WASHINGTON – The labor movement’s giant inflatable rat is legal, even at demonstrations in front of secondary employers, ruled the National Labor Relations Board May 26.

In a case involving Sheet Metal Workers Local 15 and Brandon Regional Medical Center – which hired below-wage non-union temps to build its addition years ago – the board voted 3-1 that using the rat on a flatbed truck parked in public more than 100 feet from the hospital entrances, is kosher, along with the leafleting of passing patients.

When the case first came up, the board ruled in 2006 that other parts of the union’s demonstration – including a skeleton and a coffin – were illegal.  The case wound up in court and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals first ruled the funeral was legal. It later said the rat was too and sent the case back down to the NLRB to finish the job.

“The determinative question as to whether union activity at a secondary site violates” labor law “is whether it constitutes intimidation or persuasion,” said the board. “Union protest activity that is merely persuasive is lawful even when the object of the activity is to induce the secondary to cease doing business with a primary employer,” in this case, the contractor that brought in the temp workers to help build the hospital addition.

“Protest whose impact on a secondary employer owes more to intimidation than persuasion” is not lawful, the board warned.  The rat, it said, is not intimidating.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.