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STATEHOUSE REEDER: Talking rather than protesting a better strategy?

When I first heard that folks were protesting in front of a Lutheran Church, I couldn’t help but wonder about what transgression they were protesting. 

Did someone come to a potluck without a covered dish? Serve grape Kool Aid instead of sacramental wine? Leave lutefisk in the refrigerator too long? 

Since when do Lutherans upset anyone? 

Well, it seems that Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park has committed heresy. 

We’re not talking the kind of heresy that would have once gotten a person burned at the stake or fed to the lions.

No, it’s the sort a blasphemy that results in a 10-foot rat being inflated in front of your house of worship.

The orthodoxy of organized labor has been offended. 

According to Oak Park’s Wednesday Journal, last September, the church building was gutted by fire and it is now being rebuilt.

Good Shepherd Pastor Rev. Kathy Nolte told the Journal the congregation proactively chose union labor for the $3 million rehab, but discovered only recently that they would have to remove asbestos before embarking on the project.

Nolte said the rehab of the church was supposed to begin July 1, giving the church organizers little time to find a union company to remove the asbestos.

She checked with her insurance company and other churches for recommendations and ultimately chose a non-union company out of necessity.

The rat was inflated in front of the church by Laborers' International Union of North America Local 225, because $20,000, or 0.66 percent, of the $3 million project is going to non-union labor.

The First Amendment that gives the folks at Good Shepherd the right to worship also gives the union the right to protest. No one is arguing that.

But is this the smartest public-relations strategy on the part of the union?

One can’t help but wonder if instead of inflating a giant rat in a church’s front yard, if a smarter strategy might have been to drop by and talk to the congregation’s leaders about your concerns.

After all, the church wanted to use union labor.

I called Anthony Cantone, the president of the union, to hear his side of the story. But he didn’t call me back. 

While this is the first I’ve heard of a union picketing a place of worship, it is not the first time I’ve seen them behaving in such a way.

When I was 10, my family’s small business was picketed by a union. 

This happened despite my dad and his two partners hiring a union carpenter to put a second story on their veterinary clinic. 

It seems the carpenters were carrying their own boards. So, the laborers’ union picketed because they thought they should have been carrying them. 

Being a rather nosey child, I walked out in front of the clinic and asked the fellow picketing why he was there. He said, “Unfair labor practices, Kid.” 

I asked what was unfair? The fella wouldn’t make eye contact but did tell me to call the union hall. I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew why he was picketing. 

After all, orthodoxies often require blind obedience.

We all have experiences that shape our world view. That was one for me. My social studies teacher, Betty Pitman, would extoll the virtues of unions. But it occurred to me that day that maybe I wasn’t hearing the whole story at school. 

One can’t help but wonder if similar epiphanies occurred to congregants at Good Shepherd Lutheran as they watched the giant rat rise in the shadow of their steeple.   

SCOTT REEDER is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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