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Official: Union Work Dispute Could Mar Obama Visit

The director of the Defense Ministry is desperately appealing to workers not to undertake a work action during Obama's visit to Israel
By David Lev
First Publish: 3/14/2013, 12:58 PM

Netanyahu, Obama
Netanyahu, Obama
Israel news photo: Flash 90

With one challenge – the formation of a new government – now out of the way, the State of Israel rises to its next challenge: Ensuring a smooth, incident-free visit for U.S. President Barack H. Obama, set to make his way to Israel next week. But that may prove to be an even bigger challenge than forming the government – because the union representing Foreign Ministry workers is likely to take “work actions” that would significantly impact the Obama visit.

The situation is so serious that the Director General of the Ministry, Rafi Barak, made a special appeal to the Histadrut, Israel's all-encompassing labor union, asking for help in restraining the workers' committee representing Ministry employees. According to reports in the Hebrew media, Barak is considering filing a petition with the High Court asking for a restraining order against the workers, who have threatened not to perform their duties when Obama visits.

Under Israeli law, a union must declare a “work dispute” as a prelude to a full-fledged strike. During the period of a work dispute, which extends for two weeks, workers are permitted to undertake by-the-book slowdowns, hours-long “informational meetings” to discuss employment issues, and other steps that, while short of a strike, often have a similar effect.

In his letter to the heads of the Histadrut, Barak said that he needed help controlling angry union heads. “A work action at this time would be against the national and security interests of Israel, and would damage relations with our greatest friend.” If work actions need to be taken, Barak asks that they be taken after Obama leaves.

The work action is the result of a long-delayed contract for workers on work conditions for Ministry workers abroad, and on methods of advancement for workers. The work actions are set to begin at the beginning of next week. Obama is set to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, and will leave on Friday afternoon.