If you’re a staffing agency that places non-union workers in construction or other traditionally union-oriented professions, your clients might one day find a giant rat 100 feet from their doors.
And that’s okay. Really, it is.
On May 26, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the use of a 16-foot inflatable rat during a union protest at a secondary employer site did not constitute threatening or coercive behavior and thus couldn’t be prosecuted under existing federal statutes that prohibit picketing.
This is a small victory for the union, in this case the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Local 15, AFL–CIO.
All of this began in 2003, when Brandon Medical Center chose Massey Metals, Inc., a sheet metal contractor, for a construction project at its site in Brandon, FL. Massey, in turn, used Workers Temporary Staffing (WTS), who provided non-union labor workers.
Union members believed that the wages and benefits paid to the workers was “below the standard of the area” and quickly showed up at the hospital with the rat colossi on a flatbed truck and a message: “there’s a rat contractor here.”
It took nearly eight years of legal wrangling, but finally we know: inflatable rats, as long as they don’t attack you or try to stop you from doing normal daily business, are protected by the First Amendment. They’re a public service announcement.
“Neither [the union leafletter] nor the rat balloon attendants moved, shouted, impeded access, or otherwise interfered with the hospital’s operations. The rat balloon itself was symbolic speech,” the Board said.
This is also an indisputable victory for inflatable rats everywhere. “Our rats have been seen from the front page of the Wall Street Journal to the New Yorker Magazine,” says the website for Big Sky Balloons & Searchlights in Chicago, who designed the first union rat balloon in 1990.
This particular rat is named "Scabby the Rat."
Some of these inflatable rats could certainly frighten small children. But the NLRB ruling is sending scary signals through the ranks of big business. As illustrated by a pending case against Boeing, some see the current Board as a decidedly pro-union threat.
What do you think? Is your staffing firm operating in union-friendly industries? What’s your plan for large rats?