A visit to Chicago, New York or any union-strong metropolis during the holiday season is a truly special, magical experience filled with yuletide joy. Huge, ambient Christmas trees, outdoor ice-skating, phenomenal performances of The Nutcracker ballet, giant inflatable rats as tall as King Kong calling out corporate grinches; they are all quite something to behold. Unfortunately, one of those traditions might be under threat by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
A little over a year ago the NLRB considered a rule that would have restricted the use of “Scabby the Rat” and other inflatable mascots at picket lines, considering a suit arguing that inviting Scabby and his friends to a picket line amounted to an unlawful “secondary boycott” under the National Labor Relations Act (the rule could also potentially cover certain banners and signs). Fortunately, the First Amendment rights of labor unions to use these mascots was protected by a ruling from Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kimberly Sorg-Graves in a case between the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and a company called Maglish Plumbing, Heating & Electric, LLC. Graves ruled that the mascot did not amount to a secondary boycott and dismissed the case.
The story should end there, but unfortunately it doesn’t. The NLRB announced an order in October that it was soliciting briefs from interested parties on ALJ Graves’ ruling, which follows precedent set by two Obama-era NLRB decisions, Carpenters Local 1506 (Eliason & Knuth of Arizona) and Sheet Metal Workers Local 15 (Brandon Regional Medical Center). The labor board is accepting briefs on the issue through December, with the deadline for response briefs from the public set at January 11, 2021.
The efforts to overturn this NLRB precedent go far beyond inflatable mascots – it’s a corporate-sponsored effort to hide exploitation, rapacity and injustice of bad employers by muzzling the workers that they abuse. It’s not about taking away balloons, it’s about taking away leverage at the bargaining table – leverage that labor unions need to negotiate the contracts that their members deserve. The attack on this precedent is attack on the fundamental rights of not just American workers, but American citizens and the NLRB needs to recognize it as such.