In the wake of the dismissal last week of 170 street cleaners by the Yerushalayim municipality, the Histadrut labor union has declared a work dispute for some 9,000 city workers. Under Israeli law, the union can declare a full strike two weeks after a work dispute is declared, if issues between the two sides are not resolved.
Barkat fired the workers – who are contract employees of the municipality – as the first wave of what could be as many as 2,000 dismissals in the coming days. With the city out of money, many programs are likely to be cut or even eliminated.
At risk, among others, are security staff at Yerushalayim schools, along with funds for 400 of the city’s neediest families, programs for the elderly, gardeners and road repair crews, educational programs for dropouts and students from troubled families, community cultural and sporting events, and much more.
The municipality says that it needs some NIS 400 million to continue operating, but that the money has not been forthcoming. The reason for the crisis is not clear. According to the Finance Ministry, “the city of Yerushalayim is being fully funded by the Ministry for Yerushalayim Affairs, and the Finance Ministry is working with it to ensure that the funding for the city is available.”
According to the Histadrut, the union had been told by the Treasury that the money to pay for the workers had indeed been transferred to the city. The union said Saturday night that it was “puzzled and shocked by the lack of cooperation on the part of the municipality.”
Until now, Barkat has not met to discuss the matter with Finance Minster Moshe Kachlon, although Barkat has said that he has many time sought such a meeting. Instead of liaising with Barkat, Kachlon has been discussing the city’s needs with Yerushalayim Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. At a meeting last month, the two decided on an immediate aid package for Yerushalayim, after hundreds of demonstrators and sanitation truck drivers blocked roads and caused huge traffic tie-ups on the road into the city. Notably absent from that meeting was Barkat – who was outside the Finance Ministry as the meeting was going on, leading the demonstration.
The roots of the problem do not appear to be economic, but political. Barkat, they said, sees himself as a player on the national political scene, likely to take voters from Kachlon’s Kulanu party should he decide to run. Beyond that, there is bad blood between Barkat and Kachlon over the resignation of his brother, Koby, as Yerushalayim deputy mayor earlier this year. Moshe Kachlon is said to feel that Barkat did not stand up for Koby over a lawsuit and allegations of impropriety against him.
In a statement, Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat said that firing the workers was “a decision that was too horrible to even contemplate, but we have no choice. The refusal of the Treasury to transfer funds to Yerushalayim does not allow us to continue to provide services to residents, and we are being forced to take this drastic step of firing workers who are needed for the day to day operations of the city. Cuts will have to be made that will affect health, welfare, education, and even security.