Israeli labor union starts strike, flights delayed

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's largest labor union launched an open-ended nationwide strike for the first time in five years on Wednesday, shutting down national and local government offices, banks, the stock exchange, rail service and seaports.

Workers at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport participated in the strike until noon, causing flight delays. Israel Radio technicians also halted work, leaving the state-run station silent expect for brief news broadcasts.

Union leaders are protesting the widespread use of contract workers in both the public and private sector. Contract workers earn less than people who are directly employed and do not enjoy the same benefits as regular staff employees.

The Histadrut labor federation called the strike after overnight talks with the Finance Ministry failed to produce a breakthrough.

The Israeli Chambers of Commerce said the strike would cost the economy $100 million a day.

According to Israeli government statistics, the average wage for workers in Israel is about $2,300 a month. Contract workers typically earn the minimum wage, roughly $1,000 a month.

Speaking at a parliament ceremony, President Shimon Peres called for an end to the strike.

"I hope it ends soon. It's better to end it soon and prevent waste and suffering," Peres said.

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