Building season is upon us, and along with the warm weather and construction equipment comes the return of rats.
Not the kind you find skittering between garbage cans in an alley, but the 10-foot-tall inflatable type that pop up in front of construction sites where work by non-union labor is taking place.
The most recent inflatable rat in Oak Park appeared in front of an unlikely building – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 611 Randolph St., which is rebuilding after a fire last September.
The rat, courtesy of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 225, aims to shine a light on a small portion of the $3 million-plus rehab project not using union labor. That part of the project is a $20,000 contract for asbestos removal before construction can begin.
Union representatives did not return phone calls requesting an interview.
The issue was elevated by Oak Parker and U.S. Congressional candidate Anthony Clark, who is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th), when he posted a photo of the rat in front of the church, along with a message, on social media.
Clark posted the image on Facebook – both on his Suburban Unity Alliance page and on the Northeast Oak Park Community Group page – saying the topic was an “interesting and important conversation to have.”
“In my opinion if a choice exists between hiring union & non-union, always go with union as union workers are paid better wages, are protected from arbitrary termination, have better working conditions, & are held to greater accountable. What are your thoughts?” Clark wrote.
Good Shepherd Pastor Rev. Kathy Nolte said she learned of the social media posts from a text message someone sent her.
“I was surprised it was on Facebook,” she said.
Nolte said she was not contacted by Clark prior to learning about the online conversation and photo.
She said the congregation proactively chose union labor for the multi-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 her and 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, Nolte said.
“If we don’t start by July, we’re [not going to finish] by Christmas,” she said.
Along with the asbestos removal, the church must repair electricity throughout the building, portions of the roof, and smoke and fire damage done throughout the structure.
“It’s rebuilding the entire interior of the church,” Nolte said.
For all the other work planned for the church, Nolte said the Good Shepherd only interviewed and hired union labor.
Clark said in a telephone interview that he posted the photo online because it is “an important conversation to have.”
Asked if he contacted the church to find out more about the union protest, Clark said: “No. It’s not necessary to do so. Online is a public forum.”
He noted that it was “not my call to say using an inflatable rat is cool or not cool or acceptable.”
Clark later added that placing an inflatable rat in front of the church is not the approach he would have taken. He emphasized that he “didn’t attack the church or say the church was wrong.”
“We have to have the tough conversations; I’m not in this community to make friends,” he said, adding that elected officials should be “rocking the boat.”
While the post remains on Suburban Unity Alliance’s Facebook page, it was removed from the Northeast Oak Park Community Group page, which is moderated by Oak Park Village Trustee Deno Andrews.
Andrews said in a telephone interview that he pulled the post because it violates the group’s first rule: Be kind.
“Many group members complained that they didn’t both like the union and [Clark] publicly shaming the church for not using union labor,” he said. “Good Shepherd Lutheran is a beloved community organization and church, and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to have a picture of the union publicly shaming them for having one small part of their project using non-union labor. It’s just not a neighborly thing to do.”
Andrews said he created the Facebook group prior to being elected to the board of trustees and that it was not intended to be a political page.
Business recommendations, lost pets, public safety and other issues are more appropriate for his Facebook page, Andrews said.