PM asks lecturers to accept arbitration

Late-night negotiations between university heads, lecturers derail; court to decide on injunctions.

University 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
University 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on the striking senior university lecturers to return to their jobs rather than be forced to do so on Sunday. The prime minister, opening the cabinet meeting asked lecturers to accept the latest offer made by National Labor Court President Steve Adler. "I call on you at the last minute so that you will not be forced to work by order of the court. We have already learned from previous strikes that carried on for longer than was necessary," Olmert said. According to his proposal, an arbitrator would fix the salary erosion at somewhere between 11 and 21 percent. Following the derailment of the talks, the court is expected to decide whether to forestall the cancellation of the semester by issuing limited injunctions that would force the lecturers back to work for two weeks. Treasury representatives were not present. Late-night talks between the striking senior lecturers and the presidents of Israel's universities broke down after three hours Saturday night as both sides could not reach an agreement. The strike has lasted more than 80 days. The schools' presidents have said they will cancel the fall semester, and perhaps the entire academic year, if court President Steve Adler does not order the professors back to the lecture halls on Sunday. Some of the presidents threatened that if an agreement was not reached with the lecturers they would resign, Army Radio reported. The chances that an agreement would be reached by Sunday between the Finance Ministry and the Senior Lecturers Union to end the strike are slim, an official in the Treasury said earlier. "The salary increase that the heads of the universities suggested to the lecturers over the weekend is not acceptable to the government," the official said. After a week of intense negotiations, the Treasury and the Senior Lecturers Union have drawn closer to agreeing on a new contract after a mechanism for determining past salary erosion proposed by Adler was deemed acceptable in principle by both sides. However, the two sides have failed to agree on a mechanism for preventing future salary erosion, and so the strike has continued. While each party has proposed several potential solutions over the past few weeks, none has been accepted by the other side. Adler, who made aliya from Minneapolis, has not been afraid to issue back-to-work orders in the past, most recently to the secondary school teachers, but there remains some question as to the legal grounds for issuing such injunctions. Unions have a legal right to strike in labor disputes, and the professors have made sure that their work action did not include elements beyond salary issues so as to minimize the legal options against them. The professors and lecturers have called on Olmert to become personally involved in the negotiations, but he said it would be inappropriate. He told a special session of the Knesset on January 2 that a prime minister could not be expected to negotiate "day and night." The university presidents set Sunday as the last day that the fall semester could be saved after calculating that 32 weeks would be needed to teach two shortened semesters plus exams, and that it was not feasible to extend the academic year past August. Counting backwards, they arrived at January 13.