Kindergarten Teachers Discover How Hard It Is to Square Off With Agudat Yisrael

The kindergarten network affiliated with Agudat Yisrael has not paid the salaries of four kindergarten teachers and in this way has violated the decision of the regional labor tribunal. Two of the teachers, Yehudit Klein and Simha Bossi, who have not been paid since September 2007, are leaders of a kindergarten teachers' organization that is not recognized by the Agudat Yisrael network, and they say their salaries are being withheld to cause the collapse of the organization.

The Agudat Yisrael network's conflict with the veteran teachers began five years ago after the Education Ministry introduced a recovery plan for the kindergartens in the framework of which the network illegally dismissed teachers with more than 25 years' experience, without paying them any compensation, and the actions taken also had a negative effect on the salaries of younger teachers.

In 2003, on an order from the labor tribunal, seven veteran teachers were reinstated, including Klein and Bossi, and the court injunction has since been extended several times.

A year ago, Klein and Bossi founded the workers' organization that was joined by some 200 kindergarten teachers. There are approximately 360 kindergartens in the Agudat Yisrael network, and it belongs to a recognized but unofficial educational stream. The Education Ministry has said it would not intervene in the dispute.

In 2007, the network once again appealed to the Labor Court but it refused to sanction the dismissal of the teachers, saying this would be discrimination on the grounds of age.

It therefore seems the network has found indirect ways to "dismiss" the teachers. For example, at the beginning of the current academic year, it unilaterally disengaged itself from the kindergartens where the veteran teachers were working. It informed the parents that it was not responsible for the kindergartens.

Since then, these kindergartens have been operating without insurance. The parents pay for tuition, and the remaining expenses are covered by the teachers out of their own pockets. Even though the network paid its veteran teachers an increment for seniority in December, it did not pay this to Klein and Bossi and two other veteran teachers. One of these shares a mutual wall with Klein - and that is her crime.

Yosef Beinenfeld, the director of the network's kindergartens, says the two do not have to be paid since their kindergartens do not belong to Agudat Yisrael. The lawyer representing the teachers, Anat Shani, thinks differently. The teachers are part of the network no matter what happens to the kindergartens, she says.

Meanwhile some of the teachers who joined the new organization have received telephone calls from network officials, warning them they could lose their jobs if they do not leave the organization. The resistance on the part of the leaders of the organization is meanwhile starting to wane. The network did not transfer to the organization fees paid by teachers for it and in the past few months, about half of its members have dropped out. Some of these, however, continue to support it furtively.

Meanwhile the president of the National Labor Court, Judge Steve Adler, attempted to mediate between the warring sides but to no avail. An attempt by Adler to get the teachers to join the association of Agudat Yisrael teachers met with refusal, with the teachers saying the body was not democratic and did not hold elections. The association then promised to hold elections but said that according to Jewish law, women teachers could not participate. Meanwhile the elections, which were due to be held in January, have not been held.

The labor tribunal is currently discussing the teachers' demands to recognize their committee as a representative organization but Klein is beginning to lose heart. "How much longer can we hold out?" she asks.