Egged bus drivers threatened Monday to strike next month if their salary demands are not met.
Avi Nissenkorn, head of the Histadrut labor federation, announced Monday that all Egged bus lines across the country will go on strike beginning March 21 due to “foot dragging by the Transportation Ministry and the Finance Ministry in their dealings with Egged management in terms of transferring money to the company.”
Egged is the largest bus company in Israel and operates both intercity and urban bus routes.
Nissenkorn said that “the thousands of dedicated Egged drivers, who transport almost one and a half million Israelis every day, pay a heavy price for the fecklessness of the state, which has neglected the issue for far too long.”
Nissenkorn claimed that officials were trying to cut drivers’ wages. “We will not stand by while thousands of drivers are unable to make it to the end of each month,” he said, “and the government continues… to drag the public transport industry to unprecedented lows.”
He blamed the ministries for the continued logjam, saying Egged workers “have given more than enough time for the issue to be resolved.” He called on government officials to “come to their senses, to understand that time is pressing and to work quickly to prevent any escalation.”
An Egged spokesman told Army Radio in November that the finance and transportation ministries were withholding over NIS 250 million ($65 million) from Egged in order to pressure the company into forcing an unfavorable wage deal on drivers and other employees.
The drivers protested the offered deal at the time, saying officials were trying to force Egged to fire employees and exchange them for contract labor. Strikes were canceled at the last minute after the two sides reached an agreement.
The Histadrut will hold elections in May, and earlier this month MK Shelly Yachimovich, who headed the Labor Party from 2011 to 2013, announced her candidacy as the only challenger to Nissenkorn to head the powerful organization. She said she had been “deliberating the move for many months,” and that despite having to resign from the Knesset if victorious, she was confident she would be able to play a key role in national decision-making as Histadrut chairwoman.
Founded in 1920, the Histadrut union of unions quickly grew to be one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Although the influence of organized labor has waned in recent years, the Histadrut’s large membership still allows it to call paralyzing strikes, and the head of organization, who serves a five-year term, is considered is one of the most powerful political actors in Israel.