Teachers Union May Defy Order, Strike in First Week of School Year

The Association of Secondary School Teachers may violate an injunction forbidding them to strike during the first week of the new school year, according to people who attended an emergency meeting called by the union yesterday.

The sources said a decision would be made soon, as the school year opens on Sunday.

Alternatively, the union may appeal the National Labor Court's injunction to the High Court of Justice.

"We decided to continue to fight with all our strength, to take the gloves off, even to the point of 'torching the clubhouse,'" union chair Ran Erez declared after the meeting.

The union has been embroiled in a labor dispute with the government since December. It seeks a new wage agreement, an agreed mechanism for determining how much teachers' wages have eroded in recent years, extra pay for working with students with learning disabilities and an increase in the number of teachers allowed to take early retirement.

The National Labor Court issued the injunction Monday night in response to a request by the government and the Union of Local Authorities. In its ruling, the court said that while it respects the teachers' right to strike, a strike that would keep the new school year from even starting would be excessive.

Moreover, the judges said, the gaps between the two sides appear to be bridgeable, and it is worth giving the talks time.

The injunction will be in place through September 6, during which time the court instructed the parties to conduct "intensive and continuous negotiations in good faith." On September 6, the parties will return to the court, which will then decide whether to lift or extend the injunction.

Erez lambasted the ruling. "The court has apparently turned into a tool of the government, via which [the government] continues to ride roughshod over the teachers," he charged. "The decision has a political odor: They always justify restraining orders against us on the grounds of 'irreversible damage,' but at the start of the school year, there is no such thing ... The only harm that would be caused if we struck is ruining the festive start-of-year photos for the prime minister and other politicians."

"The court has damaged the education system, freedom of association and a trade union's legitimate right to wage a legal struggle to improve teachers' wages and working conditions," he added.

Eli Cohen, the Finance Ministry's wage director, insisted the remaining gaps could be bridged quickly. Erez charged that one reason this has not happened to date is that the treasury sent junior officials to several recent meetings.

Mijal Grinberg adds:

The Arab Education Forum in the Negev announced yesterday it would prevent the school year from starting at five Negev schools and 12 kindergartens, due to lack of sufficient classroom space. The Eshkol Regional Council decided to keep schools in Gush Tzohar closed to press the government to recognize local towns as front-line communities.