February 1 2011
Nathan Schwartzberg, BSILR '12 Experiences the Formation of Labor Law Abroad
Rivaling the striking Ithacan views from far above Cayuga’s waters, the scenery amongst the rolling Judean Hills of Jerusalem provided for a remarkable commute to work this winter break. As my bus made its way towards the Israeli National Labor Court in central Jerusalem, I would peer out the window to observe the myriad of Biblical sites that Israel’s capital hosts. Each morning, after a truly historical ride, I would arrive at the Courthouse ready to conduct legal research, observe contentious cases and learn from masters of the law who were constantly reevaluating and modernizing Israeli labor relations and law.
In true Israeli spirit—one of strong work ethic and focus—the judges and clerks put me to work right away. I began conducting research for a verdict being composed by the president of the Court. I was asked to find updates and new developments on employee privacy rights, specifically regarding e-mail monitoring, in American and European law. Using the wealth of databases offered by Cornell libraries, I found several recently enacted statues and scholarly articles that were included into the president’s opinion. Throughout my three weeks at the Court, I had the opportunity to carry out similarly interesting comparative research on other topics such as collective agreement laws, expert witness selection, severance pay legislation, worker classification, workplace safety and health laws and sexual harassment rulings.
As a country still in its formative years, Israel’s legislation is constantly being updated and reformed. Many cases that come before the Labor Court are the first of their kind, and judges find themselves constantly instituting precedent on issues that broaden the scope of their legal system. Other than learning about the direction in which Israeli labor law is headed, my comparative research for the judges made clear that many facets of American law are still in their infancy stages as well. When researching the depth of e-mail monitoring legislation, for example, I found that only two states—Delaware and Connecticut—have enacted statutes that explicitly state the rules by which employers must abide when monitoring their employees’ e-mail. While I initially believed that Israel’s mere 61 years of existence would yield a less evolved legal system, many of its laws are at equal-footing with, and sometimes more advanced than its elder counterparts.
My time at the Labor Court was also spent observing several interesting court cases and arbitration sessions. A particularly notable arbitration session was that conducted by Stephen Adler, retired president of the National Labor Court and ILR alumnus. President Adler was tasked with guiding two battling parties, the State Attorneys and the State of Israel, towards a settlement with respect to adequate compensation and benefits for the attorneys. Adler’s equanimity in the face of rivaling parties, along with his patience and desire to maintain peace were inspiring as both personal and professional traits. This opportunity, and several others like it, was also vital to the improvement of my Hebrew language skills and enhancing my knowledge of legal vocabulary in the language. Listening to all proceedings in a foreign language forced me to listen and observe intently, adding to the richness of my abroad work experience.
Finally, towards the end of my time at the Court, I was fortunate enough to attend an International Labor Law conference at Hebrew University honoring the work of Stephen Adler. Although I was working in a small country in the Middle East, the knowledge I gained from this conference, and my experience at the Court as a whole, broadened my perspective to a global level. I was afforded the opportunity to listen to labor law and relations professionals from all around the world—ranging from professors and lawyers from Japan, Germany and England to Dean Katz from ILR. The speeches at this conference reinforced my classroom studies at ILR and made me realize the strength of our academia and the importance of each of its six departments. Courses such as Labor and Employment Law, Work, Labor & Capital in the Global Economy and Collective Bargaining came to life as representatives from countries across the world spoke about their labor law systems and how they can be improved. The conference was a fitting end to my time in Israel, since it brought much of what I have learned in ILR and at the Labor Court into a wider international setting.
I am grateful to the ILR International Programs Committee and my professors at Cornell for providing me with this unforgettable opportunity. The experience not only enhanced my interests in labor law, but also provided me with a deeper knowledge of a different culture, language and judicial system.