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16 Chicago, suburban funeral directors, drivers go on strike, take to the picket lines

Striking funeral home workers picket Tuesday outside Lloyd Mandel Levayah Funerals 4750 Dempster St. Skokie. They declined give their names.

Striking funeral home workers picket Tuesday outside Lloyd Mandel Levayah Funerals, 4750 Dempster St., Skokie. They declined to give their names. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media.

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Updated: August 4, 2013 6:34AM

When a wake began at the Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn, striking funeral directors and drivers took their picket signs and huddled beneath a tent down a side street, so as to not offend mourners.

Similar scenes played out at 15 other city and suburban funeral homes owned by Service Corporation International, where workers are on strike and began manning picket lines Tuesday after negotiations for a new contract broke down last month.

Teamsters Local 727, which represents 59 employees at the funeral homes, said funerals scheduled before Tuesday would not be picketed.

The union also offered a hotline and website that will refer those needing funeral services to nearby businesses that are not on strike.

“None of these folks want to hurt families, they’ve spent their entire careers providing empathy and care for people in the worst time of their lives,” said Teamsters spokesman Brian Rainville. “But this company has gone too far, they’ve said ‘We don’t like this business model so were going to destroy it.’”

Larry Michael, managing director for SCI Illinois Services Inc., said in a statement that “Serving our client families in their time of need is our highest priority.” SCI added that non-union employees would ensure that the company’s services would continue without disruption.

“We have made a very fair proposal to the union and hope this situation is resolved soon,” said Michael.

In Oak Lawn, Blake-Lamb funeral director Pat Quinlan, 60, said funeral directors have not had a raise in six years.

“We agreed to not take a raise because (the company) wasn’t doing well. Now their stock is up. But now they don’t want to pay our pension any more,” Quinlan said. “They want us to contribute to the healthcare or take their healthcare.”

Union members, whose 3-year contract expired Sunday, rejected a company proposal that would have provided a 6 percent raise the first year, but would have frozen the pension plan and required employee contributions towards a 401k plan and health insurance. The company also wanted work rule changes that would have eliminated seniority, the union said.

The union had asked for 3 percent yearly raises and no other changes to the old contract.

The company noted that some funeral directors make more than $100,000 a year and all currently pay nothing towards health insurance.

“Do they make a decent wage? Sure they do,” said the Teamsters’ Rainville. “They bring in the money,” he said, referring funeral directors’ relationships in their local communities.

The union has filed seven charges of unfair labor practices stemming from the latest round of talks.

In 2011, SCI filed a federal racketeering suit against the union and three union officials — all members of the Coli family — charging that they “intentionally and falsely” inflated audits showing how much the company owed to the union pension fund.

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