Union Threatens to Shut Down Israel's International Airport

Israel Airports Authority employees are protesting the convening of an Interior Ministry panel that could divert funds from the airport to nearby municipal governments

Ben-Gurion International Airport

The Israel Airports Authority union announced on Tuesday that it would shut down Ben-Gurion International Airport this coming weekend for the duration of the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday over the prospect that funds from the authority could be transferred to nearby local governments.

The union is protesting a decision by Interior Minister Arye Dery to establish a committee including mayors from municipalities near the airport that is to examine such a prospect. The union declared an official work dispute on the issue two weeks ago. The law provides for a two–week period following such a declaration before labor action can be taken, and that period has now expired. The management of the airports authority has submitted the dispute to the High Court of Justice, but airport employees said they plan to step up their action on the issue before the court considers the case.

The labor action comes despite the fact that the interior minister's committee has not yet taken any decisions on the transfer of funds. Although the airport's management does not wish to see the airport shut down over the coming weekend, it is thought possible that the union is acting in accordance with management's wishes in demonstrating its own opposition to the committee process.

The union said that the mayors in the region near the airport, which is southeast of Tel Aviv, have tried in the past to appropriate money from the IAA, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a written commitment that this would not happen.

The IAA does not receive any funding from the state budget and does not receive any municipal services from any of the neighboring municipalities. It provides all the services on the airport grounds through its own budget, which is generated from fees and other income from airport operations. The IAA also pays the state about 500 million shekels ($143 million) a year in taxes.

The chairman of the IAA union, Pinhas Idan, called the committee process an underhanded political maneuver in the period leading up to municipal elections, even before the court hears the legal issues involved. IAA management said it operates in accordance with the law and is awaiting the court’s decision. The IAA said it has not yet made a decision on whether to ask for a restraining order barring the strike.

For its part, the Histadrut labor federation, with which the airport workers' union is affiliated, said: “The employees’ fears that the IAA’s financial strength will be harmed are understandable, and the Histadrut is working with all of those [involved] to find a proper and agreed-upon solution.”