NEW YORK (Jun. 19)
Rabbi Samuel Schrage, chairman of the Emergency Committee for Jewish Burial, estimated today that there are 3000 bodies of Jews remaining unburied because of the strike of Cemetery Workers and Green Attendants Union, Local 365. He issued an urgent appeal for more volunteers to help reduce the number of unburied bodies.
Rabbi Schrage told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency he expected the strike, which was expanded on June 10 to all 47 cemeteries in the metropolitan area, including 13 Jewish cemeteries, to be a long one.
The local has agreed to allow volunteers to dig graves for the Jewish dead who are required by Jewish law to be interred within 24 hours of death. However, Rabbi Schrage said, the number of such volunteers, originally up to 100, has dropped to about 50. He urged would-be volunteers to call either 773-8483 or 774-0198, adding that those numbers are manned on a 24-hour basis.
He also disclosed that confusion had developed among families of dead Jews over the action by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in announcing that a health emergency now existed which, under a law passed by the last Legislature, requires the immediate start of negotiations, with mandated compulsory arbitration if negotiations fail.
Rabbi Schrage added that as soon as the health emergency order is signed, the local intends to go into State Supreme Court in Manhattan to seek a stay. He also said he had attended a meeting of the local last night and said it was clear to him that the union would not return to work under a court order.
He reported that both the local and the cemetery owners were completely cooperative in permitting the volunteers to dig the graves but that the shortage of volunteers had led to the piling up of bodies in garages and toolsheds on the grounds of the cemeteries. Rabbi Schrage called the situation “deplorable.”
He said the confusion among bereaved families was based on the assumption by many of them that the governor’s announcement meant an early resumption of burials.
He noted that the last strike in 1970 took place during the winter which meant few health hazards but that the current walkout comes in summer.