Histadrut calls for general strike in response to Teva layoffs

The strike could affect Ben Gurion Airport, government offices and banks, among other places.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The Histadrut labor federation threatened to launch a general strike on Sunday in response to planned layoffs at Teva Pharmaceuticals – reportedly half its Israeli workforce, or 3,300 employees.
Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn, at a hastily convened press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, said the strike would be held for a few hours on Sunday morning, possibly shuttering government offices, health funds, banks, public transit, the stock exchange and Ben-Gurion Airport, among other places. Teva’s factories would also be closed, he said.
“Teva, the flagship of the industry, is becoming a symbol of the destruction of Israeli industry,” Nissenkorn said. “Teva, which has been built on Israel ingenuity, the discoveries of the Weizmann Institute [of Science], promoting blue and white [products], is abandoning its principles as an Israeli company, the vision of its founders. The founders of Teva are turning in their graves, and it would not have happened if they were in Teva’s management.”
After word leaked out on Wednesday that Teva Pharmaceuticals was laying off many more workers than initially expected, some staffers left work early to be with their families.
“When I look around the hallways, I can safely assume that one in four people won’t be here in a month or two,” said one director at Teva’s Petah Tikva headquarters who spoke on condition of anonymity.  “It’s very sad. Everyone is depressed and scared and waiting to see their name on the list,” he said, adding: “We’re waiting to hear that there will be a strike.”
Teva, formerly an iconic Israeli success story, and whose name means “nature” in Hebrew, at one point employed more than 7,000 workers in the country and directly contributed 1.3% of the GDP. Until the current CEO, Kare Schultz, took the helm last month, every CEO of the company has been Israeli or Jewish.
The Teva director quoted above said: “I made aliya six years ago, and when I joined Teva I said, this company is one of the prides of Israel. And now many people are coming to me to check their résumés and polish it up with me.”
Teva is expected to release its recovery plan on Thursday, a company spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post, and the names of more employees to be let go are expected to be known then, as well as the final tally.
Many of the jobs being cut are highly technical and specialized, with an upper-middle-class salary. They include researchers, chemical engineers and sales professionals, among others, and they likely will be laid off in January, according to the Teva director.
The former industry giant but now debt-laden Israeli company may close its R&D center in Netanya and try to sell its logistics center in Shoham, according to the Calcalist financial newspaper.
Teva may also try to shutter some of its factories across the country, including Teva Tech at Ne’ot Hovav in the Negev and its Kiryat Shmona plant near the Lebanese border.
It could take months to shut down or sell a factory given the stockpile of hazardous pharmaceutical products and supply-chain orders.
Since the government has granted billions of shekels of tax deductions and subsidies to the company over the years, it is likely that ministers will pressure Teva to cancel some of the redundancies.
Already on Wednesday, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), who heads the Knesset State Control Committee, was gearing up for a fight.
“While Israel celebrates the Festival of Lights [Hanukka], Teva has decided to turn off the light for hundreds of its employees and send them home,” she said. “Teva has enjoyed unprecedented tax benefits over the years, and now it is throwing stones in the well from which it drank... I call upon Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to intervene immediately.”