Although actual tallies were not disclosed, the Teamsters local representing funeral directors and drivers of Service Corp. International (NYSE: SCI) in the Chicagoland area says members voted in overwhelming numbers against the death care leader's "last, best, and final" contract offer and in favor of a strike to be effective this morning.

While Teamsters Local 727 said that any funeral that had already been arranged prior to the vote would not be picketed, Piser Funeral Services Director John Liberatore in Skokie, Ill., was quoted in the union press release as saying, "For any future arrangements, we have created a website and a hotline to help our families connect with a community-friendly company while the strike is ongoing." 

In its own press release, SCI Illinois Services, a division of Service Corp. that's been negotiating with the Teamsters, said it has funeral directors in place to ensure that service will be uninterrupted.

"Serving our client families in their time of need is our highest priority," said the division's managing director, Larry Michael. "That service and commitment to our families will continue without disruption."

The Teamsters alleged SCI wanted to gut employee pensions and benefits and the wage increases offered were negligible, but the death care specialist said that not only did it offer the union wage increases of 9% over a two-year period, it also offered new hires wage increases as well. And rather than eliminate pensions and benefits as the union charged, SCI says it sought to improve them for their employees.

In the company press release, Michael said many of the directors covered by the contract make more than $100,000 annually and SCI's first-year wage increase offer of 6% was triple what the Teamsters negotiated for other Chicago-area funeral directors and double what they requested for this group in negotiations.

Although the funeral home and cemetery operator wanted the members to begin contributing to their health care costs, something they've been protected from doing so far, the monthly contribution would be capped at $50 per month, the company said, far less than the wage increases that were offered. SCI also wanted to switch from a pension plan to a 401(k) plan because, it said, the pension has typically been underfunded and there is concern it would not be available when retirees needed it.

The union says it filed unfair labor practice charges against the company for what it deems "engaging in bad faith bargaining by making unlawful omissions and misrepresentations in memos issued to its employees and negotiators."

John T. Coli, Teamsters Local 727 secretary-treasurer, was quoted in the union press release as saying that SCI admits it can readily afford its demands, but "just simply won't because their business model calls for them to siphon more money out of the Chicago community and send it back to Houston."

The local has represented Chicago's funeral directors and embalmers since 1946. Service Corp International, which uses the Dignity Memorial brand name, operates 16 funeral homes with 59 employees in the Chicagoland area.


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