Some Funeral Workers On Strike
July 8, 2013 — Funeral home workers across the Greater Chicago area are on strike and calling for higher wages and better benefits. Dozens of funeral home directors and drivers working for Service Corporation International feel their pensions, health care and compensation are being threatened.
The funeral home workers have stepped away from preparing those who are transitioning from life to fight for their own livelihoods. Workers at Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oaklawn are among 59 funeral home directors and drivers who unanimously voted for an unfair labor practice strike against Service Corporation International which operates 16 funeral homes under the Dignity Memorial brand name in the Chicagoland area.
Teamsters Local 727 spokesman Will Petty says the Texas-based company failed to agree to a new contract after 60 hours at the negotiation table. “Some of these members have worked for Chicago funeral homes for 20 and 30 years. They’ve never had a problem getting a contract.”
One of those long-time workers is funeral director and embalmer Pat Quinlan. He has worked for Blake-Lamb since 1989 and hopes to retire from the same place, “I’ve been a funeral director for 39 years. I lived above my family’s funeral home as a child. That’s how I got into the funeral home business. I didn’t know anything else.”
Teamsters began negotiations June 14th, but Petty says their requests were not met and the contract expired June 30th. “Our proposal, especially at the end of negotiations, was leave the current contract intact and agree to a three-percent wage increase, which we thought was very fair.”
Workers have been striking this month, fighting for their pensions and health care, many saying they’ve not had a wage increase in the past six years so they are willing to give that up in order to not have their pensions eliminated and not have more money taken from their checks for healthcare. Quinlan says, “As far as a wage increase goes, the company has said that they’ve offered between four-to-nine percent. The union is asking for three percent and just keep the current language in our contract the same and they don’t want to do that.”
Quinlan says 99% of people that work at Blake-Lamb live within walking distance of the funeral home, and they know beforehand a majority of families who become customers. Quinlan says, “When someone has died and they call us here and they come over, it’s very comforting for them to sit with someone and make the funeral arrangements full well knowing that the person is from around here. We can feel for them. It’s not say these people can’t feel for them, but this is a job for them to do while this is going on until they can figure out which direction they’re going to go or we’re going to go.”
Petty says, “They’re really why this company is so profitable. It’s because of the relationships they have cultivated in communities for generations that bring them (the company) the money that boast this company up. And then they’re not willing to give back to the funeral directors who make this company profitable, that’s unreasonable.”
Petty says Teamsters Local 727 is willing to go back to the negotiation table with SCI any time. A spokesperson from SCI reports they value the workers and say many staff already enjoy a generous pay and benefits package, with a significant number of funeral directors making more than $100,000 per year. As for healthcare SCI says the employees have never had to contribute anything to the cost of their own health care, but now contributions are commonplace in this country and would be capped at $50 a month next year.