They’re a frequent feature of city life, especially in New York and other East Coast cities in the United States, as well as Chicago. When a large construction project is in progress, and the project has used nonunion labor, labor unions will often appear with a giant inflatable rat in order to draw attention to and discourage the use of such labor.
The rat is known as “Scabby the Rat.” But forces inside the Trump administration are pushing to make Scabby a thing of the past.
According to a Bloomberg report Tuesday, the current general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Robb, is pushing to get the rat banned from labor protests.
“GC hates the rat,” a source for the Bloomberg story said of the general counsel. Robb is looking for a case in order to make it illegal for protesters to use Scabby in their protests and has been since early last year, according to the report.
However, on various occasions in which companies have sued over such protests, courts over the years have always found that use of the rat is protected speech under the First Amendment.
The use of Scabby dates back to 1989 when the International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 150, based in Rockford, Illinois, used the rat and even held a “name the rat” contest, with “Scabby” emerging as the winner. However, the official Scabby Twitter account dates the rat’s origin to Chicago, in 1990. A company called Big Sky Balloons, based in Illinois, makes the rats and sells 100 to 200 of them a year in various sizes, per a Mental Floss history.
Robb, prior to his time in the Trump administration, was an attorney who represented, among other clients, “a large employer association in the elevator industry.”
EXCLUSIVE: The National Labor Relations Board's top prosecutor Peter Robb wants to exterminate Scabby the Rat, a well-recognized labor protest icon.https://t.co/fmVQt8nLRQ
— Hassan Ali Kanu (@hassankanu) January 22, 2019
The case could end up in the Supreme Court, and a labor expert told Bloomberg that a ruling could conceivably enshrine larger free speech provisions for labor actions, as opposed to fewer. During the Obama administration, the NLRB took positions in favor of broad First Amendment protections for labor protests.
Scabby is not to be confused with “Trumpy the Rat,” a 15-foot-tall inflated amalgamation of President Trump and a rat that has often been seen at protest marches during the Trump presidency, per AMNY.
The president, in his days in construction and real estate, was known to use nonunion labor, per the AFL-CIO, although it’s unclear if Scabby was ever used in any protests against Trump construction projects.