Two Ohio pastors who helped lead an effort in that state to bring back collective bargaining for public employees told a Madison audience Tuesday the campaign would have failed without a partnership between unions and faith leaders.
The collaboration was essential but not easy, said the Rev. Michael Harrison Sr., pastor of Union Baptist Church in Youngstown.
"You have to understand very clearly that in order for us to do what we needed to do, we had to get past our differences, we had to get past our mistrusts of one another," he said.
Harrison and the Rev. Troy Jackson, senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, spoke to about 100 clergy members and labor advocates at the annual meeting of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. The gathering was at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave.
Last November, Ohio voters overturned a state law limiting collective bargaining for public employees. The vote was 61 percent to 39 percent.
Tuesday's meeting coincided with the one-year anniversary of the first large-scale rally at Wisconsin's State Capitol over similar legislation proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Legislature. Possible recall elections are pending against Walker and other Republicans.
Both Ohio pastors said their participation in the Ohio ballot initiative meant overcoming history and stereotypes. Harrison, 55, who is black, said the black community "wasn't really keen" on linking with unions due to perceived past slights. Yet, "one way or another, you have to bring yourself together to protect your community," he told the group.
Jackson, 43, faith outreach director for the "We Are Ohio" campaign, said he had to get past the idea that white evangelicals such as himself are either aligned with conservative causes or apolitical.
By remaining silent, "we have in essence said, 'God is too small to speak into our political conversation and political arenas.' What we are in essence saying is, 'I'm fine with having Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann do the (civic) formation of the people in my congregation.' I think that's an abdication of our responsibility."
He urged unions to identify religious people among their ranks and train them to talk about their work life in a way that resonates with other people of faith.
After the breakfast meeting, several dozen attendees marched to the Capitol and delivered about 250 valentines to Walker's office reading, "As a person of faith, I (heart) Wisconsin workers."