In what is seemingly becoming a more acrimonious set of negotiations, the Teamsters representing directors and drivers accused management of Service Corp International (NYSE:SCI) of trying to force a strike vote by rejecting the union's "last and best" offer.
"It is clear they flew to Chicago simply to bargain their way to a strike vote by their employees," said Teamster Local 727 Secretary-Treasurer John T. Coli in a statement.
The union says that after five days of negotiations, management offered only several tentative agreements on minor issues. The Teamsters, in turn, came back with the best, last, and final offer:
- Wage increases of 3% in each year of a five-year contract
- Retain current pension benefits
- Retain current health and legal and educational benefits
- Current contract language on nearly all work rules
SCI rejected the offer and reiterated its demand that employee pension, health, and educational assistance benefits be eliminated, seniority be eliminated along with the authority of independent arbitration. As compensation, management offered a 4% wage increase, 2% higher than its original offer.
SCI Illinois Services, a division of Service Corp that's been negotiating with the Teamsters, seemingly disputed the characterization of the negotiations in its own release. It notes it offered the union a 9% raise over two years, with 6% coming in the first year and 3% in the second, as well as giving all new hires a 2% raise.
They also want union employees to start contributing to their health-care costs, something they've been shielded from thus far. "Asking employees to contribute at least something toward those costs has become commonplace in this country," said the division's managing director, Larry Michael. "The wage increases being offered far exceed the amount of any potential co-pay." He also point out they're capped at $50 per month.
Moreover, SCI hasn't sought to eliminate or reduce any benefits, but rather it wants to give employees the choice to opt out and receive cash compensation if they decide they do not want or need the health-care plan or the legal and educational assistance plan. Heretofore, employees have been required to participate in these plans whether they want or need them.
SCI also wants to replace the Teamsters pension plan with a 401(k) plan because the pension has a history of underfunding, there's doubt whether pensioners will receive the benefits promised, and it's been an ongoing source of litigation for the union. SCI's proposal offers a dollar-for-dollar match up to 4% of annual income.
The Teamsters were to present the funeral directors and drivers with Service Corp's proposal tonight for a vote, and if it was rejected, they'd immediately take a vote to go on strike. No word as yet on how the secret ballots were cast.