Histadrut to Decide Today on Labor Dispute to Back Teachers

The Histadrut labor federation's leadership will meet today to decide on measures to demonstrate solidarity with the striking teachers.

Histadrut officials declined to say what they have in mind, but did not rule out the possibility of declaring an economy-wide labor dispute - a move that Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini openly threatened last week. That would theoretically enable the Histadrut to send all of the country's unions out on strike, or to embark on lesser sanctions, following a two-week cooling-off period.

But attorney Nachum Feinberg, who represents several major employers in the labor courts, argued yesterday that the Histadrut would have no legal right to declare a nationwide strike in solidarity with the teachers because the SSTA is not part of the Histadrut, so the Histadrut is not a party to the dispute. But the Histadrut could legally engage in more limited sanctions, he said.

The high school strike is not causing irreversible damage to students, so there is no justification for issuing back-to-work orders, the Secondary School Teachers Association will tell the National Labor Court today in response to the government's application for such orders.

The government, joined by the Union of Local Authorities, argues that the strike is causing irreversible damage to students who plan to take their matriculation exams this winter.

Should the court issue the orders, the union is threatening to have the teachers resign en masse. According to SSTA Chairman Ran Erez, 3,000 teachers, most of them under 35, have thus far expressed a willingness to quit rather than comply with back-to-work orders.

He also said the union would appeal to the High Court of Justice if the labor court rules in the government's favor regarding the strike, which is in its fourth week.

The court has ordered the union to submit its response by noon today. No hearing has been scheduled, but it is expected to take place tomorrow.

In its response to the court, the SSTA argues that the winter exams are merely an option that only some schools offer, with the goal of making life easier for students by not crowding all the exams into the summer session. But since students can take all their exams in the summer, and this was in fact the norm until a few years ago, even canceling the winter exams entirely would not cause irreversible harm.

Attorney Sigal Pail, representing the SSTA, also charged that the government has not held serious negotiations with the teachers because it believes it will be able to end the strike through back-to-work orders. Only if the court refuses to issue such orders, she said, will the government negotiate seriously over the teachers' demand for a substantial raise.

And while the ULA has formally joined the government's application, not all mayors agree. Today, 11 of them plan to tell the court they support the teachers' strike. ULA Chairman Adi Eldar countered that he is not seeking to break the strike; the back-to-work orders would apply only to teachers involved in preparing students for the winter matriculation exams, which begin in January.

University strike continues

Efforts to end the university professors' strike have also not progressed, so the lecturers plan to intensify their sanctions today: They will shut down the so-called "executive courses," which are private programs where students pay full tuition. Ordinary university classes are heavily subsidized by the government.

However, since only senior lecturers are striking, any classes taught by junior staffers will take place as usual. Courses for army officers will also be held as usual.