Union Threatens General Strike in Support of Teachers

Histadrut labor federation Chairman Ofer Eini said the continued secondary school teachers' strike would result in a meeting Sunday of the Histadrut leadership to declare a general strike. Fifteen days later, various sectors could begin shutting down, such as government offices and local authorities. " We expect a swift renewal of negotiations so as not to leave Israel's children in the streets or at home and not able to prepare for matriculation exams," Eini told a press conference.

Eini presented an outline for a solution to the crisis that is very similar to the demands of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), with a 26 percent maximum pay increase to teachers over a five-year period. Fifteen percent of the raise would be payable immediately. The increase is the same as that awarded to Teachers Union, which represents elementary school teachers. SSTA Chairman Ran Erez said that in exchange for the increment, the teachers would be willing to increase their hours at school working individually with students or on special projects, but would not add classroom hours.

The Labor faction will hold a special meeting today to discuss the teachers strike, during which Education Minister Yuli Tamir will report on her efforts to find a solution. Senior Labor figures said yesterday that Tamir is expected to be criticized by her party for her and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's management of the crisis. They said it was a pity Tamir was cooperating with Olmert in a "divide and conquer" mode.

Labor Secretary General Eitan Cabel, who is also the faction chair, called the meeting at the request of MK Ophir Pines-Paz, who said the party must play a more dominant role in the affair and the Education Ministry should not be the servant of the prime minister but rather take an interest in the position of the teachers.

Sources in Labor said Eini's threat of a general strike worked against Tamir and was agreeable to Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who when he took up his defense post tried to have Tamir fired. Barak's bureau called the statements "foolishness."

Tamir met yesterday morning with Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, and the two discussed issuing back-to-work orders to the teachers. "We are on the eve of winter matriculation exams and during this week every effort will be made to reach an agreement. If we do not succeed, together we will ask the local authorities to issue injunctions. We will not allow the struggle to hurt the students," Tamir said.

Erez met yesterday with the head of the Union of Local Authorities, Adi Eldar, who offered to act as a mediator. Sources said that as long as talks were ongoing with local authorities, which are the direct employers of the teachers, these authorities would not ask for court injunctions.