In what has become a familiar summer site around Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park -- giant inflatable rats in front of local funeral homes -- the Teamsters are turning up the heat on a two-month-old strike against the corporate owner of 16 Chicago-area funeral homes.
Striking funeral home directors, drivers and embalmers will stage a rally in front of Oak Lawn’s Blake-Lamb Funeral Home on 103rd Street and Cicero Avenue starting at 11 a.m. Monday.
Houston-based Service Corporation International, said to be North America's largest provider of funerals, cremations and cemetery services under the Dignity Memorial brand, owns Blake-Lamb and Chapel Hill South in Oak Lawn, and Evergreen Park's Kenny Brothers.
Some 59 funeral directors, embalmers and drivers around the Chicago area have been locked out of their respective businesses since Aug. 19, when SCI Illinois Services, Inc. declined an offer made today by the Teamsters Local 727 for union members to return to work without an agreed-upon contract.
SCI maintains that it had made a “very generous contract proposal, including 9- percent in wage increases over the next two years, yet there is still a substantial difference between the bargaining positions of the company and the union,” according to an SCI news release.
Larry Michael, managing director for SCI Illinois Services, Inc., further stated that the death-care corporation’s goal is “to come to full and complete resolution with the union as soon as possible. Allowing union members to return to work without a contract in place will only delay successful resolution of this situation.”
The Teamsters charge that SCI is only trying to pad its bottom line by turning a profit for its shareholders by locking out "hardworking employees rather than see them return to serve grieving families in their communities.
Sticking points include health benefits and pensions. Prior to the lockout, Local 727 previously made movement on issues critical to SCI, including allowing the company to withdraw from the Teamsters' Pension Fund for an economically equivalent 401(k) plan, according to the Teamsters.
SCI is expected to pay a quarterly dividend to stockholders of $.07 per share at the end of the month.
Since the two-month-old labor dispute began, the effects of having to cross a picket line and giant inflatable rats may be driving families elsewhere to make arrangements for deceased loved ones.
The striking Teamsters have been tracking the decline in business performed at the 16 SCI-owned funerals homes in the Chicago area.
Blake-Lamb, which averaged 30-40 funerals per month before the strike, has seen business drop by almost half, to 13-19. Some of the calls involved direct cremations or burials.
According to an informal spreadsheet maintained by the striking funeral directors, business has also dropped at other area SCI-owned homes, including:
Kenny Brothers (Evergreen Park): July: 5, August: 8, September to date: 3. In 2012, the funeral home averaged 11-14 calls per month;
Chapel Hill Gardens South (Oak Lawn): July: 14, August: 13, September to date: 3. In 2012, the average was approximately 17 per month.
Ridge Funeral Home (Chicago): July: 3, August: 8, September to date: 2. The 2012 average was 15 per month.
The Teamsters are calling upon their 6,800 members to come support their brothers and sisters from Local 727 in front of Blake-Lamb on Monday.
A union source says , “we’ll have two rats and the big fat cat so it will be decked out.”