Schechter Institute says it’s nearing agreement with striking staff

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An official of the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem told JTA that the institute is "extremely close" to an agreement with striking employees.

Eitan Cooper, the vice president of development for the institute, told JTA by phone Thursday that the institute and the Schechter Institute Workers’ Committee expect to reach an agreement soon to end a work stoppage that started in early May.

The institute said Thursday in a news release, "We are hopeful that an agreement will be signed and that the workers will return to work in the next few days."

Last week the institute said it would lock out the striking employees until Aug. 1 and give qualifying students a "pass" grade for the spring semester if the teachers did not return to the classroom by June 12, when the semester was scheduled to end. Cooper said the lockout would be rescinded with the end of the strike and the institute "will make it possible" for students to receive grades instead of a pass if they wish.

A pass grade confers full credit and is not figured in to the students’ grade point average.

Students had completed 80 percent of their coursework when the strike began, Cooper said.

Classes for Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical students have continued throughout the strike, but one professor has refused to issue grades until the action is resolved.

The academic committee of the institute said that the president of the institution, David Golinkin, does not have the authority to give the pass grade without its approval, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the Workers’ Committee. The Workers’ Committee said that the institute’s by-laws, as well as those of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, gives the academic committee sole responsibility and authority for academic matters at the institute. Five striking professors are members of the academic council.

The Workers’ Committee, a chapter of the Koach Laovdim-Democratic Workers’ Organization union with about 70 employees — about half of Schechter’s staff, launched the strike after salary negotiations broke down over their request for the reimbursement of several months of a salary reduction instituted in July 2009 due to financial difficulties at the Schechter Graduate School. The global financial crisis and the death of a major donor, whose annual contribution covered about 15 percent of the institution’s budget, spurred the fiscal woes.

Workers of the TALI Education Fund and Midreshet Yerushalayim, located on the Schechter campus, did not join the strike.

According to Cooper, most workers took pay cuts of some 5 percent to 7 percent, with management taking pay cuts of 10 percent to 12 percent.

The institute receives no government funding; 70 percent of its operating budget comes from donations.

The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies offers a master’s degree in Jewish studies designed for Israeli teachers, and sponsors centers and research institutes of applied Jewish studies. It is also home to the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.

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