Union targets church rebuilding after fire

Good Shepherd Lutheran dinged by labor group over asbestos contractor

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

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.


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Reader Comments

31 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

KL Whittaker from Not Oak Parker  

Posted: June 20th, 2019 8:31 AM

Union thuggery

Chris Hanson  

Posted: June 18th, 2019 6:03 PM

I'm just shocked that a current HS teacher and congressional candidate could post a comment here (assuming that is the real Anthony Clark in this message board) so full of spelling errors. Not even spell check could help him! He'll fit in just fine in Springfield or Washington....

Al Rossell  

Posted: June 17th, 2019 5:13 PM

ok so $20,000 to non union and $3 million to union. Give me a break here. Seems to me the union is getting pretty hard up in this instance. I am sure the union workers/members are fine and talented but I often question the leadership and their motives. I bet if they hired non-union for the entire job they would have saved some money but the church choose to go the route of social justice. Shame on Mr. Clark and Union leadership.

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: June 17th, 2019 4:48 PM

As Good Shepherd clearly prefers to use union workers, it makes one wonder who was the roofing contractor that started the blaze to begin with, and why the roofer's own bonding doesn't cover the rebuild?

Jack Davidson  

Posted: June 17th, 2019 2:07 PM

I also agree the shaming strategy is getting old. When a "conversation topic" is started and questions are asked or clarifications are sought, generally the reaction involves a judgement, a categorization, and finally a dismissal. The community is fatigued by this approach, many feel like it's not worth their energy to comment or question in fear of the backlash, and others have withdrawn from the groups that promote this behavior all together. In my opinion, this strategy is outdated and a fresh, inclusive, positive, and thought-provoking social justice and racial equity strategy would be much more effective. But, alas, we all know the answer to that one, so round and round we go.

Kenneth Wahlstrom from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2019 9:17 AM

How could anyone consider voting for someone, i.e. Anthony Clark, who does not even check facts before acting? And, shame on Local 225. Why didn't they offer up some union contractors for consideration?

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2019 8:56 AM

The article highlights tactics of SJWs (social justice warriors) to promote their agenda. ONE. Intensive use of social media. A win here with a Facebook post driving news media attention. TWO. Using social media to blow issues out of proportion. Here, something like 0.7% of the budget becomes a huge issue. THREE. Shaming. No problem to aim at solid middle-class institutions. We also saw it in the recent election, and it will continue.

Nick Polido  

Posted: June 17th, 2019 8:43 AM

Why does this paper gives a forum to Anthony Clark and ShaRhonda Knott Dawson . These two self promoters offer nothing to this community. Sharonda, this papers race baiting columnist and Mr. Clark, activist, congressional candidate, OPRF teacher who has a habit of getting suspended from the high-school for bad choices. This paper can choose what columnist to have but my question is why Mr. Clark is still employed at our High School with our tax dollars?

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 9:15 PM

Tim, This is one of the laziest and lamest piece of "journalism" I have ever seen. Reporting on online drama of a local Facebook group?//Seriously?// Nick Binotti's comment is far more journalistic and newsworthy than what you are reporting on.// In the same issue, you have a "news" story based on a blog.//A blog? Really?// And last week you used an inaccurate Facebook post of someone as a source, without fact-checking.// You can do better. And your readers deserve better.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 7:58 PM

Three things: The church is apparently using 99.3 percent union labor, so, give me a break, Local 225. Two, the village is permitting and inspecting this whole process, so Clark's concerns there are specious on their face. And finally, if Anthony Clark truly believes discussing this issue is such "an important conversation to have," he could start one by simply contacting the church and expressing his concerns, rather than, as is his practice, spouting off on social media.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 4:07 PM

Nick Binotti - and Labors Local 225 was investigated for mob corruption in the late 1990s and its head Anthony Cantone makes over $200,000 a year. Also, the Local has less than 2000 members.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 2:52 PM

Having a conversation about the diversity statement wording was a big NO NO for the trustees, but now having a conversation about a local politician trying real hard to embarrass a local church is ok? Pick a lane please.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 2:03 PM

Last year, LiUNA Chicago Laborers District Council, one middle-management level in a vast web of LiUNA's district and regional councils that would make a Koch brother's head spin, donated $1.5 million to Mike Madigan 's campaign. It was one of the largest single contributions ever made in Illinois politics by a PAC not named Rauner or Pritzker. In other words, in one flick of a pen, LiUNA spent half of what this tiny non-profit church spent for their entire project on one of the most morally bankrupt politicians in our state's history. Did I forget to mention this regional council also has ZERO WOMEN in leadership roles? If this were Wal-Mart, there'd be people out front in their Handmaid's Tale cosplay posing for pictures, but since this is just a poor union sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, we'll give them a "boys will be boys" pass.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 1:30 PM

Being from a family of three generations of members of Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130 UA, growing up in our house, we were all raised to respect the positive work of unions. But seeing this picture of the Laborers Local 225 putting a rat in front of a place of worship takes the cake. Even if you are a non-believer, Lutherans rank as some of the best people on the planet, honest, hardworking, upright citizens...good people. Why would anyone want to harass a small congregation that just had a fire? I suggest that at their next meeting, Laborers Local 225, hand out copies of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie because this attempt to influence by them was a big fail! They come off as bullies and need some new 'branding' beside the image of them being associated with a blow up of a rat.

Ruth Lazarus  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 11:58 AM

I'm puzzled by all the pushback against "having a conversation." Maybe the church did it's due diligence and has evidence that the company it hired to do the work will be strictly following any rules regarding asbestos removal. That would be great. I wouldn't even fault the church if they didn't know much about this issue, and just did what they thought was the best way to address their situation, which is a difficult one. I really don't feel like I know what happened here, but I do know the conversation seems worth having, and I don't understand all the negativity directed at Mr. Clark. All of you who are so certain that all asbestos removal companies operate without endangering the lives of their workers should do a quick google search on this issue and see that there may be, in fact, reason for concern here. I'm not crazy about the inflatable rat either, but it's there, and I'm not sure the church's only possible reaction is to feel "shamed". They could decide to say "thank you" to the union for raising a legitimate concern, look into the matter further, and perhaps put everyone's mind at ease. We should all want the same thing here, right?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 16th, 2019 10:15 AM

and worse, why isn't our neighborhood social conscience bearer, Clark, speaking out by the racial and gender inequality of the union board? And why does the village or Oak Park Police allow posting of signs and inflated objects on the inflated parkway?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 15th, 2019 9:38 PM

Nick the answer to your query is best expressed in the Wizard of Oz. Recall, when the wizard is exposed as a mere mortal but Dorothy is commanded to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 15th, 2019 8:59 PM

How does the fact that none of the leaders of LIUNA Local 225 are women, let alone women of color, align with our Diversity Statement?

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 15th, 2019 4:55 PM

One would think the union might recognize a bad PR move and not want to make a big deal here. Not sure a church is the best place to go after especially with your giant rat doll. They also had nothing to do with who was picked for this work. That's why they have a GC. They don't want to manage each subcontractor. As people have noted this is also just a small piece of the total amount of work. Anthony Clark's comments are silly as there's no reason to believe a non union shop is any less skilled or capable. That's insulting to the many great craftspeople that aren't in a union. As far as the comments about Clark "brainwashing" children and being unfit to teach those are equally ridiculous comments. These aren't little kids and they have parents and other adults to help guide them. Clark isn't going to do any harm and if he shares his views the kids can make up their own minds.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 15th, 2019 4:17 PM

WJ posting policy? A invited editor to the WJ just described someone as "the spawn of Satan" What policy?

Jim Major  

Posted: June 15th, 2019 10:11 AM

Wow I didn't realize people were allowed to be so nasty here . Give an opinion but please follow the guidelines in the WJ Posting Policy.

Colin Taylor  

Posted: June 15th, 2019 10:10 AM

As a pro-union person myself, I think it's pretty bad optics for the union to go after the church on this. It's a tiny piece of the overall work, and the union will lose more in goodwill than it will gain. As for Mr. Clark, he's a valuable member of the community, but a pretty poor politician. "I'm not in this community to make friends" is some genius-level bad communication strategy.

Ken Hayes  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 10:17 PM

Amen Ramona. Anthony Clark, Let's see some real data to back up your completely biased comments below. How much money have the unions donated to your election campaigns? What public office are you trying to run for this month? Being a parent of some OPRF students, I'd rather you not be brainwashing our kids in the school but I guess that's better than you representing me in public office.

Ken Hayes from Oak Park  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 10:09 PM

When the union pays for the work, they can decide who does the work. Until then, get that P.O.S. rat and all your freeloading butts off the church's lawn. Mr. Clark, it's time for you to go too. Since when did you become an expert in asbestos removal?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 9:53 PM

"Clark said in a telephone interview that he posted the photo online because it is "an important conversation to have." Mr. Clark doesn't want a conversation. he wants to lecture everyone with his SJW agenda. If he really wanted to have a "tough conversation", then he would have personally spoken to Rev. Nolte. Instead, he has to grandstand and act like he's an expert on asbestos removal. The fact that my tax dollars pay his $100k plus salary at OPRF to brainwash kids makes me sick to my stomach. Mr. Clark has no real interest in tough conversations, dialogues, etc. his only interest is power and he will spread his propaganda by any means in order to obtain it.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 9:05 PM

There are some pretty stringent State as well as Federal regulations regarding asbestos removal Mr. Clark would have us believe that these regulations don't apply to non union contractors. And if they do, will not be followed.I am not sure what evidence he cans site to support his speculation, but if there is such evidence then by all means cite it ... please.

Mikhail Ivanov  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 8:35 PM

Mr. Clark is always running for office. He is just demonstrating his Democratic Socialist bona fides and ensuring that the Labor money he will need later will be coming in. Why is anyone surprised by this? Go Anthony Go!

Bruce Shabino  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 7:07 PM

Anthony Clark - are you saying that the asbestos contractor that was hired is not following the regulations and putting everyone at risk? What proof do you have of this? Last I checked, asbestos abatement firms and each individual employee must be licensed with the state - whether or not you are union. To say this firm is endangering the workers simply because they are not part of a union is completely wrong.

Anthony Clark  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 6:02 PM

Asbestos removal is such a serious to job, it has to be union. Companies often contract out dangerous jobs to non-union contractors to save money which leads to exploitation of labor. No matter the percentage, workers were exposed to the dangers of asbestos through non union labor! Taking proper precuations to protect these workers cost money. Only Unions take the nessary precuations and spend the money it takes to take care of and protect workers from workplace danger.%uFFFD Furtermore, non-union aspestos removal will specifically hire imigrants and minorities and expose them to dangerous situations beacuse it is easier for to exploit these groups and get away with it. They prey on workers who have the least protection in society.%uFFFD These are conversations that must be had no matter who the labor is for.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 5:44 PM

Clark is apparently pretty desperate for attention.

Martin A. Berg from Oak Park  

Posted: June 14th, 2019 4:33 PM

Although I'm a union member myself, I find a distressing lack of proportionality (and a distressing abundance of opportunism) in this protest and its followup. The church made sure it was hiring union for the main project, and the asbestos issue came up late in the process. Mr. Clark has certainly shown his cowardly colors in claiming that posting his objections online was sufficient; he could have made a call. Judging from what Pastor Nolte said, the church didn't have much choice in choosing a contractor for this TINY part of the project. Shame on Local 225 and Anthony Clark for their bald-faced opportunism. This wasn't the circumstance in which to make you point.

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