(HOUSTON) — Longtime employees and Teamsters Local 727 representatives on May 13 called out funeral industry giant Service Corporation International’s poor business practices and called on its Board of Directors to take action during the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Houston.
Dave Culyat and Doran Puckett — recent SCI funeral director retirees with a combined 89 years of service — and Local 727 Business Representative Nick Micaletti personally addressed shareholders and the company’s full Board of Directors, including CEO Thomas L. Ryan, who was conducting the meeting.
Culyat spoke passionately about his 44 years as a funeral director at Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn, which was purchased by SCI in 1987, and about his experience on the picket line during a recent labor dispute between the union and the company. SCI locked out 59 funeral directors and drivers from August 2013 to January 2014 at 16 corporate-owned Chicago-area funeral homes.
“In addition to losing millions of dollars in new business, the lockout forced the resignation and retirement of a dozen longstanding funeral directors, including myself, and sent those workers directly to the competition — with contacts and company resentment intact,” Culyat said. “It’s time for this company to stop the cycle of wasting as much money as possible to push an anti-worker agenda. Does SCI really have the best interests of its shareholders in mind, or is the company looking to pay whatever cost to keep workers under its thumb?”
Puckett spent his 45-year career serving Chicago’s Jewish community and presented startling statistics about the decline of Jewish funeral business over the last 20 years at the hands of SCI management. In 1995, the six SCI-owned funeral homes represented 100 percent of the Jewish funeral market with about 3,000 funerals per year. Today, SCI operates only one Jewish funeral home in the Chicago area and it will only perform about 700 funerals this year.
“The company drove away business and longtime funeral directors, and it enabled former SCI employees to start their own businesses,” Puckett said. “How can you feel confident about the Chicago market when you’ve lost 80 percent of your business? They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What SCI is doing is insane and needs to change.”
SCI [NYSE:SCI] is a $4 billion company and operates more than 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries in North America, many of which still bear the names of families that independently owned them for generations.
Local 727 Business Representative Nick Micaletti also addressed the Board about the union’s ongoing negotiations with the company for a new contract for 26 funeral directors and drivers at four SCI d/b/a Alderwoods funeral homes. Micaletti urged Ryan and the Board to intervene to ensure the company reaches a fair agreement in order to avoid an escalation in conflict and the loss of additional business.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also sponsored an equity retention proposal at the shareholders meeting. The Teamsters called on the board to adopt a policy that requires senior executive to retain a significant percentage of shares acquired through equity compensation programs until reaching normal retirement age or terminating employment with the company. Ultimately, the proposal did not pass.
“What matters most is that the Teamsters and our hardworking members made their voices heard,” said John Coli Jr., President of Local 727. “We are not afraid to stand up to this corporate bully, and we will continue fighting for our members and the families they serve.”
Teamsters Local 727 has represented funeral industry workers for 75 years and currently represents about 500 funeral directors, embalmers and livery chauffeurs in the Chicago area.