El Al pilot stages 'no-show'
El Al pilot stages 'no-show' Israel news photo: Flash 90

El Al pilots grounded two flights to and from Russia Monday night as a strike looms during the peak summer tourist season.

The pilots refused to show up for the flights to and from St. Petersburg, leaving 276 passengers stranded there and in Tel Aviv while El Al tried to find alternatives for them.

“Regrettably, Captain Nir Tzuk, decided at his own initiative to initiate actions that are tantamount to labor sanctions, which resulted in several pilots not turning up for duty," El Al said in a statement. Tzuk is chairman of the pilots’ union. The company claimed that the pilots' action was taken without authorization from the union, and the chairman of El Al’s worker’s committee confirmed the statement.

The Tel Aviv Labor Court on Tuesday issued a "temporary injunction in the presence of both parties ordering the Histadrut and El Al's union to use their authority and order the pilots to resume regular work per the norm at the airline in previous times of pressure."

However, the grounding of two flights might just be the opening act to a general strike of all El Al flights this summer, the most profitable period for the airline.

The pilots want management to stop intervening in decisions on planes that they say should be exclusively made by pilots. They also are demanding to participate in the scheduling of work during the busy summer months.

In addition, want El Al executives, who are cutting staff pay, to reduce their own salaries, also. They also want sharp pay cuts for airline executives and not just for staff.

Talks have been going on for a month, and the union of pilots has officially notified its members that negotiations have broken down, leaving open the possibility for a strike.

"Management has systematically ignored proposals for streamlining and warnings about the stresses faced by the airline's pilots and employees,” charged Tzuk.  

"It is important for us to now warn, at the start of the peak season and its hundreds of scheduled flights, that in view of management's failed conduct, there is concern that flights could be disrupted,” he added.