The Histadrut labor federation accused FSM, which operates Tel Aviv's municipal bike rental service Tel-O-Fun, of taking illegal actions in an attempt to prevent its employees from unionizing.

Last week, employees informed FSM management of their plans to form a union. In a letter to FSM's general manager, sent last Wednesday, Eyal Mamiya, secretary of Histadrut's central region, wrote that immediately after the union was announced “the company initiated serious and forbidden measures to thwart the organizing effort.”

According to Mamiya, these actions included discontinuing the employment of the union leader and calling other employees in for talks to determine whether they participated in the organizing effort. Mamiya added that employees were told to sign personal employment contracts without any legal counsel, “in order to deny them the benefit of any future labor contract.” These moves, he said, constitute “serious and illegal affronts to organized labor with the clear objective of intimidating workers and thwarting the organizing effort.”

Noam Kopelnik, one of the FSM workers' union leaders, said he and other FSM workers decided to organize in order to improve the terms of their employment. Kopelnik claims FSM hadn't been compensating employees for a growing workload.

“The company has operated in a shameful manner since we announced that we were unionizing. Two workers were fired the next day. One of them was told it was because of cutbacks, while, in fact, people are being hired,” Kopelnik said.

According to Kopelnik, “There have been threats and talks with employees to establish whether they had been a part of the organizing effort. Also, they suddenly presented all kinds of workers with contracts, saying that it 'turns out you didn't sign them.' There's an atmosphere of intimidation.”

Despite this, he says, almost all the employees have joined the union during the last few days. And management, at the request of the labor organization, has put a freeze on all employment terminations, instead compelling employees to take paid leave.

Tel Aviv City Council member Sharon Luzon of the opposition called on Mayor Ron Huldai to intervene. “We are again witnessing the vulnerability of workers indirectly employed by the city,” he said. “If Tel-O-Fun's workers were employed directly by the city, their rights would be protected. I expect the mayor to make it clear to FSM, the Tel-O-Fun operator, that continued work with them depends on proper, humane, appropriate and legal relations with its employees.”

FSM CEO Danny Spielman categorically denied the accusations. “Honestly, there is no attempt to prevent employees from unionizing,” he told Haaretz. “One of the organizers of the workers' committee was dismissed a few days before the announcement because of serious disciplinary offenses, before we had any idea of an organizing effort. We have no objection to a workers' union. We hadn't talked with any employee on this subject, not with a hint nor with a wink. We don't know who signed up for the union and who hadn't. It's mostly much ado about nothing.”

FSM employs about 60 workers. According to Spielman, the company made it clear that it has no intention of thwarting the formation of a workers' union, and is in contact with the Histadrut. “The company has only this one project. I wish I had a permanent staff. My main problem is that only about four of the employees who started with us are still in our employment; people leave all the time. We pay people who stick with us well,” he said.

City Hall responded that it was “concerned with workers' rights in one of the focal points of the city's agenda. FSM is a contractor providing services to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Economic Development Authority. The issue will be investigated thoroughly.”

FSM was chosen to operate the bike rental service when it was originally initiated by the municipality two and a half years ago. The service currently has 19,000 annual subscribers, and on some days some 8,000 individual trips are taken in the city using the service's green bikes. In all, a total of 1,500 bikes are available at 150 depots. The service is currently adding 21 new depots.

Some users have complained the bikes were not properly maintained. FSM contends it had dealt with these problems and that it takes great efforts to keep their bicycles in top condition.