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Labor Leade​rs Make First-Time Visit to Israel

July 19, 2007 By:
Rachel Silverman, JE Feature
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Edward Mooney, 39, is an Irish Catholic native of South Philadelphia who heads the Communications Workers of America local 13000.

Bernard Fisher, 57, serves as both the Philadelphia president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and as the citywide administrative organizer of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. A Philadelphia resident, he is African-American and a Christian.

Earlier this month, the two men made their first trip to Israel together, participating in an eight-day Israel Institute for Labor Leaders mission.

Sponsored by the United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs' joint Israel Advocacy Initiative, in conjunction with the Jewish Labor Committee, the mission invited 14 industry leaders -- only two of whom were Jewish -- to hear from a mix of Israeli trade unionists, foreign workers, Bedouins, Palestinians and Ethiopian immigrants, among other diverse groups.

The itinerary also included stops at religious and cultural sites like Yad Vashem, the city of Nazareth, the Temple Mount, the Dead Sea and a kibbutz.

'Ambassadors for Relations'

Rosalind Spigel, regional director of the Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee, explained that the program, which has been running for 10 years now, is designed to encourage representatives from various unions to become "ambassadors for Jewish labor relations."

Spigel said that Mooney was chosen because he had been a member of both the Jewish Labor Committee and the Israel Bonds Committee, and because he expressed a real energy for the issues at stake. Fisher was invited because of his "years of experience" in the field, she added.

This year's other participants came from the Connecticut Council of Police Unions, the California Federation of Teachers, the Seafarers International Union and the San Francisco Labor Council, among other groups.

In all, they represented eight trade unions, and hailed from six cities across America.

Throughout the course of the trip, the group received an introduction to the lay of the land concerning Israel's labor community.

Instead of the AFL-CIO, Israel relies on a large workers organization known as the Histadrut. And, unlike the American judicial system, Israel tries labor-specific cases in a separate labor court.

During their stay, participants learned about these processes from Justice Stephen Adler, president of the Israeli National Labor Court, as well as from three members of the Histadrut leadership.

Mooney said that he came away impressed.

"We have a very lackluster labor board and a long arbitration process," he said of the city. "You wouldn't have to go far to find a labor structure that functions better than ours right now."

Fisher, however, argued that the two weren't entirely dissimilar. "There is a strained connect between labor and government" in both systems, observed Fisher, who worked in Pennsylvania state politics during the 1970s and '80s.

In terms of specific issues the labor communities are facing, the men agreed that the United States and Israeli systems have much in common.

"Safety, health care, pensions, retirements -- Israelis are facing the same issues," according to Mooney.

He added that he was especially struck by a group dialogue with members of the longshoreman's union in Haifa.

"They talked about the need to dredge the river and to expand the port in Haifa," said Mooney. "It seemed amazingly similar to the longshoreman's issues here."

On his part, Fisher said that he felt particularly connected to the plight of the Ethiopian immigrants, some of whom the group also met in Haifa.

As he explained, "I can empathize with them and their situation, trying to fight for some recognition, because it reminded me of what happened with my ancestors in the South."


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