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El Al Workers Given Three Weeks to Accept Management Principles Which Could Save the Airline

– El Al workers have been given three weeks to accept a set of management principles which could save the troubled air carrier from liquidation. That was the nub of yesterday’s Cabinet decision to initiate steps toward voluntary liquidation as recommended by the El Al board of directors last week.

The liquidation decision was hedged by the offer to the workers. The Cabinet communique said that if Histadrut was able to announce on behalf of the workers committees that they accept the management principles, “negotiations shall begin forthwith on a continuing basis for the conclusion of new labor relations between the management and the Histadrut.” A 21-day deadline was set for agreement.

Management is demanding broad new authority to run the airline. It insists that the workers be represented by a single union rather than the eight separate committees as heretofore.

It wants sole authority on hirings, firings, job assignments, promotions and overall operations. Management would abolish seniority as a form of job security. The traditional “first in, last out” principle whereby veteran employes were entrenched in their positions regardless of efficiency would no longer prevail.

REACTION TO THE CABINET’S DECISION

The immediate reaction to the Cabinet’s decision was assent by six of the workers committees to further negotiations on the basis of management terms. But the flight attendants and pilots committees are holding out. The pilots asked for time to examine the proposals to make sure they did not affect passenger safety. At stake is the principle that the pilot, like a ship’s captain, has sole responsibility for his aircraft and authority to make decisions on the ground or in flight.

El Al has a long history of labor strife and heavy losses. It was grounded by management decision nearly six weeks ago because of a wildcat strike by flight attendants. Yesterday’s Cabinet decision offered hope that the airline can be reorganized, either with or without formal liquidation if labor agrees to an entirely new kind of relationship with management.

The Pilots Association has called a meeting for later this week. But airline sources said their decision is not vital because there is a world-wide excess of pilots due to the recession. New pilots can be found easily to fly the planes of a reorganized company.

El Al’s current debts are said to amount to some $200 million. That sum would have to be found by the Finance Ministry whether the airline is reorganized as a State enterprise or liquidated and sold to private interests.

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