Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beware the Rat

Compliments of GSOC's historian-in-residence, Eric Robinson, and written by Mike Pollack of the Times' FYI column:
The Meaning of Rats

Q. I've seen the giant inflatable rat in front of nonunion work sites and hotels that are having labor disputes. Just what does a business have to do to merit the rat, and who decides?

A. Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79 says it introduced the rat to New York about 1997, borrowing the idea from Chicago unions. Since then, other unions have bought inflatable rally rats of varying sizes, and at any time there could be more than half a dozen rats humiliating employers around the city. While unions set their own standards, Local 79's system is probably typical.

A "rat contractor" is an old phrase in construction and can refer to an employer who is not providing proper safety equipment, benefits or wages, said Richard A. Weiss, communications director for Local 79. When the union gets a complaint, if the job site isn't one the union is already monitoring, the union research department checks it with the reports all contractors are required to file with the city. The actual decision to send out one of the gray, red-eyed, snarling rats is usually made by Local 79's market development department, Mr. Weiss said.

The Mason Tenders District Council, which oversees Local 79, owns seven rats, mostly from 12 to 15 feet high but including a monster 30-footer, which is often used for high-rise sites. "We've got a whole family of them," Mr. Weiss said. Other unions can request a visiting rat. During teacher contract negotiations several years ago, and during the short strike led by the musicians' union that kept most Broadway theaters dark for four days last March in a dispute over the size of the orchestras, "they called us in," he said.
UAW Local 2110 (to which GSOC belongs) has its very own rat, as I'm sure most of you have seen outside Bobst since our strike began:

(photo courtesy of drea.mers)

And who could forget Radio City Music Hall's inflatable cat in response to American Federation of Musicians Local 802's rat during their work action last November? After a 15-day strike, both the rat and the cat came down after Local 802 and RCMH management negotiated a settlement. Locking out their musicians? Shame on RCMH! Moral of the story (and I hope you're reading this, President Sexton): DON'T MESS WITH THE RAT.

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