Strange Union: Hapoalim Workers Fight for Dankner

Employees protest Bank of Israel

The head of the union representing Bank Hapoalim employees, Charlie Amzaleg, has rallied to the cause of saving chairman Danny Dankner's job and implementing the appointment of Zion Keinan as CEO. In a memo sent to employees ahead of yesterday's demonstration across from the Bank of Israel in Jerusalem, Amzaleg criticized central bank governor Stanley Fischer and the report on Hapoalim drafted by supervisor of banks Ronny Hizkiyahu.

The Hizkiyahu report is highly critical of Hapoalim's conduct regarding the resignation of CEO Zvi Ziv and the appointment of Keinan to replace him.

In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by TheMarker, Amzaleg wrote that "The union local decided not to stand idly by in this unprecedented attack on the bank, and we expect representatives of the workers to attend the demonstration." According to Amzaleg, the union "reached understandings with chairman Dankner concerning structural changes being planned by management, and the harsh, unrestrained attacks by the supervisor of banks are liable to bring about a new situation in which these understandings will not be implemented."

It is CEO Ziv, or Keinan if he takes over, who is responsible for conducting labor negotiations at Hapoalim, not chairman Dankner.

The letter could imply that the disagreements between Dankner and Ziv that led to the latter's resignation were connected to their differences over employee dismissals. Ziv wanted to dismiss employees, Dankner sought to avoid cutbacks.

Senior Hapoalim officials, however, told TheMarker yesterday that the bank had no plans to reduce its workforce. That was also the message in the introduction to the bank's recent financial report, which was signed by both Ziv and Dankner.

Five-day extension

The board of directors received a five-day extension of its deadline to respond to the Hizkiyahu report, so it now has until Monday, May 11.

In light of the extension, yesterday's scheduled board meeting was postponed. Shari Arison, the bank's controlling shareholder, showed up to attend, a rare departure from the norm. "If there's a need and a will, I'll be glad to return for the meeting," she said.

Shortly before the meeting's scheduled start, a bus filled with bank workers pulled up to the bank's main headquarters in Tel Aviv in a show of support for Arison. A few minutes before 3 P.M. Arison came out and spoke to the demonstrators, who included Amzaleg. Arison told them she was moved and touched by the workers' gesture on her behalf.

Earlier that day 500 Hapoalim employees came to Jerusalem from throughout the country to demonstrate outside the Bank of Israel. Sources at Hapoalim said the bank paid for the chartered buses, and that the employees who demonstrated would not lose a vacation day over the lost day of work.

The employees, with Amzaleg at the lead, called on Fischer to invite them into his office for a meeting, or to come out and meet with them. The calls were ignored. Bank of Israel security guards were told to be on the alert for an attempt to storm the building to reach Fischer's and Hizkiyahu's offices. Both men have a policy of not involving labor representatives in the dispute between the central bank and Hapoalim's board of directors and chairman.

Weak labor union

Amzaleg's full-on support for Dankner and Keinan comes as no surprise to many observers. The union chief is considered very close to both men. Last week he made personal attacks on the banks supervisor and promised to fight for Dankner and Keinan "until blood is drawn."

Amzaleg has been head of the workers' committee for six years. Under his leadership the union is considered closer to management than its counterparts at the country's other banks. One example of the unusually close labor-management relationship is the fact that until recently the union did not have its own public relations setup, preferring to refer reporters to the bank's own PR department when asked for responses from Amzaleg.