In the first church I served as Pastor, there was a man named Keith who held a prominent leadership position in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He was the first person I’d ever met who worked for organized labor. He was smart, genial, soft-spoken, and exceedingly humble. And true to every stereotype, he and his spouse, Sandra, were deeply committed (and connected) to the Democratic Party. When Keith retired, his party included speeches by Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. My spouse and I were invited to that party and seated up front with those Democrats, because Keith and Sandra were very generous to us.
I wasn’t raised to think one way or another about the cause of Labor. For 35 years, my dad worked for a company notorious for busting up unions, but I never heard my parents talk about that. They mostly swam in conservative evangelical political waters, and so I imbibed more antipathy about unions than I did enthusiasm. But the people who I heard speaking about Keith at his retirement told stories of him supporting and defending and showering their generosity upon people who reminded me a lot of my parents: young workers without college educations subject to the demands of big companies to make a living. That evening changed my impression about organized labor and the people who belong to it.
Personal experience has a huge impact on how we think and feel about things like labor unions. If nobody in your family has ever been in one, they’re an abstraction, like they were for me before I was Keith’s pastor. Now, every Labor Day, he’s the person I find myself thinking about.