CHICAGO — Scabby the Rat could soon be facing extermination.
Scabby is a giant blow-up rat famous for being used by picketing union workers. But Peter Robb, the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, has been looking for a way to outlaw Scabby from being used in union demonstrations, according to a Bloomberg report.
Robb, who was nominated for his post by President Donald Trump, “hates the rat,” a board official told Bloomberg.
The Scabby balloon has become something of an icon in Chicago and is used by demonstrating workers throughout the city — and throughout the United States.
Scabby was first designed to be used by a suburban union in 1989. The balloons are made by Plainfield-based Big Sky Balloons, which makes other union blow-ups to draw attention to protests.
Big Sky Balloons could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Scabby balloon resembles a snarling rat sitting on its hind legs and usually has a scab-covered belly. Scabby comes in various sizes up to 25 feet tall and can be customized so the rat’s color is different or it’s holding a chunk of cheese.
The man behind the first Scabby, former union organizer Ken Lambert, told WBEZ he wanted Scabby to be a rat because rats are used to symbolize people who oppose unions.
“Scabby the Rat has almost become a staple of the picket lines, and that makes me proud,” Peggy O’Connor, the co-owner of Big Sky, told WBEZ. “I’ll be driving up and down Route 59 [in Plainfield] and see one of our Scabby the Rat balloons and I’m like, ‘OK, that balloon probably came from Plainfield, went to Massachusetts, maybe the east coast, and now it came back here.’ It’s kind of nice.”
The National Labor Relations Board has previously defended workers’ right to protest with Scabby. But Robb has been looking for a way to ban or curtail Scabby’s use at union demonstrations since last April, according to Bloomberg.
It’s not clear why Robb is targeting Scabby, though Bloomberg noted the “move fits [the] Trump administration’s deregulatory approach to business.”
In a post on Scabby’s Facebook page Tuesday (yes, Scabby has a Facebook page) the rat urged his many fans to fight for him:
“Scabby was born at Local 150 in November 1989,” the post reads. “We named him, we raised him, and we have defended his rights in federal court before. Across the country, judges have agreed that Scabby the Rat has First Amendment rights, so if the NLRB hopes to take them away, they’ll have to overturn a lot of established law.”
This wouldn’t be the first time someone has tried to deflate Scabby. An angry worker stabbed Scabby with a box cutter and then ran over the deflated rodent with his car in 2013 outside a Downtown building.
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