Histadrut Threatening Strike at El Al After Chief's Remark

The El Al labor crisis is worsening. The Histadrut labor federation will hold a vote among company workers this week whether to declare a labor dispute that could lead to a shutdown of the national carrier. Most workers are expected to support the motion, following an announcement by El Al CEO Haim Romano stating his position on the current deadlock over agreeing on a restructuring plan within the airline. Romano said he would cancel the current collective bargaining agreement if understandings between the workers union, the Histadrut and himself on steps to make El Al more efficient fall through.

El Al management assembled the restructuring plan, which includes laying off 140 workers and reducing salaries for ground crew workers, stewards and pilots. The troubled airline slipped from net profits of $64 million in 2005 to a loss of $44 million last year because of a drop in tourism to Israel, the Second Lebanon War and higher fuel prices.

The chief of the Histadrut trade unions department, Tsahi Tabakman, yesterday sent Romano a letter reminding him that the collective bargaining agreement was extended last year through the end of 2007. In parallel El Al was to implement cutbacks worth NIS 20 million annually. Tabakman says that despite the agreements Romano decided to make an ultimatum.

"We're talking about theater of the absurd," writes Tabakman. "We agree to restructuring and here management responds by cancelling the collective bargaining agreement." He characterized the move as a power confrontation which threatens company labor relations.

El Al commented: "The Histadrut is stirring up a provocation with the goal of disturbing relations in the company." The company asserted that if the Histadrut agrees to the principles of the restructuring agreement, it should come with worker representatives to sign the deal instead of "engaging in festivals of labor disputes on the backs of El Al and its employees."