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updated: 7/11/2011 6:46 PM

Funerals to go on despite strike

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  • The union has signs ready for when 16 funeral directors, embalmers and livery drivers from four suburban funeral homes go on strike.

    The union has signs ready for when 16 funeral directors, embalmers and livery drivers from four suburban funeral homes go on strike.
    Photo courtesy of Teamsters Local 727


Sixteen funeral directors, embalmers, and livery drivers from four suburban funeral homes, including ones in Arlington Heights and Des Plaines, will go on strike Tuesday following a labor dispute, union officials said Monday.

The workers will begin picketing starting at 10 a.m. outside Lauterburg-Oehler Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, Oehler Funeral Home in Des Plaines, Weinstein Funeral Home in Wilmette, and Mount Auburn Funeral Home in Stickney. A union rally is planned between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. at the Wilmette funeral home.

"There's always a possibility of an 11th-hour deal, but as of this moment we have made preparations and are ready to go on strike," said Maggie Jenkins, communications director for Teamsters Local 727 of Park Ridge, the union representing the funeral home workers.

A spokeswoman for the funeral homes' parent company, Service Corporation International, said the funeral homes will continue to operate as the company is bringing in additional help.

"We've made provisions and are prepared to continue to provide uninterrupted service to families," said Jessica McDunn, SCI. spokeswoman. "Not everyone who works in these funeral homes is union. Our service and commitment to our families will be seamless."

The dispute stems from contract negotiations gone sour.

The workers have been bargaining since May 12 to replace a three-year contract that expired June 30. SCI. offered workers a three-year contract extension freezing wages that have been in place for the past three years, Jenkins said.

"The funeral directors unanimously rejected the final contract proposal on June 16, and then July 5 they voted to strike," she said.

McDunn said while wage freezes were part of the previous contract, the workers were awarded pay increases in March that weren't part of that contract. SCI. offered a new contract essentially with no changes, she added.

Local 727, which altogether represents 450 funeral industry workers in the Chicago area and has 6,000 members in various industries, has filed unfair labor practice complaints against SCI., alleging "bad faith bargaining and direct dealing" with members, Jenkins said.

"We have been negotiating in good faith this entire time," McDunn said.

Jenkins said among the workers' grievances is that SCI took away union health care coverage several years ago and replaced it with a company health care plan.

"The union basically wants the union health care coverage back," she said. "It's more comprehensive. It's less expensive to the employer and to the members."

No contract talks are scheduled.

Houston-based SCI owns 21 funeral homes in the Chicago area and is the largest provider of mortuary products and services in North America, operating more than 1,800 funeral homes nationwide.