chocolate milk and Yoplait yogurt as well.

"The branches were told to increase their orders from [Tnuva's competitors] Strauss and Tara, but that will help only partly, and by tomorrow the products won't be available," said Mega's vice-president of commerce, Gershon Weisman.

In response, Tnuva's management stated that employees would not be paid for the days when they didn't work.

They also ordered 63 employees who work on the cottage cheese, Shock and Yoplait production lines not to show up at work since these products were not being distributed.

Union leader Achiav Simchi told workers to ignore management's orders and to take up other duties at the company. "We regard the management's actions seriously, and see them as an attempt to scare employees in the middle of a labor conflict," the union said yesterday.

Supermarkets reported yesterday that they were short on many Tnuva products, including milk, butter and yogurt. Chains Mega, Mega Bool, Zol Beshefa and AM:PM received no products for stores as far north as Hadera and as far south as Dimona.

Irresponsible behavior

Some criticized the supply interruptions.

"This is irresponsible," said Rami Levi, who owns the Rami Levi Shivuk Hashikma discount supermarket chain. "It's the consumers who are being hurt, and the fight between the workers and the management shouldn't be at their expense. The Passover holiday is approaching, and soon lots of products will be missing from shelves. The sides need to settle their conflict, and not an hour too soon," he said.

Zaki Shalom, who owns the discount chain Hetzi Hinam, backed Levi. "The workers went too far," he said. "The management agreed to give them a 3% raise and even that is too much. If I ran Tnuva I'd bring in new workers and I wouldn't let production halt for a minute."

Tnuva's management also slammed the employees.

"There are things you don't do in a fight," said a senior executive. "I'm not going to come out and say how much the union chairman and the employees make, and it's a lot, because there are things you don't do. We don't want to stoop to their level. The management isn't waging a countercampaign in the media, and this is the right thing to do. Tnuva employees can't say that our management earns more than its counterparts at Strauss and Osem."

The issue isn't raises, because raises have already been agreed upon, he said, the issue is who manages the company.

"The management wants efficiency. For instance, it wants the same trucks to transport eggs and milk, but the union won't accept that," he said.

Noting that the company had been losing NIS 2.5 million a day even before the latest round of sanctions, the executive said: "Indeed, we're losing, but it's best that this happen now and not in a few months, once Tara has a new, larger dairy. Currently, our products have no replacement."