Progress report on WAC-MAAN, October 1st, 2016.

For the past three months, the labor union WAC-MAAN has attracted much media attention and engaged in a wave of new organizing drives. Among labor organizations in Israel today, and in the political climate of suspicion and hatred between Jews and Arabs, WAC-MAAN remains prominent as a democratic union nurturing cooperation between Jewish and Arab workers as part of its struggle for peace and social justice.


A new unionization drive in Yehuda Fencing

On Sep 22, WAC-MAAN announced a labor dispute at the manufacturing company “Yehuda Fencing” in Ashdod. This came after we organized the workers there, registering 108 out of 140. These workers have been employed for many years at low wages, without any promotion ladder or remuneration for seniority or professional skills. They asked us for assistance. On 17 August, WAC-MAAN declared its representative status at the plant and met with some 50 workers. At the same time, a committee was set up to lead the organizing drive. Most of the workers are Jewish and come from the Ashdod area; some of these are Ethiopian or Russian in origin. There are some Arab workers from the Bedouin villages.

At the present political atmosphere, it is not a trivial matter for these workers to unionize with WAC-MAAN. According to some, the management is warning that their union dues would be used to finance terror activities, because WAC-MAAN is a “union of Arabs.” This line of accusations is not new. We make no secret to the workers that WAC-MAAN seeks to build peace between Arabs and Jews, and that our opposition to racism and discrimination is based on principles we hold high.

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Palestinian workers, Area C:

Zarfati Garage, the struggle for a collective agreement continues

After Workers Committee chair, Hatem Abu Ziadeh, had been reinstated in the Garage on May 12, the company is continuing to harass him. Meanwhile WAC-MAAN began negotiations with the garage towards a collective agreement over employment terms, as well as financial compensation for its workers covering years of underpaid, precarious employment. The company continues to resist to give a serious offer for compensating the workers for past years, and will not sign an agreement until this issue is resolved.

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Truck Drivers:

An ongoing complex struggle at Movilei Dror

WAC-MAAN continues its struggle for the sake of drivers at the haulage firm Movilei Dror, where it has been the representative union since September 2015. This company, which employs 160 truck drivers, has paid low wages for years and failed to provide other benefits as required by law.

In addition to its unionizing efforts, WAC-MAAN has also been active vis-à-vis the authorities and the media, issuing a comprehensive report on the subject which received extensive coverage in Haaretz’s business daily The Marker and in the Arabic-language press.

The struggle at Movilei Dror became more complicated after a crisis among the drivers compelled WAC-MAAN to set up a new Workers Committee. In February, when the management tried to take advantage of the crisis to quit negotiations, WAC-MAAN declared a labor dispute, and dozens of workers submitted claims at the labor courts to be compensated for years of injustice.

Under this pressure, the firm began meeting its legal wage-related obligations in April; this included increasing pension contributions significantly. On the other hand, the take-home pay of many drivers was not increased, and in some cases even fell, which led to widespread bitterness among them. The firm is determined to undermine negotiations by causing internal division among the workers, threatening and promising in turn. Despite the firm’s efforts, WAC-MAAN continues to lead the struggle, aiming to achieve a collective agreement that will open the way to a fair wage in the haulage industry, a wage based on hours worked and not, as at present, on a basic wage plus bonuses per load regardless of hours.

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The East Jerusalem Project:

WAC-MAAN’s East Jerusalem office places unemployed Palestinian women on the map

In July, Channel One’s highly-regarded investigative program “Second Look” ran a comprehensive feature which focused on the activities of WAC-MAAN’s East Jerusalem office vis-à-vis the Employment Bureau and the National Insurance Institute in that part of the city. The program exposed the ongoing injustice faced by Palestinian women in East Jerusalem (about 3000 are registered at the bureau); it emphasized WAC-MAAN’s work in assisting the unemployed women. The program noted the difficult physical conditions at the Employment Bureau and the hurdles every woman faces when she arrives there to find work or claim unemployment benefits.

The widespread media coverage enhances the growing confidence that East Jerusalem residents have in WAC-MAAN, which has been active in the city for 16 years. This growth in reputation is also an outcome of the cooperation which WAC-MAAN has nurtured with human rights organizations and civil society groups in Jerusalem, such as Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Ir Amim, Ataa, and the Hebrew University’s Public Law Clinic.

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Safety at construction:

WAC-MAAN leads an unprecedented public struggle against work accidents in construction

Since November 2015, WAC-MAAN has been part of a coalition of organizations and activists which has succeeded in getting the issue of work accidents in construction into the headlines, creating pressure on authorities to amend arrangements and laws to ensure better oversight and fewer accidents. In recent months, the coalition has managed to raise the issue in discussions of the Knesset Committee on Labor, Welfare and Health, where it was a partner in changing the law on the handling of serious or fatal accidents. At the same time, the coalition’s spokespersons, including WAC-MAAN staff, continue their efforts to keep this issue in the Israeli and Arabic-language media.

This media interest was particularly prominent following the collapse of a four-story parking lot in Ramat Hachayal (Tel Aviv) in September, in which six construction workers died and 23 were injured. The collapse kept rescue teams busy for five days, putting the issue of workplace accidents on the public agenda. It should be noted that WAC-MAAN’s efforts in this field have been going on for some years. It is known as the organization which began raising public awareness and lobbying on the question of safety in construction. WAC-MAAN meets with Arab workers to explain safety issues. In government and in the press, it presents the need for profound changes in legislation and enforcement. These activities have been supported by the National Insurance Institute’s Manof Fund, first in 2010 and again in 2013. WAC-MAAN is now seeking approval for a third year of the project with the Manof Fund.

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