Jerusalem light rail to strike before it starts?

Recently unionized drivers declare labor dispute with management company.

light rail 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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.
Veolia 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.
The Transportation 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.