Talks to End Six-week Junior Faculty Strike in Israeli Colleges Blow Up

Union, colleges blame each other for walking away from understandings reached Friday to establish new rank of 'faculty fellow,' which provides continuous employment, job security and social benefits

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A Faculty strike at the Sapir College in the Negev, in 2017. Illustration.
A Faculty strike at the Sapir College in the Negev, in 2017. Illustration. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Negotiations between striking junior faculty members of 11 public colleges and the body representing the institutions broke down Tuesday, days after the two sides had reached understandings in principle.

The strike over terms of employment began six weeks ago. The strikers’ main demands are for continuous employment throughout the year, job security and higher wages.

On Friday the trade union representing the junior faculty, the Finance Ministry and the Committee of Public College Heads agreed that all the colleges would establish a new rank of “faculty fellow,” which provides continuous employment, job security and social benefits. Most adjunct faculty members would be granted this new rank, and would have their teaching responsibilities reduced from 16 hours a week to 14.

Other parts of the agreement include raising hourly wages for teaching and lab assistants, improving fringe benefits for faculty – including higher contributions to retirement and advanced training funds – and giving priority to the junior faculty in teaching new courses.

After the committee of college heads announced Tuesday it was withdrawing from the negotiations, the trade union representing the striking faculty members, Koach La Ovdim – Democratic Workers’ Organization, turned to the National Labor Court with a request to force the sides to return to the bargaining table.

According to the committee representing the colleges, union representatives reversed course after the agreement was reached, rejecting the terms they had negotiated and even raising new demands. “The continuation of the strike despite the achievements that have been reached is irresponsible and out of touch with reality,” said Shimon Gepstein, the president of Kinneret College and the head of the Committee of Public College Heads.

Koach La Ovdim denied that it had raised new demands and said the colleges were acting in bad faith and trying to break the union.

It is still unclear how students will make up the classes and other work missed because of the strike. The president of the Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College, Dror Wahrman, wrote in a letter to students Tuesday that the strike was “nearing the point of no return, as far as the possibility of making up the classes.”

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