6,200 employees of Bnei Yosef – Ma’ayan HaChinuch HaTorani, the network of schools and preschools operated by the Sephardi-Haredi Shas movement, unionized for the first time and became members of the Histadrut. This represents the first time that employees of a Haredi education network have successfully established a workers’ union. According to Israeli labor laws, new workers’ unions must enroll at least one third of employees at a given workplace as union members in order to represent and conduct negotiations on behalf of all employees. 

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The complicated, groundbreaking process was initiated by 15 employees of Bnei Yosef, which operates nearly 300 schools throughout Israel and employs teachers, principals, administrative workers, secretaries, and counselors. The organization’s rabbinical leadership supported the unique push to unionize a group of Haredi workers.

Members of the unionization committee, joined by representatives of the Histadrut’s new unionization branch, spent a week and a half going to Bnei Yosef schools to inform workers of the unionization drive and enroll them as members. 

Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David praised the new union, saying “I welcome and celebrate the historic unionization of employees of ‘Bnei Yosef – Ma’ayan HaChinuch HaTorani’ as part of the Histadrut. The Histadrut is the home for all Israeli workers, including Haredi, religious, and secular, and will continue to protect their rights and safety in the workplace. I want to thank everyone who was involved in this important unionization process and congratulate the Bnei Yosef employees on the groundbreaking step they have taken.”

13,000 preschoolers, 60,000 students

A school of the Maayan Hachinuch HaTorani chain in Holon. (Photo Archive: Yaakov Cohen / Flash 90)

Bnei Yosef – Ma’ayan HaChinuch HaTorani is a network of schools, preschools, and talmudei Torah (religious elementary schools meant to prepare students to attend a yeshiva) founded by the Shas movement in 1984. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas movement, headed the organization until his death in 2013, after which it was renamed in his honor. The organization is currently led by its chairman, Rabbi Moshe Maya, and general director Rabbi Avner Amar. More than 13,000 preschoolers and nearly 60,000 students are enrolled in the network’s gender-segregated schools. 

Employees of the Haredi education system, which serves nearly a fifth of Israeli schoolchildren, are less likely to be unionized than employees of the mainstream national education system and therefore often work under more challenging conditions. Numerous reports have been published over the years documenting widespread violations of workers’ rights in the Haredi education system, where workers are often unaware of their rights. 

During his lifetime, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef encouraged Haredi workers to organize and even called on the Histadrut to increase its activity among the Haredi sector. Yosef addressed labor rights multiple times in his rabbinical writings, including in a ruling that striking is a legitimate tool to achieve higher wages and better working conditions and an interpretation that union representatives could in some cases serve as community leaders with a standing similar to that of a rabbi. 

“Together we will protect Haredi workers’ rights and act to improve their working conditions and welfare”

Amichai Stinger, director of the New Unionization Branch of the Histadrut: “We’re proud of and excited for the groundbreaking unionization of workers at the Bnei Yosef – Ma’ayan HaChinuch HaTorani educational network. In this process, we’ve gotten to know determined, dedicated workers with a passion for Torah and education, who deserve all of the same rights and recognition as any other employee of the education system. We are honored to have the privilege of working together with them and wish them the best of luck.”

Dan Saida, Chairman of the Branch for the Advancement of Haredi Employment at the Histadrut: “The unionization of employees of the Bnei Yosef education network is an exciting, foundational event. Members of the unionization committee worked with passion and diligence in order to achieve this goal and to further develop and expand this wonderful educational enterprise. Together we will protect Haredi workers’ rights and act to improve their working conditions and welfare. I’d like to thank the staff of the New Unionization Branch of the Histadrut and Asher Balaish, manager of the Branch for the Advancement of Haredi Employment for all of their hard work in achieving this goal. I want to congratulate the employees of the Bnei Yosef – Ma’ayan HaChinuch HaTorani educational network on joining the Histadrut, the home for Israeli workers.”

Asher Balaish, Manager of the Branch for the Advancement of Haredi Employment at the Histadrut: “I want to personally thank the amazing staff at the new unionization branch and the members of the unionization committee for their incredible assistance, devotion, steadfastness, professionalism, and cooperation day in and day out throughout this entire process, from start to finish.

Members of the unionization committee: “We, the workers from all levels and positions in the Bnei Yosef – Ma’ayan HaChinuch HaTorani educational network, are proud to have reached this moment and be unionized in the Histadrut.”

This article was translated from Hebrew by Sam Edelman.