Jewish cemeteries will now be open on all secular holidays under a new, five-year contract ratified last week that ended a seven-month work stoppage at eight New York area Jewish cemeteries — the longest in history. Until now, families that wanted a funeral on holidays, such as Christmas Day or July Fourth, had to hope cemetery personnel could convince work crews to come in on their day off. But the new agreement with members of Local 365 of the Service Employees International Union requires that one crew be on standby on each holiday, according to Jerry Hass, president of the Cemetery Employer Association of Greater New York.
“We fought like the devil to get this,” he said, noting that the crew would be paid at 22 times the normal rate. A family wishing a burial that day would have to pay the crew for a full eight hours of work. If more than one burial took place, the cost would be divided. If no funeral were held, the cemetery would bear the cost alone, Hass added.
Crews returned to work on Monday. After they went on strike at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, the other seven Jewish cemeteries in the area locked out members of the same union. Union officials said their members were only seeking parity with employees at non-Jewish cemeteries in the area. The new contract gives the workers a weekly wage increase of $109 over five years.
Hass said cemetery fees are regulated by the state and will increase 3.7 percent on Jan. 1 to reflect a hike in the employment cost index. But he said that increase would cover only half of the workers’ wage hike and that the cemeteries planned to absorb the rest.