University Heads to Seek Labor Court Intervention to End Strike

Committee of university presidents may request court injunctions for striking professors.

The committee of university presidents said on Monday that it has decided to request the National Labor Court intervene in order to reach a conclusion to the senior lecturers' strike, currently in the midst of its ninth week.

The announcement came after a meeting held Monday evening between university presidents and senior faculty organizations failed to secure a resolution to the strike. A committee source told Haaretz that the panel will ask the court to issue injunctions.

The committee will request that the court enforce negotiations between the professors and the Finance Ministry, with an end date for the strike set for January 13, the day after which the university heads say the semester will need to be canceled if the strike has not ended.

In Monday evening's meeting, the university presidents demanded the lecturers agree to an arbitration process, offered by the Treasury, which would determine the extent of the erosion of their salaries. Lecturers say their wage erosion has reached between 30 and 35 percent, but the Finance Ministry claims it does not exceed 11 percent.

The professors came with their own arbitration offer, which the committee rejected. Professor Zvi Hacohen, the head of the coordinating body for senior faculty organizations, said that the offer included "a means of security to prevent all sorts of tricks on the part of the Treasury, for example, they wouldn't be able to infinitely stretch out the arbitration. Our outline could have solved the conflict and saved the semester. However, the presidents rejected our offer out of hand."

If the presidents decide to go to the National Labor Court, this will be the first strike in which legal action was taken against professors, say senior professors. Hacohen said that even during the strike of 1994, which lasted 74 days, the presidents didn't take such action. Before entering Monday's meeting, he said that "if they ask for injunctions, they won't be able to show their faces to the academic world due to eternal disgrace."

A senior university source said during the meeting that if the presidents request action from the court, their method will similar to the process which saw back to work orders for striking secondary school teachers, whose strike ended this month. "During the first stage, we will ask that negotiations be renewed between professors and the Treasury, backed by the court," he said.