Yad Vashem puts 107 workers on unpaid leave; union sues

Jerusalem Regional Labor Court to hear case Thursday morning • Directorate says union was informed; union says dialogue was avoided for years

PEOPLE VISIT the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in May.  (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
PEOPLE VISIT the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in May.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Yad Vashem and its workers’ union will face each other in court on Thursday morning to dispute the legitimacy of the museum’s decision to put 107 of its employees on unpaid leave for four months, which was announced on April 30.
Yad Vashem, a pillar of Holocaust remembrance in Israel and the whole world, has been closed since March 15 because of the measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Over 700 people work for the institution, including over 100 tour guides who were put on unpaid leave when the museum closed.
The entrance to the museum is free, with the museum mostly relying on public funds and donations.
Yad Vashem insists that they are doing everything to protect the institution and also its employees in a time of crisis. The workers on the other hand accuse the management of lack of dialogue and transparency in violations of the commitments agreed between the parties in the collective bargaining agreement.
The case will be discussed before the Regional Labor Court in Jerusalem.
“The workers understand that we are in a unique situation because of the corona crisis and were willing to discuss any possibility, including placing workers on unpaid leave – provided that this would happen in the framework of a discussion with them, to which the management is obligated by collective bargaining, a binding agreement with the status of law,” Yaniv Bar Ilan, a spokesperson for Koach La’ovdim, explained to The Jerusalem Post.
Koach La’ovdim, the general trade union representing Yad Vashem’s workers, assisted them to achieve a collective bargaining agreement improving their general working conditions about five years ago.
Under the agreement, the management is obligated to discuss any layoffs or furlough of workers with the union, which Bar Ilan highlighted did not happen in this case, with the management only communicating the decision to the union half an hour before it was announced to the workers themselves.
“In addition, the workers who have been dismissed are those with the lowest level of salaries,” Bar Ilan added. “Most of them have been there for seven or eight years and are making NIS 8,000 a month and lower. At the same time, there has not been a single manager who has been put on unpaid leave. Low income workers are the only ones paying the price of the situation.
“Formally in order to place the workers on unpaid leave, the workers have to agree, and in this case most of them did not. This is one of the main reasons we are going to court, together with the fact that they did not follow the collective bargaining agreement,” he said.
In court, they hope to obtain the temporary freeze of the furlough and to obligate management to open negotiations. Bar Ilan also pointed out that the length and timing of the dismissals, shortly before cultural institutions are going to be allowed to reopen, are also hard to justify.
IN A STATEMENT to the Post, Yad Vashem portrayed a different situation.
“Since the beginning of this emergency, Yad Vashem’s management has done the utmost to protect its employees and to ensure the health and job security of its staff. Accordingly, during the months of March and April, Yad Vashem employees were paid their salaries and benefits in full,” the statement read.
“Yad Vashem has suffered a significant decline in its activities as a result of the ongoing situation and is facing an imminent and serious budgetary shortfall as a result of the corona crisis,” the statement continued.
“Although the media announced theoretical approval for museums to open as of May 17th, the conditions necessary to open and the likelihood that activities will return to the way they were prior to the crisis, place Yad Vashem in a position of long-term uncertainty,” it said. “In addition, it appears that the situation will not dramatically change in the coming months.”
The management rejected the interpretation that no measures to face the crisis have been taken except for putting workers on unpaid leave.
“Confronted with tough choices, and based upon an in-depth analysis of its 2020 budget, Yad Vashem’s Directorate has decided it must take a number of essential steps. These steps reflect deep commitment to ensuring Yad Vashem’s stability and enduring presence as the World Holocaust Remembrance Center,” it said.
“The measures that have been taken include 10%-15% salary cuts at the managerial level; immediate streamlining procedures for increased efficiency; reduced day-to-day expenses; withdrawal of assets from Yad Vashem’s emergency endowment funds; and placing some 15% of the staff on four-month furlough,” the statement said.
“Very shortly after the beginning of the crisis, the Yad Vashem Directorate informed the workers’ union of its intention to furlough workers, as well as its decision to minimize activities and implement a series of significant measures to deal with the financial shortfall. Following consultation with the workers’ union, Yad Vashem’s management decided to shorten the duration of the originally planned furlough period from six to four months, and reduced by one-third the number of employees that were originally to be placed on leave without pay,” it added.
“Yad Vashem will remain available to assist the furloughed employees during this challenging period. Yad Vashem’s management is hopeful that the current situation will improve considerably, thus enabling a return to its previous scope of activity,” it concluded.
However, it is unclear for how long the Holocaust museum has been struggling financially. A Facebook post about the situation posted on the Koach La’ovdim Facebook page and confirmed to the Post both by Bar Ilan and by another source among the workers close to the negotiations with the management explained that the wave of furloughs seems to be the result of challenges that started developing much before the coronavirus emergency broke out. The workers said they had been trying to open a dialogue with the management for years but to no avail.
“We feel that the management is using the current situation to promote a one-sided solution that would take the pressure away from them,” Bar Ilan pointed out.
“We are heartbroken that we have to go to court, but with the livelihood of so many people at stake and no explanations, we had reached a point of no return” the source said to the Post. “We understand that with the corona crisis, sacrifices have to be made – but we just want to make sure that the process is proper.”