Six-hundred employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation went on a temporary strike last Monday, bringing tours of the Western Wall Tunnels and the Foundation’s office operations to a halt for several hours, according to a statement released by the Histadrut. The strike was announced by the Histadrut, which also stated that the workers will consider taking additional action if their concerns are not addressed.

Acceptance constitutes acceptance of the Website Terms of Use

A labor dispute was formally declared at the Foundation in early July after negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement reached a stalemate. Foundation employees, who had not previously been covered by a collective bargaining agreement, initiated the negotiations in an attempt to improve their employment conditions, as well as in response to many positions being transferred from direct employment by the Foundation to employment through subcontractors.

Western Wall Heritage Foundation employees unionized with the Histadrut in 2018. The Foundation, which is under the authority of the Prime Minister’s Office, was founded in 1988 and is responsible for development, preservation, and maintenance work at the Western Wall, as well as the excavation of the Western Wall Tunnels, development of infrastructure at the site, and producing exhibits and promotional materials related to the Western Wall.

Western Wall Heritage Foundation employees stand with Dani Bonfil (center, in dark shirt), chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Histadrut (Photo: Western Wall Heritage Foundation Workers’ Union)

In their declaration of a labor dispute, workers claimed that “the employer has intentionally dragged out negotiations and acted in bad faith, and stubbornly rejects any proposals made by the workers’ representatives. The employer has negatively affected working conditions by unilaterally imposing changes in salary and employment status.”

“They’ve turned the workers into slaves,” said Dani Bonfil, chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Histadrut. “The workers receive the lowest salaries in the industry. In the last few years we’ve been trying to reach a collective agreement, but management has done everything in their power to prevent that. Therefore, I am left with no choice but to declare a strike and shut down the workplace for several hours, and after that, if necessary, for several days.”

“We want to reach a collective agreement, but management has been dragging their feet for four years,” said Amir Teshuva, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation Employees’ Union. “In those four years they’ve replaced 80% of the workers and brought in subcontracted workers. They harass the union, they make us feel unwanted, and they refuse to cooperate with us. The advisers make millions while the workers are left with nothing.”

As of filing, management of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation had not responded to a request for comment.

This article was translated from Hebrew by Sam Edelman.