Thursday, September 17, 2020

'I Could Show You Stuff You Wouldn’t Believe:' Gravediggers Speak Out About Horrifying Conditions

Gravediggers employed by one of the country’s largest cemetery and funeral home corporations, StoneMor, are battling for their first union contract—amid a COVID-related increase in burials.

Illustration: Cathryn Virginia

By Lauren Kaori Gurley

In April, 13 gravediggers at Beth Israel, a Jewish cemetery in a working class New Jersey township across the street from one of the state’s largest malls, buried roughly 300 bodies—many of them presumed by workers to be victims of COVID-19.

In a typical month, the crew at Beth Israel Cemetery digs between 50 and 100 graves. During the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in New Jersey and neighboring New York City, where the virus tore through many Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods with ties to Beth Israel, the gravediggers took to the fields at the earliest hours of daylight to pour foundation, lay out wood, dig trenches, set up funerals, carry caskets, and fill graves with backhoes. Gravediggers say they often worked ten-and-a-half-hour shifts, and have not gotten hazard pay and only sporadic bathroom and lunch breaks, according to Teamsters Local 469, the gravediggers' union.  Read more >>