Strike at Schechter Institute Drags on After Mediation Efforts Break Down

70 lecturers and administrative staff of Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and affiliated organizations have been on strike for five weeks; Strike action has interrupted classes for close to 400 master's students.

A strike by 70 lecturers and the administrative staff of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and three affiliated organizations has now dragged on for more than five weeks, resulting in a halt to classes for nearly 400 master's students and pitting management against the institute's academic council.

The institute, which is based in Jerusalem, is identified with the Conservative Movement of Judaism.

On Friday, the Schechter Institute management announced its own sanctions: Striking workers will not receive any pay for the duration of the strike so far and at least until August 1, while students will receive a grade of "pass" for the current semester. Academic council members protested that passing grades could not be given to the students without the council's approval.

The labor dispute dates back to June 2009, when the management of the institute cut salaries following the world economic crisis and the death of one of the institute's major donors. Some 70 percent of the institute's budget comes from donations. Management claimed the step was necessary to avoid layoffs.

Following the wage cuts, staff at Schechter sought to unionize through the Democratic Workers' Organization in an effort to negotiate a collective labor agreement with management. At the end of last year, when the executors of the major donor's estate resumed the flow of funding for the Schechter Institute, the salary cuts were restored with respect to future pay but not the NIS 600,000 in pay cuts on salaries paid over the year and a half year during which the wage cuts were in effect.

By this past weekend, the two sides were close to a resolution of the dispute, but efforts by an Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry mediator ultimately failed and management announced that it would go forward with its countermeasures related to pay and students' grades.

Workers committee member Pinchas Mandel said talks had broken down over management's demand that 20 percent of staff be excluded from the collective labor agreement.

In response, the Schechter Institute's management said even after the salary cuts had been made, administrative and teaching staff had better pay conditions than most of their colleagues at comparable institutions. The additional funds from the major donor's estate were enough to restore the wage cuts for the future but not retroactively, management added.

"Time after time, when understandings were reached between the negotiating teams, the Workers’ Committee or General Meeting either rejected them or attached additional financial and/or other demands to them," management said. "The demand of the management to exclude 13% of the workers, mainly in managerial positions, from the agreement, has numerous precedents."

"Out of consideration for our students who had completed about 80% of their required coursework when the strike was declared, it was announced to students that if a final agreement could not be reached by Thursday night, June 9, they would be informed that they are receiving a grade of “pass” for spring semester courses," they said.

"This deadline, which had been previously postponed several times in hopes that negotiations would produce an agreement, arrived on Thursday night when the workers’ committee rejected management’s final offer."