The National Labor Relations Board ruled that a union was illegally demonstrating a construction company in the Chicago area, but dismissed charges of the union’s use of banners and the giant inflatable rodent known as Scabby the Rat at other demonstrations.
The case against the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 was one of several that the Trump-era NLRB General Counsel had queued to ban Scabby. The board on Tuesday applied its July ruling affirming the right of unions to display banners or protest balloons in companies that do not employ workers from those unions.
The decision underscores Scabby’s safe place in workers protests, while also highlighting the limitation on the ability of unions to pressure employers to recognize them as workers’ representatives.
The case comes from Local 150’s print campaign against construction company Donegal Services LLC. Local 150 attempted to represent Donegal workers after the company refused to voluntarily join the union’s existing multi-employer collective bargaining agreement in late 2017.
The union protested at Donegal’s factory and introduced Scabby at protests against companies that have business ties with the construction company, such as a limestone quarry and a landfill.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the NLRB said Local 150 violated federal labor law by picketing Donegal for more than the permitted amount of time. A union can only call on an employer for 30 days if it has not submitted an application for recognition and wants to force that company to recognize the union as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the workers.
However, the board rejected allegations related to the union’s protests at the other companies.
Local 150 General Counsel Dale Pierson said the ruling was important by clarifying that the use of banners and inflatable protest symbols was protected by the First Amendment and the National Labor Relations Act. The decision marks the third time since July that the board has approved Local 150’s use of Scabby.
Donegal’s attorney Scott Gore of Laner Muchin Ltd. declined to comment, saying he did not have a chance to read the verdict.
The case is International Association of Production Engineers, Local 150, NLRB, Case 13-CP-227526, Decision 28.09.21.