Locked Out SCI Funeral Director Talks About the Front Lines of the Chicago Funeral Home Strike & Lockout
Guest blog post was originally posted on Orderofthegooddeath.com
For the past four months, 59 Chicago-area funeral directors and drivers have been locked out of their funeral homes by the corporation that owns them, Texas-based Service Corporation International, or SCI. You may know SCI as the inspiration for Kroehner, the megacorp attempting to buy out the family funeral home on the television show Six Feet Under. One of the locked-out funeral directors has generously agreed to (anonymously) share their story with the Order. The directors are keeping a record of the unfolding events HERE.
One thing I never foresaw myself doing was walking a picket line in front of a funeral home with a sign that said “Locked Out by SCI.”
I work for the Texas-based funeral corporation Service Corporation International (SCI), and yes, I am still a current employee. Back in June 2013, SCI sat down with our union to negotiate a new contract. It was a very frustrating time, with the company trying to take away benefits like our pension, health care, and overtime. They made silly changes to the our contracts that stated you could be fired for “being intimidating” or not taking the online training courses, and now only one person would be needed on a home removal (a delicate procedure in the family home, best handled with two people). It was very obvious the company did not want to work out a fair contract with our workers.
So we voted as a group to begin striking on July 2nd. We picketed peacefully and respectfully in front 13 of the 16 funeral homes in the Chicagoland area that were on strike. The funeral homes were still in business, with the managers scrambling to get things done inside with replacement funeral directors that the company flew in from other parts of the country and a few local directors who signed on for temporary work.
On August 19th, we offered to come back to work while the company and the union negotiate a fair contract, SCI/Dignity Memorial said no and we were officially locked out. We had several directors who resigned their membership early in the strike to return to work, they were also locked out of work with this move.
There are 59 funeral directors and drivers affected by this lockout. SCI/Dignity Memorial has met with the union about once a month since July and the contract keeps getting worse than their “Best and Final” offer. The main offense is that SCI wanted to switch contributing to a healthy pension fund to a 401k with a 4 percent match. How can one save for the future with such a sad replacement for a pension? The next month they came back to the table, the contract removed the health care we participate in with the union. We found this abhorrent, we have an amazing preventive health care plan through the union. Now they would like to switch us over to SCI’s health care plan, which ironically comes in three tiers, just like the packages that they offer their families.
There has been very little movement since August really; they met once more in September but no movement on that contract either. There is no future negation date set as of October 21st. We have been picketing for 114 days. I do get offended whenever people refer to SCI as a big “pyramid scheme” or liken us to a bunch of used car sellers. While some may perceive a company like SCI to be evil as a whole, it is the local funeral directors that perform the funerals and become the face to the community. We are not the evil lot in Texas that brings in about 9 million a year, we are your neighbors and friends, and a fraction of what’s left of the middle class. SCI/Dignity Memorial is notorious for underpaying its directors around the country. We are asking to stay with what we had in the last contract; it was actually similar to what other unions in Illinois have negotiated with the smaller family-owned funeral homes that don’t make nearly as much money as SCI.
We need the support of the middle class around the country, we have to help each other fight for what is right. If you can avoid it, DO NOT use an SCI/Dignity Memorial funeral home. The name SCI will be quite small on the sign but it will say “Dignity Memorial,” likely in quite large green lettering. Even if your family member has a pre-need/pre-paid funeral at this SCI funeral home, you can transfer to another funeral home, that money went to a third party for safe keeping, so it can be redeemed at any other funeral home of your choosing.