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Saturday, July 31, 2021

‘Scabby the Rat Is a Really Big Cheese’

Biden-appointed NLRB rules can use giant inflatable rate at protests


Here's Scabby on the picket line during the 2013 strike at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Westerly Hospital's owner at the time. Photo by Will Collette

President Joe Biden can start saying, “I’m the guy who saved Scabby The Rat,” now that the National Labor Relations Board  has shot down right-wing efforts to permanently deflate one of organized labor’s most valuable tools. 

On Wednesday, the NLRB — led by Biden-appointed Lauren McFerran — issued a 3-1 decision upholding the right of unions to deploy the large balloon in ongoing labor disputes.

Biden fired former NLRB head Peter Robb on his first day in office and subsequently replaced him with McFerran. Robb, the infamous union-busting lawyer who helped President Ronald Reagan crush the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981, was a Donald Trump darling who had long harbored a deep-seated hatred toward Scabby The Rat. Robb was itching to eradicate him as soon as possible.

With Robb at the NLRB’s helm, emboldened anti-worker business owners around the country soon stepped up their efforts to keep Scabby the Rat caged and far away from their doorsteps. 

Scabby references the word scab,  a derogatory name for a  strike-breaker.

In 2019, the owners of a ShopRite supermarket being constructed on Staten Island in New York City, tried to block Laborers Local 79 from using Scabby the Rat to challenge the use of nonunion labor.

The Robb-led NLRB then moved to stop Local 79’s use of the garish balloon. But days before July 4 celebrations, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled against the supermarket. The  owner’s beef didn’t “outweigh the First Amendment implications of restricting a union’s ability to publicize labor conflicts—nor do they justify adopting a ‘novel and unprecedented’ application of the statute.”

Hundreds of trade unionists packed the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street that summer — site of George Washington’s inauguration as first president of the United States. They denounced the NLRB’s actions as not only an attack on labor, but a brazen assault on the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

“The one thing we have to defend ourselves is free speech,” Local 79 organizer Bernard Callegari told fellow trade unionists. “They want us to be quiet while they steamroll over our families —I don’t know about you, but you’re not gonna shut me up.”

Fellow Local 79 organizer Chaz Rynkiewicz reminded his union brothers and sisters that Trump was responsible for Robb’s ascension to the NLRB. 

“Trump can give a good speech [about how] he wants to help the workers in America — but then he went out of his way, looked long and hard to find an anti-union lawyer.

“This guy made millions of dollars breaking unions, and then Donald Trump appoints him the head of the NLRB.”

William J. Emanuel, another Trump appointee whose NLRB tenure ends Aug. 27, was the only member to vote against “Scabby The Rat” this week. 

Democrats will regain full control of the NLRB following the confirmation of two other Biden appointments — Gwynne Wilcox and David M. Prouty. 

Joe Maniscalco is a journalist and freelance writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in a variety of news outlets ranging from the to He's spent the last decade covering workplace justice issues, the American Labor Movement and steadfastly avoiding well-paid corporate media gigs.