In a court ruling handed down this past Sunday, the Regional Labor Court ordered Tel Aviv University to pay 150,000 shekels ($48,000) to the research lab workers union in compensation for obstructing their efforts to unionize.  

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Tel Aviv University caused injury to the members of the union and will pay 150,000 shekels ($48,000) in compensation. The Regional Labor Court of Tel Aviv ruled against the university, stating that they obstructed the organizing efforts of research and lab workers, after it tried to fire the chair of the union and dock the salary of another union member.

The court ordered the university to rescind its dismissal of the chair of the union, Dr. Moti Ronen, and bring him back to work under the same contractual agreements that preceded his dismissal. The university is also required to pay back in full the salary it docked the other union member.

The ruling describes how Ronen was summoned to a pre-dismissal hearing in November 2020 – exactly one week after he was interviewed by Davar about the state of his own and his colleagues’ working conditions – and claimed that the university administration wanted to silence the research staff.

Dr. Moti Ronen. (Photo: Private album)

The court ruled that the university failed to prove that its conduct toward the union representatives was made for reasons unrelated to their union activities, such as budgeting and funding considerations.

The court mentioned that as early as December 2020, it previously ruled that the university administration was obligated to negotiate with the union representatives of the research and project staff, with oversight by the Histadrut.

“It cannot be ignored that this is a grievance against two workers who are on the leadership team of the union,” wrote Judge Hanna Trachtingot in the ruling. “In both cases, the harm, in terms of the [negative] impact on their attempts to organize, is the same.”

The ruling further explained that the harm to the working conditions of the committee member was the same in its effect as the intention to fire the chairman of the union, and the two events together “add up to a significant injury against the organizing.”

Gil Bar-Tal, Chairman of the Histadrut HaMaof union: “We hope the university will give the workers the rights they deserve.” (Photo: Histadrut)

“Failure to accept the Histadrut’s claim could lead to the collapse of the organizing efforts of research and project workers at the university,” Trachtingot stated. In addition to the compensation, the university was required to pay additional legal expenses in the amount of 25,000 shekels ($8,000).

Gil Bar-Tal, chairman of the Histadrut HaMaOf union under which the Tel Aviv University workers were unionized, said in a statement:  “I’ve called out the conduct of the university for months, and we warned President Professor Ariel Porat and the CEO that the university is violating the labor laws. I am glad that the court has accepted our position and hope that the university will give its employees the rights they deserve.”

“As someone who has overseen this struggle from the beginning, I feel that this is one of the most impressive achievements of a trade union,” says Reuven Perry, head of the higher education division at Histadrut HaMaof. 

Reuven Perry, Moti Ronen and lawyer Yuval Brock. “It cannot be ignored that this is an injury to two workers from the leaders and founders of the organization,” the judge wrote. (Photo: Histadrut)

“This is an achievement that managed to bring back to work the chair of a union of about 1,700 workers, whose only sin was that they tried to organize for better pay and working conditions through a collective bargaining agreement,” Perry continued. 

“Tel Aviv University, as a respected academic institution that has engraved on its banner the study of labor relations, has greatly erred precisely in this issue of basic rights of workers. After the ruling, the university now has an opportunity to change its path in this matter.” 

Tel Aviv University has not yet responded to the court ruling.