light rail 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Jerusalem light rail may set an interesting precedent by going on strike
before it even starts rolling, after the Transportation Workers’ Union, which
represents about a third of the light rail train drivers, declared a labor
dispute with the Veolia company on Tuesday.
The Histadrut labor
federation claims that Veolia (Connex), the organization that manages the light
rail workers, is harassing workers for joining the union, and has summoned six
of the recently unionized drivers for dismissal hearings.
About a third
of the 80 drivers of the light rail joined the union in early May. The head of
the transportation union, Avi Adri sent a letter to Veolia’s management,
requesting a meeting between the union and the company. Veolia agreed, and a
meeting is set for this Sunday.
But in the meantime, Adri said that the
company began harassing the workers. “We declared a labor dispute because the
management declared war on the workers ever since the decided to exercise their
legal and democratic right to organize,” he said in a statement.
called the declaration of the labor dispute “surprising,” since the sides had
agreed to meet on Sunday. “The company’s operating management expects the
Histadrut representatives to change their decision and act as a bridge for
cooperation with the workers,” said Veolia in a statement.
“We hope from
their side they will be able to work out the problems and the relationships with
the workers so that the residents of Jerusalem, who have waited a very long
time, will be able to travel on the train,” said Shmuel Elgrabli, the spokesman
for the Jerusalem Master Plan, which oversees the project.
He added that
as of yet, Citypass, the company which handles the trains and the technical
aspects of the light rail, has not asked for a postponement the start date,
which currently stands at August 15, 2011.
The train was supposed to
begin partial operations before Passover, to carry riders on a 2 km. stretch of
Jaffa Road, to alleviate some of the traffic on Rehov Agripas. However, the
partial opening was pushed off as Citypass completes the last tests on the
trains. Some of the tests require a certain number of hours of testing without
error, meaning if there is a problem, that specific train must start the
hundreds of hours of testing from the beginning.
Workers Union was founded in May 2008, and currently represents 22,000 workers
from airlines, trains, buses, and port workers across the country. Histadrut
representatives said that the light rail drivers wanted to unionize to protest
low wages and poor working conditions, like not getting a ride to their house at
the end of a night shift.