PM calls emergency meeting as nationwide strike looms

Netanyahu, Steinitz, Yishai hold late-night meeting as local authorities threaten open-ended nationwide strike beginning Sunday if a deal is not reached between workers' union and gov't.

municipality protest 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
municipality protest 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu summoned Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the heads of local authorities to a late-night meeting Saturday in a last-minute effort to prevent a strike across the country the next day.
The meeting followed calls by Yishai and Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog to try to bridge gaps between the parties before employees of local authorities launched an open-ended strike on Sunday if a deal was not reached between the workers’ union and the government.
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The meeting did not come to an end before press time.
The strike would not include Haifa and Jerusalem. Haifa was left off the list after Mayor Yona Yahav said he did not want the city to take part; and Jerusalem was left off, as usual, due to security concerns. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat added that he did not want the city to take part in order to minimize the suffering of its residents.
Following news of the impending strike, the Education Ministry announced that schools would operate as usual and would not be affected by the work stoppage.
The Union of Local Authorities is demanding a reduction in water prices and a budget increase of NIS 500 million for schools and NIS 600m. for local authorities. These funds have been cut from the national budget in recent years, and the union says the budget shortfalls have made it exceedingly difficult to carry out their operations.
At the moment, there are 22 local authorities in Israel that the union says are having serious problems with workers’ salaries.
Union spokeswoman Linda Sasson said Saturday night that talks were not being held with the government, and that no progress had been reached on a compromise. She added that all signs pointed to the strike going into effect on Sunday.
If the strike goes through, the city halls of all participating cities will be closed and resident help lines will not be manned. Sanitation services will not operate.
City welfare services will not be available and centers for senior citizens will be closed.
Fire and Rescue Services will operate according to a Shabbat schedule. Parking inspectors won’t give out tickets, but police will still fine drivers parking in red-and-white-marked sections of the road. All municipal renovation programs and road work will be put on hold.
Herzog had called on Netanyahu and Steinitz to make every effort to prevent the potential strike.
“A culture exists in Israel that ignores the threat of a strike right up until the last minute, and this is a mistake,” said Herzog in a statement. “I know the local authorities cannot afford to pay their share of the social services, and this is a complex problem affecting not only the poorer population but also middle-class communities.
“The budget that passed last week allows the government to respond to the distress call of the local government,” Herzog added. “The prime minister and finance minister must therefore come to their senses quickly and find a solution that will avert this crisis.”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.