Schechter Inst. employees ready to strike over salary cuts

Workers say continued development of academy’s other projects is a sign cuts were unnecessary.

November 23, 2010 02:04
3 minute read.
WORKERS AT the Schechter Institute hold a warning

Shechter Protest 311. (photo credit: Koach L’Ovdim)

Administrative staff and faculty at an academic institution in Jerusalem funded primarily by donations from the Conservative Jewish community in the US are set to strike in the coming days after negotiations between the workers’ union and management broke down following a long-running dispute over pay cuts and worker’s rights, The Jerusalem Post learned Monday.

Salaries at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, which provides recognized graduate courses in Jewish subjects to more than 600 students based in Israel, were cut by up to 10 percent last year following the passing of its single largest donor, American billionaire William Davidson, and in light of the global economic crisis.

However, roughly 80 of the 120- strong staff – all members of the Koach L’Ovdim (Power to Worker’s Union) – believe that the cuts were unjustified and that another solution to the institute’s financial troubles could have been found.

“We believe that [cutting salaries] was done unilaterally without checking into other options,” Dr. Paul Mandel, a senior lecturer at the institute and a member of the workers’ committee, told the Post.

He noted that even while salaries were being cut, the institute continued its plans to build two new state-of-the-art centers – one in Jerusalem and the other in Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv – and that Schechter’s management team, headed by Professor David Golinkin, continued to earn almost twice as much as other salaried employees.

A response from the Schechter Institute, which also operates The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, the Tali Educational Fund and Midreshet Yerushalayim, pointed out however that “the majority of the salary cuts were to management salaries, and that even after the cuts, salaries and benefits of Schechter Institute administrative workers and faculty were still better than those of similar institutions.

“The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies is an Israeli academic institution recognized by the Council for Higher Education,” continued the written statement. “The Institute receives no government funding and two-thirds of its operating budget must be raised each year through donations.” The statement also said: “A year and a half ago, the Schechter Institute experienced a drop in income due to the worldwide financial crisis and the sudden passing of its single largest donor. As a result, management was forced to temporarily cut salaries, acting in a manner similar to many Israel non-profit organizations.”

Although the two sides had been involved in intense negotiations since the workers’ committee was created earlier this year following the pay cuts, talks broke down last week and employees on Monday held a pre-strike demonstration outside the institute calling on management to try and reach an agreement.

“Our basic demand is for the management to reverse the salary cut imposed on us and return the monies,” said Mandel.

“We did have some other demands but we are holding them back because we believe this is so important right now.”

According to Mandel, who has worked at Schechter since 1979, although management has indicated it is willing to reinstate salaries, an additional clause has been added to prevent workers making any further demands in the coming years.

“They will not allow us the right to strike or hold any other labor dispute if they fire people on the basis of budget,” he said.

“This is our main issue right now. We cannot allow ourselves to renounce the full protection of employees who are part of the workers’ committee.”

In response to Monday’s strike, the institute’s management said that negotiations with the worker’s union had broken down because they “breached the mediation agreement, causing the resignation of the mediator, who unequivocally blamed the workers’ committee for creating an incendiary atmosphere not conducive to conducting negotiations.

“For more than six months, negotiations have been conducted with the workers’ committee.

Within this framework, management has agreed to return to full pre-budget-cut salaries; has offered to retroactively restore to [in accord with a schedule still to be negotiated] the money lost from salaries; and has agreed to anchor these commitments in a long-term collective bargaining agreement in order ensure a calm atmosphere needed to conduct Schechter’s academic and educational programs,” said the management, adding that it was “willing and available to return to negotiations with its employees and to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”

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