On July 10, three Chicago-area Alderwoods funeral homes were viciously vandalized. All were Dignity Memorial network facilities that had also been targeted for a strike by local Teamsters.
Teamsters Local 727, which represents 16 Alderwoods embalmers, drivers and funeral directors, had been negotiating with the company that owns the homes after their labor contract expired June 30. The union complained that the other side had bargained in bad faith and had "…proposed a three-year wage freeze and a company health care package that is more expensive and less comprehensive than the union's health and welfare benefits," reports the Chicago Sun-Times. And so the Teamsters targeted four funeral homes for strike.
Then — shock! — the funeral homes got trashed. As company spokeswoman Jessica McDunn explained, "Three of those four funeral homes were vandalized … with vulgar profanity, broken windows, damage to the front door and damage to an associate's car."
Naturally, the union is denying any responsibility, and it wisely put the strike on hold following the incidents. "We certainly don't condone that kind of behavior," said Teamsters' spokeswoman Maggie Jenkins.
Making union protestations of innocence hard to believe were nasty fliers bearing a Teamsters banner, pictures of which have popped up all over the Internet, warning ominously: "Any family that makes arrangements with a Chicago-area Dignity Memorial funeral home during this time may encounter a labor dispute at the location."
Even assuming no union connection to the vandalism, the explicit threat to disrupt funeral services is shockingly tasteless. But such tactics are the bread and butter of unions. And it seems to have worked; on July 12, after the vandalism, both sides came to an agreement "with no changes in the health plan," reportstheChicago Tribune.
But funeral homes, like a lot of businesses, can these days ill afford those lavish, union-negotiated benefits, and they are not alone; state and local governments all over the country are groaning under the burden of unsustainable union contracts, which force higher taxes, reduced services or both.
Look at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Good liberal though he is, Mr. Emanuel has been forced to lay off some 625 city employees and delay much-needed sidewalk and gutter repairs because labor leaders representing city workers wouldn't budge on work-rule changes the mayor needs to help shore up the city's coming $700 million operating shortfall.
"My duty as mayor is to protect our city's taxpayers and be their voice — not to protect the city's payroll," Mr. Emanuel admirably proclaimed.
Much like the city of Chicago, businesses such as Alderwoods funeral homes are faced with tough decisions. They can cut services, lay off workers or go out of business. Union demands, which have piled benefit obligations for decades on both private and public institutions, have seen to it that there is no fourth alternative.
Liberals have a romantic view of Big Labor's contribution to America, which goes something like this: In the bad old days, workers were forced to labor in unsafe or unsanitary conditions for subsistence pay, until unions came along and pushed for reforms that helped make work safer and more rewarding.
There is some truth to this narrative. But there is another, darker side to Big Labor, a movement historically enthralled by Marxist thought and entwined with organized crime, where standing up for workers too often translates into hatred of business in general and an antipathy toward economic freedom.
The ruinous consequences of such a movement run amok in our society can be seen in the smashed windows of a funeral home — and the empty coffers at City Hall.
Matt Patterson, a Rockville resident, is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and a contributor to "Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation." He can be reached at mattpattersononline.com.