Philly case could determine if inflatable rat is legal

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The giant inflatable rats, which construction unions deploy at non-union work sites, are in the cross hairs of the National Labor Relations Board. A recent Philadelphia case could decide whether they’re protected by the first amendment, or cross the line into prohibited behavior.

The case involves four days of IBEW Local 98 union protests at the Parker Spruce Hotel, last June, when it reopened after renovations done with non-union labor.

Attorney Wally Zimolong represents the owner in a complaint with the NLRB.

“There was an inflatable rat, in fact there were two inflatable rats, one of which was directly next to the entrance of a hotel, it was confrontational to guests,” he said.

He says there was also a bullhorn, and other activity which added up to a violation of rules against threatening, coercing or restraining commerce.

An administrative law judge disagreed, but the NLRB’s general counsel is siding with the owner in an appeal.

That prompts hopes, or fears, depending on which side you’re on, that the board might ban the balloons, despite decades of finding they’re protected by the first amendment.

“It’s certainly exciting to be involved in a case with obviously national implications,” Zimolong said.

The electricians union recently fired back. In a brief, it says the general counsel paints a ridiculous picture of balloon rats as terrifying. “These are only ordinary inflatable balloons,” it says.

The brief also compares them to the type of balloons that you would see at holiday parades and children’s birthday parties.

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