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Funeral Home Strikers To Meet Lipinski

A strike by Chicago-area funeral home directors and drivers that began July 1 continues with no agreement near.

However, some of the strikers have arranged a meeting today (Friday, Aug. 30) with Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) in hopes that some movement may occur.

Among those who plan to attend the meeting is Craig Operzedek, a funeral director at Ridge Funeral Home, 6620 W. Archer Ave. The funeral home was founded by his father, who has since retired.

Employees at 16 Chicago-area Dignity Memorial chain of funeral homes owned by SCI Illinois Services, Inc. are on strike.

Local funeral homes affected also include Funeraria del Angel Sagrado Corazon, 5218 S. Kedzie Ave., Chicago, and two in Oak Lawn Ñ Blake Lamb Funeral Home, 4727 W. 103rd St., and Chapel Hill Gardens South Funeral Home.

Most of these funeral homes were family-owned institutions until the 1980s and ’90s, when they were bought out by Service Corporation International, or SCI, a Houston-based company with hundreds of funeral homes throughout the United States and Canada.

Picketers are rotating between 11 of the funeral homes. One of the main issues is the move by SCI to replace the pension plan with a 401k.

The striking funeral home directors and drivers are represented by Teamsters Local 727.

The union said that SCI has locked out 59 Chicago-area funeral directors and drivers. Teamsters Local 727 officials said they have been locked out despite an unconditional offer to return to work.

ÒSCI has chosen to lock out its employees rather than see them return to serving grieving families in their communities,” said John T. Coli, secretary-Treasurer of Local 727. ÒSCI has forced this lockout to get rid of its longtime employees and boost its bottom line.

ÒBut the Teamsters will continue to fight on behalf of our members for justice, and for a fair and equitable contract.”

SCI officials deny these accusations. In a News-Herald story that appeared on July 26, Shannon Quinn, a spokesperson for SCI Illinois, a Glendale Heights-based division of SCI International, said according to documents SCI received from the pension managers, as of June it was underfunded by $68 million.

Brian Rainville, a spokesperson for the Teamsters, said they are in good shape.

SCI had sent out a press release stating that they offered the funeral directors and drivers a 6 percent raise the first year of the contract, and 3 percent the second year.

The company also proposed giving employees the choice to opt out and receive compensation if they decide not to have the Teamsters’ healthcare plan or the legal and educational assistance plan.

Operzedek said that would mean that funeral directors or drivers are being offered the option of switching to a 401k. Operzedek, an Oak Lawn resident, has been in the business for 30 years and said he is happy with the current pension plan and does not want to switch.

The Teamsters resumed contract negotiations for two meetings on Aug. 6 and 8. Teamsters officials stated that SCI has not altered its stand.

ÒSCI isn’t interested in employing funeral directors and drivers who honorably serve their communities and deserve dignified working conditions,” Coli said. ÒSCI wants to give workers as little as possible to maximize profits Ñ even if that means turning its back on men and women who have served the company for decades. SCI’s actions are shameful.”

SCI officials have said negotiations will continue, but it does not change an underfunded pension.

Funeral directors and drivers have received support from a variety of public officials. Signing a letter of support were Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cong. Tammy Duckworth (D-8th), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state Rep. Tom Cullerton (D-23rd).

Local funeral home directors and drivers have been unable to to get a commitment earlier from Lipinski. However, the congressman had informed the strikers that he will listen to their concerns. The striking workers would like to get his signature and support.

Rainville estimates that about 12 strikers from local funeral homes will be in attendance at his office in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood.

During the strike, the funeral directors and the Teamsters are asking people who need funeral services but do not want to cross picket lines to visit http://www.IntegrityInIllinois.com.

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