If you’ve seen a giant, buck-toothed, bloodshot inflatable rat around the streets of New York, you’ve seen a labor fight in action. Scabby the Rat, an anti-management, anti-strikebreaker mascot of picket lines across the country, has been around for almost 30 years — but Peter Robb, Trump’s National Labor Relations Board General Counsel, apparently wants to hire an exterminator.
“GC hates the rat,” an NLRB official told Bloomberg Law under the condition that they remain anonymous. “[He] wants to find it unlawful to picket, strike or handbill with the rat present.”
Though there’s no “official” Scabby design, the look has stayed more or less the same since the first inflatable rat was designed in 1990 by Illinois union organizers Ken Lambert and Don Newton.
“The wanted a mean, ghastly looking kind of rat,” Peggy O’Connor, who runs the company that produced the first balloon, told Vice.
Since then, it has towered over picket lines and outside businesses as union protests. And according to the Trump NRLB’s reaction to it, it’s working as intended.
“It’s one of those meddlesome things that all management lawyers really hate,” pro-business attorney Marshall Babson told Bloomberg Law.
At the moment, Robb is reviving old legal complaints against unions using the rat balloon, despite the fact that there is already legal precedent allowing Scabby to be used in protests and picket lines. Even so, Trump’s NLRB argues that using an inflatable rat balloon counts as “coercive” behavior against outside businesses, something unions aren’t permitted to do.
“Even if this conduct was not tantamount to picketing, it was nevertheless unlawfully coercive and not shielded by the First Amendment because the union was engaged in labor and/or commercial speech, both of which are entitled to lesser constitutional protection,” argue pro-business attorneys in the case at hand.
Though Trump has appointed a number of conservative judges to federal positions throughout the country, including the Supreme Court, labor activists and lawyers aren’t concerned for Scabby’s safety.
“I think they’d be dead on First Amendment grounds,” David Rosenfeld, a labor attorney, told Bloomberg. “The fight there lately has been about using the First Amendment to reduce regulations on the ground that they impact speech — and labor can weaponize it to the same extent.”
A federal judge in Illinois is currently considering the anti-Scabby motion filed by the National Labor Relations Board, on behalf of construction firms Donegal Services and Ross Builders, who were being picketed by the International Union of Operating Engineers.