The Service Corporation International (SCI) is once again trying to force employees in Chicago to accept what one union leader called “draconian” changes to the employees’ collective bargaining agreement.
SCI, based in Houston, is the largest funeral chain in North America. In Chicago, funeral directors and drivers working for the SCI-owned Alderwoods funeral homes have been trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement since May. The current contract expired June 30.
John Coli, Jr., president of Teamsters Local 727, the Alderwoods employees union, accused the company of trying to bully the workers into accepting “regressive” changes to the current contract.
“The union has tried to work with management to negotiate and reach a fair agreement, but obviously, SCI has no interest in being fair or reasonable,” said Coli, “This corporate bully only wants to exert complete unilateral control over its employees and refuses to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Last year, SCI locked out another group funeral directors and drivers in Chicago because they wouldn’t accept similar takeaways.
SCI operates 1,800 funeral homes and cemeteries in the US and Canada. It employs 20,000 people and has a market capitalization of more than $4 billion.
According to Businessweek, “for 40 years, SCI has gobbled up competitors.” Last year, it bought Stewart Enterprises, its largest competitor.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance said that the merger of the two funeral giants, “is not good news for consumers.”
The Teamsters report that since bargaining on a new contract began in May, SCI has been uninterested in reaching a fair agreement.
The funeral giant instead insists that the Alderwoods employees accept the company’s proposals, which among other things would eliminate regular pay increases and leave future pay hikes up to the discretion of management.
SCI also wants to
- Eradicate job security
- Significantly limit arbitration
- Dismantle seniority rights
- Make work part-time and casual for some drivers, and
- Retain unilateral ability to reduce health care benefits.
According to the Teamsters, SCI has refused to put its proposals in writing and has not presented the union with its last and final offer thus preventing Local 727 members from voting on them.
Last year, SCI locked out funeral directors and drivers at Chicago-area funeral homes operating under the Dignity Memorial brand, the most prominent of SCI’s national funeral brands.
The Dignity workers voted down the SCI contract, went on strike, and when they voted unconditionally to return to work, were locked out by SCI.
During the lockout, the National Labor Relations Board found SCI to be guilty of a number of unfair labor practices including bad faith bargaining, threatening workers with the loss of their vacation, and engaging in illegal surveillance of union members.
SCI also refused a proposal by the Teamsters to allow an arbitrator to settle the differences between the two sides.
While SCI has tried to bully its workers into accepting egregious concessions, it has also been accused of treating its customers badly.
According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, “SCI has long been one of the biggest sources of consumer complaints–deceptive sales pitches, violating consumer protection rules on the right to choose funeral goods and services, and more.”
Businessweek reports that SCI is able to achieve cost savings through an economy of scale and consolidation, but instead of passing the savings on to customers, “it keeps or passes (them) along to its shareholders.”
For cremation with a memorial service, Businessweek reports that SCI’s average price is $3,390, 30 percent higher than the average price of independent funeral homes.
For a traditional funeral (without casket or cemetery plot) the SCI average is $6,256, 42 percent more than its independent competitors.
Speaking at SCI’s annual shareholders meeting in May, Coli said that SCI must be held accountable for its actions.
“Employers cannot be allowed to boost their bottom lines on the backs of working families,” said Coli.