The Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan is seen from a helicopter in New York City, April 22, 2010. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Workers at Israeli consulates and embassies across the world have started a slowdown to protest what they see as unfair salaries and benefits.
These employees work as part of a system established in the 1950s, which defines them as “locally employed staff.” The program, commonly called “AMI” in Hebrew, was originally dedicated to spouses of Israeli representatives sent abroad by the Foreign Ministry. It offered them a part-time job for a symbolic sum of money. The spouses were not considered government employees, but with this program, they could work at their Israeli mission as well and provide extra income to the household.
Today, however, about 1,200 Israeli embassy and consulate workers who are not spouses of envoys are still employed under the “AMI” program, receiving no benefits and earning wages as low as $2,500 a month in New York, which very often is not enough to cover rent in Manhattan.
“Under our suits, we are poor,” one worker of the Israeli Consulate in New York told The Jerusalem Post. “We are not trying to whine about anything, but this is the situation.”
The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said that to make ends meet, she tutors students on the side.
“There is someone here who works three jobs in addition to the consulate one,” she said. “My cleaning lady here makes more than me, and I will soon have two academic degrees.”
In addition to low wages, once they were hired in Israel for the job, these “locally employed” Israelis are expected to take care of all expenses related to their move abroad, including oneway flight tickets for them and their family and housing in the host country.
But despite the struggle, the consulate employee told the Post she is still “very proud” of her job.
“I’m here at the end of the day because I love what I do,” she said. “I represent my country. I make my voice and my country’s voice heard abroad. That’s incredible, but I’m disappointed in the system.”
For these workers however, the financial situation and lack of job security is only a part of the problem.
“I came here out of the private sector, and I’ve never been treated like that,” said one Israeli Embassy employee in Washington, who also preferred not to be named. “I feel like the work I do is worthless. Everything is replaceable. I don’t mean anything, and I should be grateful that they even let me work for them.
“We are all educated, motivated people who want to do good, but we’ve been treated like we work at McDonald’s,” the embassy worker said.
In order to afford the cost of living in Washington, she often has to sublet her apartment on sites such as Airbnb.
To do so, she goes to sleep at a friend’s house for a few days each time.
Despite their determination to “shake the system” and make their voices heard, embassy and consulate workers employed under the “AMI” program also find themselves torn.
As they are in the midst of organizing the annual Israel Independence Day events, and even work to arrange for US President Donald Trump’s potential visit to Israel in May, standing up for themselves may be in conflict with their mission.
“We want to strike and we want to fight for yourself, but we also don’t want to create any diplomatic damage or damage to the image of our country,” the embassy employee said.
So far, consular services have been suspended in New York.
The Washington embassy workers have decided to continue providing services for locals but to refuse doing so for those who came from New York after being turned down.
They explained this as showing solidarity with their New York counterparts.
The AMI workers, with the backing of the Foreign Ministry, are now turning to the Treasury, hoping it will listen to them and adapt their terms of employment to the standards of the host countries in which they serve.