Top El Al Staff Quit Over Labor Dispute

El Al Airline planes lined up at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
El Al Airline planes lined up at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

El Al pilots and flight staff were set to meet Monday for emergency deliberations on the latest developments in the ongoing work dispute with management. The meeting was called after reports emerged that seven senior members of the El Al pilot staff had submitted their resignations Sunday night, reportedly over what they considered the irreconcilable differences between management and pilots.

Submitting their resignations according to a report on Channel Two, were El Al’s chief pilot, Ido Sharon, as well as the senior pilot staff of the company’s Boeing 737, 747 and 767 planes. According to sources in the company, the seven resigned because of the expectations by both fellow pilots and management that they would stand with one or the other, as the seven were not only pilots, but also had status in the company as management executives.

In response to the resignations, El Al issued a statement saying that the actions “were further proof of the pressure being placed on pilots by the union.” However, the resignations do not take effect for three months – leaving open hope that they would be rescinded if the labor dispute is reconciled. The union responded by saying that it “regretted that the company’s directors would seek to place blame, instead of seeking to build trust in the wake of the mass resignation of top staff. And to add insult to injury, management seeks to persuade staff to cooperate with their plans, as they continue to cancel flights and cause suffering to hundreds of passengers.”

Several more long-haul flights were cancelled Sunday night, including one to Bangkok. A second US-bound flight was offloaded to another airline as a charter. El Al on Monday released recordings of calls to pilots in which the latter provided various excuses for why they refused to fly, with one saying that he was “too drunk to fly,” another saying he needed to be back for a course he was taking, and others saying they would “check their schedules.” The union accused management of once again taking conversations out of context, saying there were plenty of pilots who were prepared to fly, but that the company was deliberately canceling flights so they could be offloaded to charters, increasing profits for El Al and further dismantling its contract with pilots.

Meanwhile, business daily, TheMarker reported that El Al was considering setting up its own flight academy in order to train pilots, many of whom would come from abroad. El Al has traditionally drawn its pilot staff from the ranks of graduates of the Israeli Air Force. However, the company believes that its plans to expand cannot take place unless it increases its supply of pilots – and there are not enough IAF graduates to fulfill those needs, the airline believes.