The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled the use of a 16-foot tall inflatable rat outside a hospital in Brandon does not violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), even though the hospital is not directly in conflict with the union.
The case arose out of a labor dispute between Massey Metals and Local 15 of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. Massey had a contract to install ventilation ducts for the Brandon Regional Medical Center. Massey and the union had a long-standing dispute over Massey’s use of nonunion workers supplied by Workers Temporary Staffing.
To pressure Massey into using union workers, the union set up a flatbed trailer on public property 100 feet from the hospital’s main entrance. Unions have long used rats as symbols for businesses that oppose organized labor.
The inflatable rat sat on the trailer with a sign reading “WTS” on its stomach. Union members distributed leaflets to those entering and leaving the hospital.
The rat remained for almost two months before the union took it down.
Two weeks later, the union returned and held a mock funeral outside the hospital to protest the use of nonunion workers. The hospital challenged both the rat and the funeral as illegal picketing, an unlawful, coercive measure under the NLRA.
The funeral case reached the NLRB first in 2006. The board ruled for the hospital stating that the coffin and costumed grim reaper outside the hospital constituted picketing and was coercive. The union appealed to the federal courts where the decision was overturned.
Having lost the funeral fight, the hospital moved on to the rat by asking the NLRB for an opinion.
Based on the precedent of the court’s finding that the funeral was not coercive, it felt an inflatable rat wasn’t either.