The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that a union illegally staged a picket line against a Chicago-area construction company, but dismissed charges related to the union’s use of banners and the giant inflatable rodent known as Scabby the Rat’s name at other events.
The case against the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 was one of many that the Trump-era NLRB general counsel had queued up in his unsuccessful quest to get Scabby banned. The board on Tuesday implemented its July decision which asserted the right of unions to display protest banners or balloons in companies that do not employ union workers.
The decision underlines Scabby’s safe place in union protests while highlighting a limitation in the ability of unions to pressure employers to recognize them as representatives of the workers’ bargaining.
The case stems from Local 150’s lobbying campaign on construction company Donegal Services LLC. Local 150 sought to represent workers in Donegal after the company refused to voluntarily join the union’s existing multi-employer collective agreement in late 2017.
The union picketed the Donegal office and featured Scabby in protests against businesses with commercial ties to the construction company, such as a limestone quarry and landfill.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the NLRB said Local 150 violated federal labor law by picketing in Donegal for more than the length of time allowed. A union can pick up an employer only for 30 days if it has not filed for recognition and aims to force that company to recognize the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for workers.
But the board dismissed claims related to the union’s protests against other companies.
Local 150 General Counsel Dale Pierson said the ruling is significant by clarifying that the use of inflatable protest banners and symbols are protected under the First Amendment and National Labor Relations Act. The decision marks the third time since July that the board has approved the use of Scabby by Local 150.
Donegal’s attorney Scott Gore of Laner Muchin Ltd. declined to comment, saying he hasn’t had a chance to read the decision.
The case is International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, NLRB, case 13-CP-227526, decision 9/28/21.