At one Israeli insurance company, workers are seeking to redefine the traditional role of organized labor. Workers at Clal Insurance Company, one of Israel's largest insurance companies, are determined to ensure not only a decent wage, but also a decent working environment, for all employees. Roni Raz, chairperson of the union's central committee: "Creating the LGBT forum for our workers is another important step in the series of things we’ve done to help promote our workers and their needs."
We want to make sure we offer solutions to employees from all communities. That way, we can set an example for society around us
Members of the Clal workers’ union have recently announced a new initiative to create a permanent forum of workers in an attempt to better address the needs of members of the LGBT community at the workplace. According to members of the workers' committee, the idea behind the forum is to change workplace practices in an attempt to create a working environment that is suited to the needs of all workers – including members of the LGBT community.
The forum was announced against a backdrop of rising union activity in recent years. Organized labor in Israel is on the rise, bringing ever more employees into the ranks of trade unions – including Clal workers just six years ago. Raz told Davar that empowered trade unions are now seeking to break the boundaries of traditional organized labor.
“Since creating the union a few years ago, we've decided to take on the role of helping every one of Clal’s thousands of workers, irrespective of religion, race or sex,” said Raz. “That’s not just another cliché or empty slogan – we really mean it, we’re really trying to make this happen. We want to make sure we offer solutions to employees from all communities. That way, we can set an example for society around us.”
The forum will bring together workers from the LGBT community, together with non LGBT workers, to discuss ways to increase workplace security for all employees. The originator of the idea is Gil Oren, 48, who works at Clal and is married to a male partner. Oren also volunteers at Israel’s LGBT Task Force and is active in the queer community in Givatayim, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
“Over the years I’ve organized talks and LGBT groups in all sorts of places. I suggested this idea to our workers’ committee, and I was happy to discover that my suggestion found a receptive audience. It took some time to get off the ground, but this week we officially established the LGBT forum for the workers of Clal Insurance,” said Oren.
According to Oren, the forum will offer members of the LGBT community assistance in cases of discrimination or homophobia at the workplace, and help LGBT workers fully utilize benefits.
“We want to ensure than LGBT workers know that they have someone they can turn to if they experience homophobia, face discrimination or just want to clarify what rights and benefits they have, such as how many vacation days they get if they get married. Or for example, how to capitalize on the benefits of common-law marriage or even special events that interest us as a community with unique needs,” said Oren.
According to Oren, another aspect of the forum is educational: “Even if in an organization as big as Clal, with thousands of workers, there is often a lack of knowledge about theLGBT community. I think that a queer forum can help make our community more accessible to the wider pool of workers that we’re a part of.”
"Offer solutions to all communities"
Revital Varon, a member of the central workers' committee, said that the idea to establish the forum came after the committee felt it "wasn't doing enough" for LGBT workers.
"We tried to think how we could collectively address the issues facing LGBT workers, and we decided to turn to the workers themselves and give them the opportunity to bring up new ideas and share their experience,” said Varon. “Gil Oren came to us and suggested that we get a forum together. We sent out an invitation to the workers, that whoever wants to join is invited, and that the first meeting would be the following Wednesday. To our surprise, 25 workers turned up to the meeting.”
Varon said that even though the forum is in its early stages, it has already brought to light problems that the workers' committee was not aware of. This, she said, offered an opportunity to revise certain workplace practices to make them more inclusive.
"For example, there are workers who are raising children together with their partners, but who aren’t necessarily listed as parents in our human resources department. We have to make sure they’re invited to the entire range of activities we have for parents. We have to ensure that couples have a good time and are invited to the activities – those things are part of the responsibility of a good workers’ committee. In addition, an idea was raised about hosting a series of talks at work about how to create an atmosphere that accepts everyone here – how we can increase tolerance and awareness. As the union’s leadership team, we want to make sure we offer solutions to all sorts of communities. That way, we can be an example for society around us."
Since the forum was established, Oren added, Israel’s LGBT Task Force has approached them to think about the potential for collaboration. “This is a pretty significant step in my eyes, and I hope to see more unions in the future doing something similar, and maybe even to collaborate with them on joint projects.”
We made sure that two members of the union’s central committee were non-Jewish, so that they could help us meet the needs of the Christian and Muslim communities
The Clal Workers' Committee has said that it is also working on adapting workplace practices to offer solutions to problems facing other communities. They have said that they aim to create an inclusive working environment, suitable for the most diverse range of workers.
“We started by making sure that we shifted how we operate in dealing with non-Jewish workers. We made sure that Christian and Muslim workers could choose which holidays they got off, and when they received gifts for the holidays [an obligation for employers in Israel]. Rather than sticking with the common Friday-Saturday weekend which exists in Israel, in our Nazareth branch [where there is a large Christian community] we changed the work week so that people work on Fridays, and get Sunday off instead. We made sure that two members of the union’s central committee were non-Jewish, so that they could help us meet the needs of the Christian and Muslim communities. Alongside this, we also worked hard to get an ultra-orthodox Jewish man to join the committee, because we want our events to be suitable for that community as well," said Mr. Raz. "Wherever we don’t manage to make an event inclusive for the community, we hold a separate event for our ultra-orthodox workers, with things like getaways, concerts and gifts. Different groups, like single people, workings parents, and even grandparents that work at Clal, are eligible for special benefits and activities,” Oren added.
“The feedback we’ve been getting has not only been moving, it’s also really emphasized how important it is for us to be a union that knows how to adapt and be aware of the different and changing needs of its workers," said Oren. "A big part of this is listening and finding relevant solutions for every single worker. The fact that our union committee also brings this stuff up on social media, wishing people happy Jewish holidays, showing Christmas celebrations of our workers in Nazareth, giving a shout-out to Pride Month during the summer – all this shows the company’s workers all the different communities they have working alongside them."
Describing his wider vision, Oren said: "When the worker at the desk next to yours is Arab or ultra-orthodox, you look at different populations here in Israel differently. You see them based on actually knowing them, not just based on how they’re portrayed in the media. It’s part of the job of a good union and workers committee to make these connections happen, to increase familiarity with those different from you, and to create a sense of mutual responsibility for one another. Hopefully one day the rest of Israeli society will act the way the workers of Clal Insurance treat one another.”