Railway union calls sudden strike
Company immediately petitions Tel Aviv Labor Court for temporary injunction against strike; union says there are six open labor disputes on issues concerning wages, outsourcing.
The union at Israel Railways announced a surprise strike last night, just four hours before the action was to start at 11 P.M. The union, with the backing of the Histadrut labor federation, is set to stop all rail traffic in a dispute over four new locomotives it says are unsafe.
The company immediately petitioned the Tel Aviv Labor Court for a temporary injunction against the strike.
The union says there are six open labor disputes at the company on issues concerning wages and outsourcing.
A few hours before the union announced the strike, management asked the court to declare three union leaders and a Histadrut representative in contempt of court after the union disrupted rail service on two routes, from Rishon Letzion to Hod Hasharon and from Nahariya to Modi'in. Management said the court had ordered workers to stop the disruptions, and the Histadrut asked the workers to restore service.
The latest dispute is over four new locomotives that management says the union is refusing to release into service. Last year the company bought new Euro 4000 locomotives from Spanish manufacturer Vossloh Espana. The union is refusing to put the first four into service, claiming that they are unsafe. Yesterday the company was forced to cut back on service and reduce the number of trains on the two lines since the four new locomotives were unavailable.
Union head Gila Edrei told Israel Railways CEO Boaz Zafrir in a letter on Sunday that employees would prevent the attaching of the locomotives to railcars. She also complained that management had appointed a new stationmaster in Yavneh against the union's request, and said workers would start disrupting service within 48 hours.
Contempt of court
Management asked the court to order workers to hook up the locomotives, claiming that otherwise the company would lose millions of shekels. Sunday night Judge Efrat Laxer, the court's deputy president, issued a temporary injunction ordering the workers to stop disruptions and go back to work.
But the workers ignored the order and refused to hook up the locomotives yesterday morning. The court held another session yesterday and Laxer announced she would not hold the session until the locomotives were hooked up. But this was not done, despite the Histadrut's announcement that the workers had been ordered to attach the locomotives.
Railways management told the court that these locomotives are next-generation, have been in service for a month and a half and meet the strictest safety standards. The union said that "the locomotive engineers feel a lack of confidence while driving," but the union did not provide any further evidence or explanation on the matter.
The judge said the union failed to explain any safety problem bothering the drivers, and Laxer issued another order demanding that the employees go back to work. Employees did not carry out this order, which led management to file the contempt of court request against the union. Laxer set a session for this morning to hear the petition - before the surprise strike was called.
According to management, "Once again, the representatives of the union and its head have proven that the company's customers are only hostages in their battle to prevent progress at Israel Railways." Management called the union's attitude toward the public "irresponsible and aggressive."
The union said, "Railways' management stubbornly insists on continuing its destructive policy while trampling workers' rights and exploiting their weakness. Management refuses to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement."
Six months ago, the company filed a NIS 1.7 million suit against the union's heads for the damage caused by a wildcat strike a year ago.
Yesterday, management invited eight employees for a disciplinary hearing after they prevented the CEO from entering the company's compound in Lod.