Strike stops J’lem light rail in its tracks

After two months of operation drivers demand wage increase, train officials condemn drivers for lack of notice.

Jerusalem light rail strike (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem light rail strike
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After only two months of operation, Jerusalem light rail drivers unexpectedly went on strike on Sunday.
The strike, a result of a contract disagreement over work conditions and salaries for the drivers, started during the intermediate days of Succot, one of the busiest weeks for the capital when hundreds of thousands of tourists visit from abroad.
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Negotiations between the drivers and Connex Jerusalem, which oversees the light rail workers as part of the consortium of companies that run the light rail called CityPass, began over a year ago, around the same time the first class of drivers started to work testing the train.
The strike could continue indefinitely until the two sides come to an agreement over wage increases.
A special shuttle bus that roughly shadows the path of the light rail is being operated to help passengers who would normally take the light rail.
Egged also increased intercity bus service in the capital.
“The announcement of the light rail strike, without warning – and especially during the intermediate days of Succot – is an act of bullying against the customers of the light rail in Jerusalem,” said the vice president of Connex Israel, Tomer Bass.
“There is no justification for the workers to go on strike against the company and that is why we view this step seriously.
I expect Histadrut representatives to act responsibly toward the workers and the light railway’s passengers, and to reverse this astonishing decision,” he said in a statement.
Yossi Hazan, the head of the drivers’ committee, said that the train operators make NIS 1,000 less per month than Egged drivers. Additionally, they work up to 11 hours per day, while the average daily hours for light rail drivers around the world is eight hours, because of the high level of concentration and monotony associated with the job.
“This is much more responsibility [than driving an Egged bus], the work is very dangerous and very boring,” said Hazan. “They’ve been negotiating with us for a year and they don’t bring anything to the table,” he added.
The Jerusalem Municipality also condemned the drivers’ decision.
“We view the drivers’ strike, which was done totally recklessly, with great severity,” said a spokesman for the municipality. The city also slammed the drivers for not giving ample warning of the strike.
On Sunday night, the municipality filed a petition with the Jerusalem Labor Court in order to force the drivers back to work. A decision is expected on Monday.
“I heard [about the strike] and mostly thought, ‘Of course,’” said Deborah Kadishelby, a Jerusalem resident who lives near the light rail in the center of town.
“They can’t even figure out how to make people pay for it – it’s sort of just another chapter in this whole light rail saga. It wouldn’t really be a Jerusalem light rail if they weren’t on strike,” she said.
Previously, light rail drivers threatened to strike last May, before the light rail was open to the public, over claims that Connex was discriminating against drivers who joined the nascent drivers’ union. The strike never materialized, and negotiations have been ongoing.