Unions Flex Muscles With Labor Actions at Ben-Gurion Airport, Ashdod Port and Israel Electric

Ben-Gurion operations halted for three hours; operations at Ashdod Port, IEC snarled.

Moti Milrod

Many of Israel’s most powerful public sector unions launched labor actions on Sunday, shutting Ben-Gurion International Airport for three hours, creating long lines of trucks at Ashdod Port and snarling operations at Israel Electric Corporation.

At Ben-Gurion, workers walked off their jobs for what they called informational meetings, thus delaying flights that had been scheduled to take off in the afternoon. They went back to work three hours later, after Histadrut labor federation head Avi Nissenkorn intervened.

Airport employees declared a labor dispute a month ago over Finance Ministry plans to sharply increase the government’s royalties from the Israel Airports Authority to 500 million shekels ($131.7 million) next year, as the treasury struggles to raise revenues to meet higher defense and other bills.

Unions fear the higher royalties will means less money for the IAA to spend on operations and expansion. A meeting between unions and officials of the finance and transportation ministries last week failed to resolve the dispute.

The airports workers’ committee, headed by Pinhas Idan, denied it had ordered Sunday's strike. “Workers held informational meetings, as is allowed by the law, after the Histadrut declared a labor dispute with the IAA. There has been no strike. The workers fear for their jobs because of the treasury’s demands,” the committee said.

The treasury denied that taking 500 million shekels from the 2.5 billion shekels in cash that the IAA is now holding would hurt employees in any way. “The workers are making cynical use of their power to hurt the traveling public in order to further their own interests,” the treasury said.

Meanwhile, at Ashdod Port, workers idled the computer system that tracks containers at the port, leaving long lines of delivery trucks, which were coming to pick up and offload goods, sitting outside the port’s gates.

At issue is the fallout from a state comptroller’s report issued last week that claimed the Ashdod Port’s joint management-union committee charged with vetting new hires heavily favored relatives of current port workers. In particular, it cited Michal Lugosi, secretary of the administrative works committee, who sits on the panel.

Management said on Sunday it was Lugosi who ordered the labor action without any warning. The workers’ committee said it acted to stop management from suspending Lugosi from the panel. It blamed the port’s CEO, Yitzhak Blumenthal, for violating labor agreements.

Ashdod Port termed the move a “wildcat” strike and said it would ask the labor court on Tuesday to order workers to end it.

The state comptroller said Lugosi, in collaboration with the port’s previous management, worked to ensure that relatives and friends of current workers would get preferential ratings when the committee evaluated job applicants. tIsrael Electric Corporation, meanwhile, the workers committee launched a series of labor actions over the weekend in response to management’s plans for efficiency measures.

Employees were instructed by union leaders to delay answering calls to the utility’s 103 help line by two minutes instead of the usual 30 seconds, although the delays were in fact 10 or 20 minutes.

Union officials broke up a meeting of the board’s tenders committee and employees refused to attend professional training courses.

By last night, management had not petitioned the labor court, even though the unions had not declared a formal labor dispute as required by law. But Amit Oberkovitch, head of human resources at IEC, said on Sunday he would dock the pay of employees joining in sanctions by 30% and refuse to grant any overtime hours. “Any worker who refuses to come to his workplace will not be entitled to pay at all,” he said.

IEC unions acted after the utility’s board approved in principle a plan for cost-cutting next year, and instructed management to produce a detailed plan to implement it. They acted even before any concrete plan had been proposed, much less approved, by the board.