The Times of Israel
Israel’s national carrier El Al said Saturday it was forced to cancel several international flights after pilots refused to show up amid an ongoing labor dispute.
Four flights were canceled, delayed or transferred to alternate airlines on Saturday night.
Flight LY095 to Beijing, which was scheduled to take off at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, was rescheduled for 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Flight LY081 to Bangkok and flight LY027 to Newark were both canceled; flight LY001 to New York, due to take off at 00:45 a.m., was transferred to an alternate airline.
According to Army Radio, the pilots for the Newark flight called in sick, and 30 others refused to take their places.
The move was seen as an attempt by pilots to pressure the airline into increasing workers’ salaries and to improve labor conditions.
The head of the El Al pilots union, Nir Zook, criticized the airline’s management on Saturday, and accused its leaders of making decisions that were harmful to the company’s employees.
“We believe the management is harming the passengers and staff,” Zook said, according to Channel 2. “We apologize to the passengers for this inconvenience and we are working to return to our regular schedule.”
Zook lashed out at Tamar Mozes Borovitz, El Al’s vice chairman of the board, claiming her management was adversely affecting hundreds of passengers. He also criticized El Al CEO David Maimon, calling him unfit to lead the company.
El Al issued an apology to its passengers on Saturday, placing the blame on the pilots’ protest. “Sadly, the pilots continue, under the leadership of Nir Zook, to disturb El Al flights and inconvenience the passengers,” the airline said.
Tensions arose earlier this week, when pilots warned of possible disruptions to Wednesday night’s scheduled flight to Beijing. They claimed that El Al was intentionally causing the disorder to turn public sentiment against the workers, even though a crew and three pilots were on standby and ready to go. They said that if the outgoing flight was called off, then the return flight would also be canceled, and travelers may be stranded in China until after the weekend.
“We call on the management and director to come to their senses and stop causing disruption to the passengers,” the pilots said in a statement, according to the Globes news website.
Meanwhile, the airline accused the pilots of making impossible demands.
“Sanctions by pilots have disrupted the company for many months,” the airline management said. “The pilots refuse to fly return journeys like active pilots and are demanding that they only have to fly in one direction.”
Maimon released a video on Tuesday in which he appealed directly to the staff of El Al. “The pilots’ refusal to carry out their jobs and their unreasonable demands to only fly in one direction have caused disruptions, delays and cancellations,” he said. “Therefore we have been forced to charter planes from foreign companies.”
At the same time, Zook published a letter to the airline employees, maintaining that chartering foreign planes was not a temporary solution, but part of a broader management plan to increase profits. He insisted the company was blaming the pilots despite the fact that the employees were doing all that was asked of them.
“What is happening with El Al is a tragedy,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Wednesday, and called on all those involved to end their dispute.
In the coming days some 6,000 airline workers will vote in a secret ballot whether to strike over work conditions. Although the airline management said that the pilots are inciting the other workers, the vote is supported by the chairman of the transportation workers’ union, Avi Edri, and Histadrut labor federation leader Avi Nissenkorn.