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Workers, Histadrut Sign Historic Agreement with Friedrich Ebert Foundation

The agreement is the first of its kind for Foundation employees outside of Germany | Employees’ Union Chairwoman Judith Stelmach: 'Through this agreement, we are putting into practice the Foundation's principles: promoting organized labor and solidarity'

מעמד חתימת הסכם קיבוצי לעובדי קרן פרידריך אברט (צילום: דוברות ההסתדרות)
Representatives of the Histadrut and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Israel Workers’ Union gather to sign the collective bargaining agreement (Photo: Histadrut Spokesperson)
By Nizzan Zvi Cohen

A groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement was reached this February between the Histadrut, the management of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and the union of the foundation's employees in Israel. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, established in 1925, is the oldest political foundation in Germany and operates in over a hundred countries worldwide. The Israeli branch is the first in the world outside of Germany whose employees have successfully unionized and signed a collective agreement.

The foundation, known by its German acronym FES, integrates local and international think tank activities based on the fundamental values of social democracy, including freedom, justice, solidarity, promotion of democracy, political education, and aspiration for a free society with equal opportunities across all spheres. The FES is ideologically aligned with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and collaborates extensively with professional unions worldwide and with the Histadrut.

Key points of the agreement include establishing a minimum three-month improvement period before employees can be fired for unsuitable work, agreed-upon negotiation mechanisms in cases of organizational changes resulting in cutbacks, agreed-upon arbitration mechanisms for conflict resolution with management, extending the notice period within the organization to six weeks, and arrangements for previously unregulated bonuses.

The agreement also standardizes bonuses, raises employees’ annual vacation days to 30, stipulates that sick pay will begin from the first day of an employee’s absence, and establishes a yearly fund of 3,000 shekels ($826) for continuing education to be administered by the workers’ union. Prior to the agreement, FES employees in Israel, like other branches worldwide, operated under personal contracts and negotiated individually with the management. The agreement essentially codifies their rights, provides collective protection, and regulates benefits, vacation days, and sick leave.

The agreement was reached after a long period of diligent work. The employees, who first unionized in 2019, collaborated with the Histadrut to reach a collective agreement, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, negotiations were halted and resumed in 2022. Because the FES is funded by the German government and managed by its administration, the agreement had to be approved by three different bodies – the German Treasury, the FES administration, and the German Chamber of Commerce increasing the complexity and challenges in the negotiation process.

"I congratulate the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and its employees on joining the Histadrut family," said Histadrut Tel Aviv Regional Director Orna Avidan in a statement. "We found common ground based on the foundation's values, actions, and character, along with the values upheld by the Histadrut. The signing of the collective agreement is nothing short of a milestone, and the journey to its signing serves as an example of professionalism, perseverance, and collaboration. Thank you to the employees of the Tel Aviv branch of the Histadrut for their participation in the negotiation process and the formulation of the agreement, and best of luck to the foundation's employees on their new path."

Rami Rachpur, chairman of the Trade Union Division of the Histadrut’s Tel Aviv branch, emphasized that "[w]ithout the invaluable human resources at our disposal, it is highly uncertain that we'd find ourselves in this position today. This agreement is a culmination of persistence and adherence to exceptionally high standards. It is a privilege to be part of the historic collective agreement with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Israel, which serves as the flagship agreement ensuring workers' rights, economic and occupational security, and a broad range of conditions and welfare."

Albert Levin, head of unionization at the Tel Aviv branch of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Public Service Employees (UCAPSE), affirmed that "[t]his agreement is an achievement for organized labor in Israel and for Friedrich Ebert Foundation employees worldwide."

Dr. Ralf Melzer, Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Israel, stated that "[t]he Friedrich Ebert Foundation supports partners worldwide in professional union processes, and collective agreements are an important tool for ensuring workers' rights. Naturally, this is also applicable to us internally. Therefore, I am pleased and proud that we successfully completed a collective agreement with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Israel."

Judith Stelmach, Chairwoman of the FES Israel Workers’ Union, stated that "[e]stablishing a workers union at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Israel and the negotiation process for the collective agreement were challenging but rewarding experiences. We are proud that through this collaboration, we are effectively implementing the Foundation's principles, representing the promotion of organized labor, protection of workers' rights, and solidarity. Our gratitude to the Histadrut Tel Aviv branch and UCAPSE for their support and guidance, and to our office manager, Dr. Ralf Melzer, for his cooperation."

The Histadrut was supported by Sami Shalom, the unionization coordinator of the Tel Aviv branch of UCAPSE, in negotiating and formulating the collective agreement, as well as by Reuven Burak and Ronen Lifshitz from the legal department of the Histadrut’s Tel Aviv branch in drafting and finalizing the agreement. Stelmach, Micky Drill, and Mordechai Blum represented the FES Israel workers’ union in the negotiations. The FES administration was represented by Galia Kleinman of Herzog, Fox & Ne’eman.

This article was translated from Hebrew by Ben Markbreiter.

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