Teva workers block Jerusalem light rail in protest over layoffs

Police move demonstrators off tracks to resume service; protesters gather outside home of board member in Ra’anana

The Jerusalem light rail in downtown Jerusalem, September 20, 2017. (Stuart Winer/Times of Israel)
The Jerusalem light rail in downtown Jerusalem, September 20, 2017. (Stuart Winer/Times of Israel)

Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries employees blocked the light rail network in the center of Jerusalem on Thursday in their campaign against the threatened shuttering of the company’s two Jerusalem plants. The ailing pharma giant is in the midst of a global restructuring and is set to slash some one-quarter of its total workforce.

Workers gathered at Zion Square and blocked the rail line, briefly disrupting service. Police dispersed the demonstrators and the train service was resumed.

Dozens of protesters also gathered in the central city of Ra’anana, outside the home of board member Chemi Peres, a son of the late former president Shimon Peres. Workers have been holding demonstrations outside the homes of Teva board members in protest of their support to the downsizing plan.

Protests have taken place nearly daily since Teva said last week that it would lay off some 1,750 workers across the country and shut down the plants in the capital. Over 200 workers also barricaded themselves in one of the Jerusalem factories, where some remain to date.

Some of those inside left to take part in the demonstrations in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Sara Karela, 53, a member of Teva’s labor union who has worked at the Jerusalem plant for 31 years, told The Times of Israel that the workers have received a lot of support from Jerusalem residents.

“Our plans are to continue to demonstrate until management changes its mind regarding closing the factory,” she said in a telephone interview. “We don’t have a choice.”

Teva’s new CEO, Kare Schultz, said he would not change his plans, she said. “But he is Danish. He does not know Israelis and Israeli culture, how loyal we are to our jobs, and Zionism. This was the first factory that was set up in Jerusalem 45 years ago. On this land our parachuters fell. And he wants to sell this?”

On Sunday, the public sector in Israel held a four-hour strike in solidarity with the company’s employees.

On Tuesday Schultz, in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected a government request to keep its Jerusalem plants open, but pledged the firm will keep its global headquarters in Israel and work closely with an Israeli team to help dismissed workers find alternative employment.

One of the world’s largest generic makers of drugs and one of the nation’s largest employers, Teva had been until recently a symbol of Israel’s industrial success. The company’s shares were a staple in local savings plans, earning the nickname “the people’s stock.”

Last week, however, the company, which is dogged by debt, announced a restructuring plan that envisages the firing of 14,000 Teva workers worldwide over the next two years — more than a quarter of Teva’s global workforce of over 55,000 — including the 1,750 in Israel.

Teva has been saddled with debt after its $40 billion acquisition of the generics arm of rival Allergan was completed last year. That purchase was accompanied by low prices for generics, particularly in the United States, a major market.

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