On July 21st, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a 3-1 decision dismissing the Lippert Components lawsuit that sought to limit unions’ use of “Scabby the Rat” and other inflatable figures in labor disputes.
The case began over the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150’s use of an inflatable rat to protest Lippert’s Components at the entrance of a trade show in September 2018. An NLRB administrative law judge dismissed the case in 2019, but former NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb intervened, believing that the use of inflatable rats is unlawfully coercive and that NLRB and court precedent should be overturned to restrict their use. Robb, appointed by former President Trump, initiated and revived several lawsuits against unions who had used inflatable rats in strikes and public demonstrations.
In and out of government for over forty years, Robb has advanced anti-union and pro-corporate causes. He litigated against the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association, whose members were fired by Reagan when they went on strike over safety issues in 1981. The first shot of big business and the GOP's ongoing attack on collective bargaining, the mass discharge normalized corporations hiring permanent replacement workers in cases of strikes and signaled the beginning of attacks on Unions that continue to this day.
The NLRB decision upheld Scabby’s longstanding free speech protection, stating that Lippert’s opinion that the display was “embarrassing does not outweigh the First Amendment rights of the union.” Over the past twenty years, federal courts and the NLRB have found that inflatable rats are protected free speech covered by the First Amendment.
“We are pleased with this decision, and have believed since the outset that Scabby’s rights would be affirmed, as they have been time and time again for 20 years,” said James M. Sweeney, President-Business Manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. “An attack on Scabby the Rat is an attack on workers’ right to free speech, and we must all stand united against such attacks. The use of these rats draws public attention to employers’ crimes and mistreatment of their employees, and so it is no surprise that powerful interests would want to ban their use, but we will never stop fighting to protect workers’ voices – or Scabby’s.”