Pilots sign deal ending El Al strike

Following 21 hours of nonstop negotiations, mediated by Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn, Maimon signed a final agreement with the pilots’ representatives.

December 4, 2016 23:44
4 minute read.
AN EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft is seen at Ben-Gurion Airport

AN EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft is seen at Ben-Gurion Airport. (photo credit: REUTERS)

El Al CEO David Maimon came to terms with his pilots on Sunday, bringing an end to the work-to-rule strike that led to dozens of canceled flights over the past month, damaged the company and inconvenienced many of its passengers.

Following 21 hours of nonstop negotiations, mediated by Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn, Maimon signed a final agreement with the pilots’ representatives: Avi Edri, chairman of the National Transportation Workers Union, and Capt. Nir Zuk, head of the El Al pilots committee.

“We are happy to announce that we signed a new streamlining agreement today between El Al, the Histadrut, the workers’ representatives and the pilots. This agreement will lead to a new and efficient road of fruitful work with our pilots’ branch for the benefit of the company and all its employees,” Maimon said.

The agreement includes8.75% annual salary increases and the halt of all “wet charters,” a practice where one airline provides an aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance to another airline to carry out a flight. El Al hired wet charters from other airlines to carry out some flights during the recent labor dispute.

According to El Al, the money that will be saved due to the streamlining will be used to pay for the pilots’ salary increase.

In return, the pilots will stop “splitting” flights, where a pilot works only one leg of a roundtrip voyage, and flies the second as a passenger in business class.

They will also reduce overnight stays from 44 to 27 hours before flying the return leg. Additionally, pilots agreed to cut long-distance flight times, as in the past they deliberately prolonged flight durations on occasion to receive larger flight-time bonuses.

“The pilots feel very encouraged by the resolution of the conflict.

The company went through a rough period. It was rough both for the management and the workers, but ultimately it was the passengers who suffered most due to this in-fighting,” Edri told The Jerusalem Post.

Since 2014, El Al pilots have been in a work dispute with management over a variety of issues. The pilots’ demands included being allowed to flight-split while being paid for the return leg as if they were working.

Until last week, management begrudgingly accepted the practice, in order to keep flights running, but with no resolution in sight they took a harder line.

To avoid canceling as few flights as possible, El Al management had taken to chartering flights under threat of cancellation due to the strike to other carriers, that is “wet chartering.” Pilots then escalated their strike, refusing to fly altogether unless they could flight-split.

Following the escalation of the conflict, Nissenkorn convened Maimon and the pilots’ representatives for several rounds of negotiations.

Twice before, El Al management and Nissenkorn optimistically announced the impending resolution of the work dispute, saying that all the agreements had been made and that the parties were now in the stage of signing a contract.

After the latest failure to close a deal between the parties, Nissenkorn convened the sides on Saturday night, vowing not to leave the room until the crisis was resolved.

El Al maintained that actions taken by the pilots – including the strike and the failure of the negotiations rounds – were an attempt to improve their bargaining position, both for the agreement and for a collective work agreement to be signed in 2018. Representatives of the pilots, on the other hand, maintained that the strike was aimed to better the conditions of all El Al employees, but did not specify in which ways.

With the new agreement, it is now evident that it was the salary issue that had prevented the pilots from coming to terms. The previous drafts agreed upon by both sides included a 7.35%, and later, a 7.5% increase, with the rest of the crucial terms remaining the same.

The strike hurt El Al earnings, as the company reported third-quarter net income of $70 million, compared to $93m. from the same period the previous year, though revenue was down just slightly at $644m. from $647m. in the comparable period in 2015.

The quarterly report showed an increase in El Al’s operational costs in the past few months due to last-minute wet chartering. Additional setbacks to company profits came from canceled or postponed flights, especially due to an emergency policy implemented by the company that allowed customers to get full refunds with no fees for cancellations or rescheduling.

El Al’s reputation took further hits due to the pilots’ actions, when the company plummeted to the bottom of the international Flightstats rating, regaining the title of “Tardiest airliner in the world.” Additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed with the Tel Aviv District Court last Monday, over the revelation that El Al used to let pilots artificially prolong flights to get bonuses, without alerting passengers.

“Personally, I am happy for El Al that the crisis is resolved. Now they can put El Al back in its natural position, a position of excellence and restore the company’s reputation as the national airline,” Edri told the Post.

Maimon said, “I would also like to apologize to our clients for the difficulties you experienced, and thank you for the patience and loyalty you displayed. We will do everything we can to continue being deserving of your faith, and we will do this with the help of our loyal workers.”

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