Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini announces resignation

Eini recommends trade union division head for job, but Cabel says he will challenge; Gal-On: Outgoing chairman turned organization into one of "protectionism and deals."

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November 5, 2013 10:52
3 minute read.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini at press conference, May 8, 2013.

Lapid Eini press conference 370. (photo credit: Finance Ministry spokesman)

Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini announced Tuesday that he will step down on February 1, 2014, after eight years in the role.

“During this period, the Histadrut has reached unprecedented heights in terms of its influence on the economy, Israeli society, the working public and pensioners, and has become very popular among the public,” Eini told Histadrut leaders Tuesday morning.

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He recommended Avi Nissankoren, chairman of the Histadrut’s Trade Union division, to replace him. He added that he had waited to step down until he was sure Nissankoren was ready to succeed him.

Whoever replaces Eini will have a significant impact on Israel’s economy. This year alone, the 800,000-member organization has resorted to calling labor disputes or strikes over such issues as nurses’ working conditions, port reforms, the government’s open skies agreement and layoffs at pharmaceutical giant Teva. It has the power to call strikes that can shut down a wide range of institutions, such as schools, the postal service and even airports.

Eini’s succession plan might not be foolproof, however. Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who challenged him in the last union election, said he would try to take his mantel. If Nissankoren fails to win the support of the Histadrut leadership, the organization will be forced to hold a general election.

Eini said the reason for stepping down after 30 years in the Histadrut was a sense that he was no longer able to give 100 percent to the job. Yet he touted his accomplishments, noting that the books were balanced and strides had been made in workers rights by increasing the minimum wage, signing an all-encompassing pension agreement and increasing union membership.

“We’re the only workers’ union in the world where the membership is growing,” he said at the Histadrut’s Tel Aviv offices.

Although Eini had thrown his political weight behind MK Isaac Herzog in his quest to unseat Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich, Yacimovich praised his record, calling him a “crucial” axis in the struggle for decent wages. His impending resignation could mute the effect of his support for Herzog in the November 21 primary.

For his part, Herzog said the Histadrut had grown stronger than ever under Eini.

“He brought the Histadrut a step forward and returned it to being a meaningful power and contributor to the economy,” the MK said.

Eini called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid to work with, and not against, the Histadrut.

“The best way is to join hands together. Together is not a vulgar word,” he said.

In a phone call, Netanyahu thanked Eini for helping resolve disputes with the government and said he expected continued cooperation from the Histadrut in the future.

But not everyone had words of praise for Eini or for the role of the Histadrut under his leadership.

“Eini turned the Histadrut from an organization with the mission of protecting workers and their rights to a body with a business-interest agenda busy with protectionism and deals,” said Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On.

Gal-On added that his departure signalled an opportunity to reclaim the organization for all Israeli workers, not just those who are unionized.

Lapid said his numerous fights with Eini had made them friends. Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett added that although they often disagreed because Eini’s priority was the benefit of workers, the Histadrut chairman had also exhibited a responsible attitude toward the rest of the economy.

“Concern for workers is a significant part of my job as economy minister,” Bennett said, “and I believe we will continue to lead ahead, together with the Histadrut, which is an important and central organization.”


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