NEW YORK (Jul. 23)
David Schneider, general manager of El Al for North and Central America, said today that a boycott by the AFL-CIO would not affect the Israeli airline which has been operating normally despite a four-month strike against it by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).
But the announcement by the AFL-CIO in Washington last Friday that it has endorsed a boycott and called on other international trade unions to do the same was “entirely and absolutely wrong for them to do,” Schneider told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a telephone interview this morning.
CITES ATTEMPTED POLITICAL PRESSURE
He suggested that the boycott was a “gesture” by the AFL-CIO to “indicate its support” for the striking union and charged it was an attempt to apply “political pressure” on El Al after the airline had gone more than half way to resolve the dispute with its American employes.
In that connection, Schneider said, the president of El Al, Rafi Harlev, flew here from Israel last week accompanied by the vice president for manpower, David Shein, for a meeting with the IAM executive. But no resolution was achieved.
According to a statement released by the AFL-CIO Friday, “the (Israel) State-owned airlines has refused to bargain in good faith and has demanded wholesale contract concessions, including elimination of major work rules, a three year wage freeze and proposals destroying job security.”
Schneider, in his conversation with the JTA today and in a statement released last Friday, charged that the union refuses to understand that El Al “has been in desperate economic circumstances for the last few years … We desperately need the union to understand that our struggle to survive depends on these crucial compromises. By bringing our costs into line, we can hopefully ensure the airline’s continuation,” he said.
Schneider cited examples of several American air carriers in which union concessions, or “give-backs,” had “a dramatic impact” on their ability to continue in business.
‘WE ARE A UNION SHOP’
The strike by El Al’s American employes began last March 16 when approximately 300 employes walked off the job. Of that number, 210 have since returned to work and are still members of their union. “We are a union shop,” Schneider told the JTA.
IAM president William Wimpisinger was quoted by the AFL-CIO as saying, “The AFL-CIO boycott is the first step in the union’s plan to initiate a worldwide boycott of El Al.” The IAM has asked the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) also to declare official boycotts of the Israeli airline.
A spokesman for the IAM told the JTA in Washington that his organization will publicize this boycott to the media to urge all union members and those in the general public who respect union picket lines not to patronize El Al.
But Schneider told the JTA that El Al’s carryings have in fact improved in recent months. The airline has a troubled history. Plagued for years by strikes and wildcat walkouts in Israel, it was forced to suspend operations from September 12, 1982 through January 12, 1983. During that period the company went into receivership and continues to operate under the protection of the Israeli courts. An entirely new management took over when the suspension ended.
El Al says its losses during fiscal 1982-83 amounted to $123 million but deficits were reduced to $46 million in fiscal 1983-84. “From the beginning of our negotiations we have wanted a settlement of the outlined issues,” Schneider said. “We do not want a break in our relationship with the union and their cooperation which we have maintained through the years.”