Tel Aviv Labor Court rules in Hamenia haulage case: “WAC-Maan is eligible to act as a union”

<p>At the beginning of June, the court ruled on a petition submitted by the Workers Advice Center (WAC) and drivers from the Hamenia transportation company who had organized with WAC. The ruling on this labor dispute was handed down in the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court by Judge Michal Levitt. Hamenia, one of the longest-standing companies in haulage in Israel, was adamantly against recognizing WAC’s right to act as a union and even refused to recognize its employees’ membership in the organization, and asked the court to reject the petition and prevent WAC from representing its employees.</p>
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Hamenia workers with WAC team in front of the Labor Court in Tel-Aviv

At the beginning of June, the court ruled on a petition submitted by the Workers Advice Center (WAC) and drivers from the Hamenia transportation company who had organized with WAC. The ruling on this labor dispute was handed down in the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court by Judge Michal Levitt. Hamenia, one of the longest-standing companies in haulage in Israel, was adamantly against recognizing WAC’s right to act as a union and even refused to recognize its employees’ membership in the organization, and asked the court to reject the petition and prevent WAC from representing its employees.

Levitt held three long hearings in court, and after reading the extensive evidence submitted by both parties she issued a detailed 25-page decision ruling, in brief, that: (a) WAC is a workers’ organization; (b) WAC is not the representative organization at Hamenia because an insufficient number of workers had signed up for membership; and © the drivers are entitled to join WAC and set up a workers’ committee at any time.

In light of the fact that the court confirmed WAC’s legal status and thus created a positive basis for the organization of workers in the future, including in Hamenia, WAC decided not to appeal the regional court’s decision at the National Labor Court.

Court ruling confirms WAC’s status as a workers’ organization

Levitt’s ruling rejected all claims raised by Hamenia’s lawyer, Attorney Shemer, that WAC should be disqualified as a workers’ organization because of its structure and its regulations and also because of political influence (according to Shemer, WAC is a radical political organization whose positions are outside the Israeli political consensus). The ruling rejected all such claims and determined that WAC is a workers’ organization in keeping with three criteria:

a.The organization meets all the criteria defined by the High Court, including: it is a permanent and democratic organization, independent from employers; it is an organization whose main aim is determining terms of employment via collective negotiation; it is an organization with established regulations determining its objectives and modus operandi; and membership in this organization is voluntary.

b.WAC has been operating for a number of years as a representative workers’ organization. In 2009, some paragraphs were added to the objectives set out in its regulations relating to the collective representation of workers, and this is sufficient to assert that WAC’s main objective is the organization of workers. Thus WAC’s activities increased and WAC has signed a collective agreement at the Musrara School of Art, set up workers’ committees in various workplaces, and even declared a labor dispute and strike in some places. In the light of these activities, WAC is a workers’ organization.

c.The ruling also determined that WAC’s connection to the Organization for Democratic Action (Daam), a political party on the left of the political spectrum in Israel, does not undermine its legitimacy. Moreover, Levitt ruled specifically that this connection is well ingrained in reality and in the history of workers’ organizations in Israel which developed within a clear ideological framework. Levitt noted that the General Federation of Labor (the Histadrut, which was the hegemonic workers’ organization in Israel until recent years with the entry of new organizations into this field) served as the executive branch of the Labor Party. WAC’s identification with socialist aims such as social change, and its link to leftist positions mean that it must inform those who join of its political connections. After making these important points, at the end of paragraph 20 Levitt noted something which opens the way for a new workers’ organization such as WAC: the employer must not serve as “guardian” for his workers and has no authority to determine who will represent them, which organization has an ideology which is acceptable to him, or which organization can operate on his company’s premises. Enabling an employer to “classify” an organization and to decide who is “with us” or “against us”, Levitt wrote, clearly goes against the most basic principles of collective labor law in general and the right to organize in particular.

In light of these facts, and despite Hamenia’s claims, Levitt ruled in paragraph 21 that the supplicant (WAC) is eligible to act as a workers’ organization from the point of view of its ideological identity and content.

Hamenia failed in its attempts to free itself of WAC

As noted, the court ruled that WAC may not serve as the representative organization at Hamenia because an insufficient number of workers joined. However, Levitt strongly criticized the company’s response to the workers’ request to unionize, especially its attempt to dismiss two employees who were active in organizing the workers.

Despite this criticism, and despite the court’s confirmation of WAC’s status as a workers’ organization, Hamenia took the ruling as a green light to dismiss workers organized with WAC. About a fortnight after the ruling, Hamenia informed Edward Daniel, a driver active with WAC, that he had been summarily dismissed without any hearing (according to the law, a hearing is required in such cases).

Following this provocative step, on June 26 WAC submitted a request for an injunction to overturn the dismissal which was carried out only due to his activities with WAC and in an illegal manner.

A hearing on this issue was scheduled within 48 hours at the Tel Aviv Labor Court with Levitt, but Hamenia contacted WAC and a compromise was reached: the employee was taken on again by Hamenia and even received wages for the five days he had not worked. The agreement, signed by Att. Aya Bartenstein for WAC and Att. Asher Sela from the Shemer law offices for Hamenia, was granted the status of a court ruling, and Edward Daniel returned to work on June 29 with his head held high.

An important step in organizing truck drivers

The struggle between the Hamenia drivers and the company took place in a harsh industry in which drivers find it difficult to confront their powerful employers who make every effort to prevent unionization. More than 10,000 heavy vehicle drivers are employed in haulage in Israel, but only a few hundred are organized in workers’ committees affiliated with the Histadrut (according to the chairman of the Histadrut’s transportation union, only 4% of truckers in Israel are unionized). The rest, the vast majority, are employed under harsh terms without any union protection. Hamenia’s determined efforts to prevent the unionization of its workers with WAC are an example of the difficulties workers face in this industry.

On the other hand, WAC’s determined activities during the last couple of years have created a firm basis for changing this situation. Dozens of drivers have sued their employers via WAC’s legal department and have been granted thousands of shekels in compensation for various infringements of rights. The unionization in Hamenia was another step in building up a new drivers’ union. Though the first round of the fight did not achieve all its aims, and a workers’ committee was not formed, the ruling nonetheless placed WAC firmly in the haulage industry.

 

אודות Wac-Maan