Class Wars: New Teachers Union Being Established

A new teachers union is being established to represent kindergarten and elementary school teachers in an ongoing conflict with the Ministry of Education and as a second choice from the Israel Teachers' Union.

The Secondary School Teachers' Association (SSTA) initiated the move, the first of its kind in 50 years, and in the next few days the legal preparations will be completed and the new organization will be registered by the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations.

"We want to give the elementary school teachers as well the opportunity to choose between various teachers' unions," SSTA chairman Ran Erez told Haaretz, adding that he wants the organization to stand on its own.

The SSTA has been battling both the Ministry of Education and the Israel Teacher's Union (Histradrut Hamorim) over class sizes and teaching reforms.

In recent weeks there has been an intensification in the fighting over claims that the government is systematically violating the agreements it signed at the end of the high school teachers' strike last year. Among them was a promise to reduce the number of students in the classrooms, to restore classroom hours that were cut and to conduct negotiations for a reform in secondary school education.

Last week the SSTA began a personal campaign against Education Minister Yuli Tamir, with the slogan, "Yuli Tamir, a great disappointment."

In response, Tamir rejected the organization's claims and attacked Erez.

"For years he has been using extortion and threats against the ministry. He has tremendous responsibility for some of the failures with which we are dealing in the school system," Tamir said.

The SSTA has also chafed at the New Horizon reform being introduced by the Education Ministry in cooperation with the Teachers' Union. The plan calls for extending teachers' work week, giving "individual instruction" to groups of up to five students and granting teachers a salary increase.

Recently, the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry decided not to recognize the SSTA as a representative union in junior high schools, where members of the Teachers' Union teach as well, leaving SSTA members no choice but to join the New Horizon program despite their opposition.

The SSTA is hoping as many kindergarten and elementary school teachers as possible will leave the Teachers' Union in favor of the new organization.

"It will be impossible to ignore the transfer of 10,000 teachers," said Erez, even if the balance of power between the two unions does not change immediately.

"Today, these teachers have no choice but to be members of the Teachers' Union," Erez said. "The teachers have nothing to lose. They already have bad agreements, and in addition they do not receive proper individual attention. The competition between the organizations will force the Teachers' Union to improve the service it provides."

The Education Ministry responded by saying "the government does not intervene in issues related to unions."

The Teachers' Union defended the New Horizon program and struck back at Erez for breaking off.

"We regret that instead of being concerned for the good of the system Erez is choosing to act for his own political survival after leading a strike that did not achieve anything for the members of the SSTA," the union said. "Instead of worrying about the school system, Erez is doing everything in his power to mislead the teachers at the expense of the children's welfare, while carrying out superfluous attacks against the minister of education. It is impossible to ignore the facts: Over 800 schools have found in the New Horizon reforms a positive message for education in Israel."