Thousands still in dark amid electric corporation, union power struggle
As outages persist in wake of storm, power company goes to court to force linemen to work faster and ignore ongoing labor dispute
Tens of thousands of Israelis were still without electricity Monday morning, after intense rainstorms lashed the country a day earlier and amid allegations that Israel Electric Corporation linemen were dragging their feet over an ongoing labor dispute.
Most of the power outages were in the Sharon region north of Tel Aviv, with some 200,000 customers without electricity, the Walla news site reported.
The Israel Electric Corporation published an official apology Monday morning and said its teams “are in all places and have worked overnight in full emergency capacity in order to minimize harm to the hundreds of lines hit in during the storm.”
A statement said the outages were expected to continue until Monday afternoon, more than a day after a powerful storm moved into the region, downing trees and power lines and killing one man.
The electric company, the country’s sole electricity utility, has been mired in a worker dispute for months and critics charge it is not prepared for the ramifications of severe weather conditions.
The chairman of the IEC workers’ labor union, David Serfaty, is conducting a battle against privatization of the company that has been gone on for more than a year.
In Ra’anana, where many of the residents were stuck without electricity for more than 12 hours, the municipality said its request that the IEC send larger teams to fix downed lines remained unanswered.
“City hall views with great seriousness the fact that thousands of its employees have become hostages paying the price of a dispute between the workers of the electricity company and the managers of the company,” the municipality said in a statement.
Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon called the company’s conduct “a disgrace of national proportions.”
Fadlon says he spent Sunday helping families stuck with no electricity, including patients in need of oxygen tanks, elderly people and families with small children.
“During my tour of the city, I reached the epicenter on Be’eri Street, where electricity lines collapsed. Two IEC workers arrived, looked around and left as quickly they came. … What we saw yesterday is not the way I expect a company with national responsibilities to behave.”
A man in northern Israel said he saw crews standing around but not working.
“In the beginning I didn’t understand why they were not working, until in the evening talk started of an IEC strike…. Around 8:30 p.m. they started working; at 10:30 p.m. power was back,” he told news site Ynet.
Management petitioned the National Labor Court on Sunday to instruct employees to work in emergency mode after some managers said workers were purposely working as usual despite the storm, apparently at the union’s instruction.
The Labor Court decided on Sunday that for 72 hours, or as long as the weather conditions dictate work in emergency mode, the employees and the company’s management set aside their differences and refrain from pursuing their dispute at the expense of the Israelis public.
The rain is expected to continue Monday and throughout the week. On Sunday, one person was killed and 20 more injured as high winds and heavy rain battered the country, knocking down trees and a crane in central Israel, and flooding roads in the south.
Officials also said the Rabin border crossing with Jordan near the southern city of Eilat would be closed for several days due to weather-related damage.
The outages were reminiscent of the aftermath of a major winter storm that walloped the country two years ago and left hundreds of thousands powerless, in some cases for up to a week.
Two months ago, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira published a report in which he warned that Israel was ill-prepared for emergencies including weather emergencies. A large part of his report was devoted to criticizing the IEC’s performance during the storm of 2013.
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), head of the State Control Committee, said Monday that the committee would convene on Tuesday for an urgent discussion of the home front’s readiness for emergencies, focusing on the national power grid and the IEC’s “conduct during the storm of October 25.”
“The winter is only starting and we already see internal power struggles in the electricity corporation, struggles which harm the citizens of the state… The committee wishes to discuss these problems when they’re happening and not in retrospect,” she said in the statement.
Earlier this month, Serfaty warned a Knesset committee that IEC workers would not help Israelis when the weather caused outages.
“If anyone thinks that during the coming winter’s electricity shortage there will be anyone to save you, you are wrong. You are going to be lost,” he said.
The reform his union is battling includes several steps intended to extract the IEC, a state-owned company, from its economic difficulties. This includes issuing up to 20 percent of the company in the stock exchange, the sale of two major power plants, buyouts for 2,000 employees, and opening part of the grid — the part that connects private homes and offices to the national and municipal grids — to new companies.
The plan aims to establish a new state-owned management company to replace the IEC’s current management.
The new company, which is already detailed in the state budget and is to be implemented by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s office, will buy electricity from the IEC as well from private power plants.