The National Labor Relations Board grants a reprieve to inflatable rats.
It turns out that inflatable rodents can be as unstoppable as their living, breathing cousins.
On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that unions can position large synthetic props like rats, often used to communicate their dissatisfaction with employment practices, near a job site, even when the targeted company isn’t. is not directly involved in a labor dispute.
Although the picketing of companies that deal with employers involved in labor disputes – known as a secondary boycott – is illegal under labor law, the board ruled that the use of oversized rats, which are usually described as menacing creatures with red eyes and fangs, is not a stake but an effort allowed to persuade passers-by.
Union officials posted the rat in question, a 12-foot-tall specimen, near the entrance to a trade show in Elkhart, Indiana, in 2018, along with two banners. A banner accused a company that presented products there, Lippert Components, of “harboring rat contractors”, that is, of doing business with contractors who did not use human resources. union work.
Lippert argued that the use of the rat was illegal coercion because the creature was threatening and was intended to discourage people from entering the living room. But the council felt the rat was a protected form of expression.
“Courts have always considered banners and inflatable rats to be the realm of protected speech, rather than intimidation and the like,” the ruling said.
The rise of rodents, often known as “Scabby the Rat,” dates back to the early 1990s, when an Illinois-based company began making them for local unions with the intention of attracting attention to what they considered to be questionable practices, such as the use of non-unionized labor. The company then started making other inflatable totems, like big cats and greedy pigs, for the same purpose.
The labor relations board had already blessed the rats in a 2011 decision. But seven years later, its general counsel, Peter B. Robb, sought to reopen the debate.
Mr Robb, a person appointed by Trump, issued an internal memo in 2018 claiming that erecting a rat near an employer who was not directly involved in a labor dispute amounted to “unlawful coercion” – an attempt disrupt the activities of a neutral party. His office then intervened on behalf of companies in a handful of cases in which companies have sought to prevent unions from deploying large inflatable gear near their facilities.
One of those cases was dismissed, while a successor to Mr. Robb sought to dismiss another. (A judge has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss this case.)
In the case brought by Lippert, an administrative judge ruled against the company in 2019, arguing that the rat did not amount to a picket line or illegal coercion.
The judge noted that the rat and the banners, which were erected by members of a local branch of the International Union of Operating Engineers, were stationary and did not create a confrontation with passers-by. There is no indication that the two union representatives present marched in front of the show or prevented people from entering, the judge wrote. They just seemed to be sitting next to the rat.
The company appealed to the Washington Labor Council, which last fall solicited public comment on whether to change or reverse the previous one.
But board chair Lauren McFerran, a Democrat nominee, concluded the precedent necessitated dismissing the complaint. Two Republican nominees have said they viewed the precedent as flawed, but the bouncy rat ban would violate the First Amendment.
Only one Republican candidate, William J. Emanuel, argued that the previous one should be overturned.
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