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El Al Grounded by Strike

El Al, Israel’s national airline, was grounded by a strike of maintenance workers today. Thirty-six flights were cancelled and about 5600 passengers booked to take off today milled around the Ben Gurion Airport terminal as efforts were made to transfer them to other airlines. El Al was reported trying to charter foreign aircraft and crews to maintain a semblance of service.

The airline management branded the walkout a violation of agreements signed last spring after a prolonged strike by several unions paralyzed the Israeli air carrier. The maintenance workers are demanding a 15 percent wage hike immediately although wage negotiations have been in process for some time.

Mordechai Hod, director general of El Al, offered the workers advances on account of future wage increases but would not accede to their demands while contract talks are underway. He said the walk-out was a “wildcat strike” in violation of the agreement last spring that no workers group would act unilaterally. Histadrut pledged at that time not to support an unauthorized strike.

With the resignation of Transport Minister Meir Amit three weeks ago, there is no one at Cabinet level to deal with today’s strike. The Cabinet, which met in extraordinary session today on the new budget, reportedly added El Al’s troubles to its agenda.

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