Wildcat strike holds up Jerusalem’s light rail

As visitors converge on capital for Sukkot festival, labor dispute disrupts service on capital’s mass transit system

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Jerusalem light rail (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)
The Jerusalem light rail (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

The company that operates Jerusalem’s light rail announced Tuesday that after most of its train drivers failed to show up for work, the entire system was frozen. Citypass accused its employees, many of whom called in sick, of orchestrating an unofficial strike as part of an ongoing labor dispute.

The situation was made more acute by the fact that tens of thousands are expected to arrive in Jerusalem for revelries during the week-long Sukkot festival, which began on Sunday night.

Management said it would consider turning to the Labor Court to seek a back-work order.

Meanwhile, Citypass asked the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality to provide extra buses in Jerusalem to pick up the slack caused by the disrupted light rail services.

In a statement, the company suggested that the sudden onset of illness among so many employees was connected to a dispute with the workers’ committee over changes to timetables and wages.

“We regret the irresponsible and organized behavior of the committee, which chose to impact the service for passengers and to interrupt their lives specifically during the festival, while contravening the District Court’s ruling,” Citypass said, apparently referring to a decision from August that ordered drivers back to work several hours after they initiated a strike.

The company also took the national Histadrut Labor Union to task for letting the drivers get away with the alleged protest, the Hebrew-language Walla news site reported.

“Likewise, we regret the incompetence of the Histadrut, which isn’t acting on its legal authority and isn’t acting to stop the illegal actions of the drivers against the public.”

The ongoing dispute is over a new program aimed to increase the frequency of the trains, so that they would be arriving every six minutes during most hours of the day.

Workers claim the new program was decided on without their agreement and argue it will have a negative impact on work conditions and prevent workers from being able to take breaks, decreasing the safety of passengers and pedestrians.

At the time of the August walkout, Citypass administration claimed the strike was called “for tactical reasons” as part of the workers’ demands for higher wages, even though light rail wages are higher than similar jobs in the field.

The administration insists the new program would improve, not harm, the workers’ conditions, and that the workers were only striking in order to “hold onto a bargaining chip.”

Josefin Dolsten contributed to this report.

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