'This Company Has to Answer for What They've Done Here'
CHICAGO, Dec. 17, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When Bryan Johnson's mother passed away last week, he and his family were overcome with grief. Making funeral arrangements seemed like a monumental task until his father, Ronald, a retired Chicago police officer, remembered a funeral home from his old South Side neighborhood that often performed services to officers who had died in the line of duty.
Recalling the dignity and respect with which his fallen brothers and sisters had been shown, Ronald Johnson suggested the family go to Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn.
From that point on, Bryan Johnson said, it only got worse for the already devastated family.
"We had no clue there was a change of ownership," Johnson said. "We went there on the memory of a good family business only to find out it is owned by this huge conglomerate that is mistreating workers and basically spitting on the memory of my mom."
Blake-Lamb is one of 16 Chicago-area Dignity Memorial funeral homes owned by Service Corporation International [NYSE:SCI], a $4 billion Houston-based corporation that has locked out 59 funeral directors, embalmers and drivers represented by Teamsters Local 727. The labor dispute has been ongoing since July 2.
Johnson called SCI-owned Blake-Lamb on Saturday to make the arrangements, and he was told to come in Sunday to meet with the funeral director and sign the paperwork.
"At no point during that two hours did they mention the labor dispute or that picketing would be going on during my mom's services," Johnson said.
It wasn't until Monday, when Johnson's brother, Richard, went to drop off some of his mother's personal items, that they found out about the labor action.
"My brother pulled into the parking lot and saw what was going on. He went into the building and expressed his dismay at them not telling us, and then he went outside and shook hands with the guys on the picket line," Johnson said. "If we had known, we never would have made arrangements there. We feel absolutely sick about giving $15,000 to a scab funeral home."
The Johnsons are a union family. In addition to his father's long career with the Chicago Police Department, his brother, Richard, is a member of United Steel Workers Local 17 Decorators Union, and Bryan is a member of Chicago Pipefitters Local 597.
The 59 funeral employees were forced to strike on July 2 after SCI refused to bargain over a new contract in good faith with the Teamsters. More than five months later, SCI continues to insist on slashing collective bargaining rights, union-sponsored health insurance and pension benefits. When negotiations began in June, the funeral giant proposed nearly 40 regressive changes to the union contract, despite seeing SCI's stock rise 94 percent in the last two years alone.
The Teamsters made an unconditional offer to return to work on Aug. 19, but SCI chose to lock out employees instead.
"I'm not blaming the Teamsters. The funeral home held back a huge piece of information that was important for me to make this decision. It's as if they purposefully wanted us to come in on Sunday so we wouldn't see the picketers," Johnson said. "We are talking about $15,000. This is huge money. It's a business at the end of the day. And they call themselves 'dignity'? What kind of dignity are they showing us by not letting us make a choice to go to a funeral home without a labor dispute?
"This company has to answer for what they've done here," Johnson said.
Since the labor dispute began, Teamsters Local 727 has provided Chicago-area families with worker-friendly funeral home alternatives. A complete list is available at IntegrityInIllinois.com, alongside more information on the labor action and an online petition to support funeral workers.
Johnson said he has walked many picket lines and he fully understands the workers' rights to stand up and be visible to the public during this fight against a corporate bully.
"All this situation does is make me think about people in the future who have to make funeral arrangements," Johnson said. "I know we have a lot to think about when we are laying a loved one to rest, but we need to seek out funeral homes that treat their employees and their customers with dignity – unlike Dignity Memorial."
Teamsters Local 727 has represented Chicago's funeral directors and embalmers since 1946, and it represents more than 6,800 hardworking men and women across Chicagoland.
SOURCE Teamsters Local 727