Time for Intel Employees to Unionize

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Intel's Kiryat Gat semiconductor plant.Credit: Intel Israel

Intel has offered hundreds of employees in Israel who face dismissal enlarged severance packages, equivalent to at least eight monthly salaries, if they agree to waive the mandatory pre-dismissal hearing.

Beyond the borderline legality of the move, it cast a spotlight on the unhappy fact that Intel has no labor union.

Labor union? At intel? Yes, one that would represent the workers to management and could not be vanquished by divide and conquer tactics.

The conventional wisdom is that workplaces that pay well and confer professional prestige don’t need labor committees. But the absence of job security, the wave of layoffs and various economic crises show otherwise.

A worker standing alone before management, which is strong and knowledgeable and wants to institute organizational changes as it sees best, will always be in an inferior position, liable to dismissal or reduced terms of pay. A labor union enables workers to consolidate a uniform position on organizational changes and to negotiate with management collectively, from a position of power, not the feeble strength of one worker standing on his own.

In parallel with the wave of unionization in recent years, including by temp workers, cleaners and guards, who are among the weakest workers in the labor force, we have been seeing a new generation of labor organization.

In the past, youngsters with above-average education, many hailing from central Israel, may have been influenced by the negative image of unions. They may now be beginning to understand that organized labor, its values of solidarity and the protection it provides to workers, is more relevant to their lives than ever before.

As they grew up and went to school, unions may have seemed anachronistic; they may have thought that employment flexibility promised a life of prosperity, and that personal contracts offering attractive bonuses were the best thing possible. Life has proven otherwise.

Alongside relatively high pay, high-tech workers find their pay eroding against the cost of living in Israel. The balance between working hours and leisure has been grossly violated. Terms of employment can suddenly change or companies can lay off droves of employees. Take for instance Intel’s decision to move 170 workers from its fab in Jerusalem to its fab in the Negev city of Kiryat Gat.

In 2014, workers at Ness Technologies and SAP Israel – which, like Intel Israel, is the local arm of a multinational company – unionized. Over the past two years, workers in Israel’s cellular companies also organized, as did lecturers at the Open University and the Jaffa Academic College.

Elsewhere in the world, organization has also become the last word in high-tech. Take the American communications giant Verizon, whose nearly 40,000 workers spent over a month on strike over employment terms. (The strike is now over.)

In Israel, the number of organized workers is relatively low: less than 30%. In Scandinavia, the figure is over 70%. Clearly, the battle is just beginning.

Obviously no union, however powerful, can prevent mass layoffs. But it can ensure the dignity of the workers and take action to prevent companies from hiring temps. That is also something that Intel does, with directly employed workers wearting bear blue badges and temps wearing green ones.

A recent survey conducted by the Social Economic Academy indicated that a clear majority of people view the organization of workers as a good thing. Moreover, over two thirds of respondents think organization helps narrow social gaps.

These figures could translate into raised eyebrows among true believers in the free market. But 150,000 Israelis working in high-tech, cellular, fast food, education, transport and cleaning, who took their fate into their hands and organized in recent years, prove the necessity of unions in Israel 2016.

The author is the chairman of the Social Economic Academy.

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