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Are laws banning an inflatable rat during pickets unconstitutional?

February 18, 2015

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices Staff Writer

A large inflatable rat used by labor unions to protest companies’ actions has become a bit of a First Amendment lightning rod.

Scabby, as the rat is known, has been used since 1990 as a symbol of protest when labor unions are in the midst of a contract or labor dispute. Scabby was used when a union wanted to add extra flair to their pickets, and sometimes its presence irked local governments.

In Lawrence, N.J., the International Union Electrical Workers Local 269 inflated Scabby during a picket, which violated a town ordinance. The town prohibited the use of inflatable signs except for temporary signage to indicate a business’s grand opening. When the police told the union that it couldn’t use Scabby, it complied, paid a fine, then sued the town. The union said that its First Amendment right to political speech had been violated.

The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously agreed, ruling in 2009 that the town’s sign law was overly broad and violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The opinion of the court stated: “The goals of the Lawrence Township sign ordinance are to maintain an aesthetic environment, to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety, and to minimize the adverse effects of signs on property. Although those are salutary goals, they do not justify a content-based restriction of non-commercial speech.”

In 2011, Scabby came under fire again, this time by a Florida hospital that filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a government agency that rules on labor cases. The hospital said the inflatable rat violated federal labor laws that forbid unions from picketing or protesting in ways that could lead neutral parties to cease doing business with the companies. The hospital said the rat scared away patients.

The NLRB, though, found that Scabby, while intimidating, did not violate labor laws and that the rat could stay as long as it didn’t prevent people from entering the building. The majority opinion stated that “the balloon display did not involve any confrontational conduct, unlike picketing.” Nor was the display coercive in other ways, the majority found. It observed that the union agents did not move, shout, impede access, or otherwise interfere with the hospital’s operations.

Most recently, Scabby came before U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco in New York. Microtech Contracting was in the midst of a contract dispute with the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York and the Asbestos, Lead, and Hazardous Waste Laborers’ Local 78, which had several members employed by Microtech. The company sued the union in federal court, saying that the union and the company had a no-strike contract and that by inflating Scabby as a form of protest, the union was violating the law.

Judge Bianco ruled in favor of the union and Scabby, saying that the union did not technically go on strike. The ruling said: “[T]he defendants’ peaceful use of a stationary, inflatable rat to publicize a labor protest is protected by the First Amendment.”

What do you think?

Do you agree with all three rulings regarding Scabby? Does a law forbidding all inflatable signs violate the First Amendment? Does Scabby’s presence during a picket violate labor laws by intimidating a business’s potential customers? Does the rat represent a strike action when a union has a no-strike clause? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Comments
9/18/2017
Sidney/ MT
Troy
Mr. Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
There are other ways to spread the message other than using an inflatable rat of all things. Yes, it would be a violation of the First Amendment given that it is considered free speech, but other ways of spreading the message could be used. It has been used since 1990 but times have changed and other tactics can be used to protest or picket.

3/16/2016
Stroudsburg, PA
Mark R
Mr Hanna/Stroudsburg
I think that all three rulings were in fact correct, as the use of the rat did not violate any laws that were constitutionally acceptable. The law that forbade all inflatable signs was deemed as a violation of the first amendment, and so I agree that scrappy should have been allowed to be used. Also, if people need to go to a hospital, an inflatable rat will not stop them from doing so if they need critical care. Their fear of dying would outweigh any fear of rats. Finally, I don't think that inflating a balloon and standing around would constitute a strike, something else would be needed.

3/15/2016
Stroudsburg, PA
Chase
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I feel that the ruling were all fair just because it is a form of peaceful protest. If they were using Scabby to get rid of customers, or attacking people with Scabby, then it's perfectly legitimate to take down Scabby. I say that the rat does represent a strike, however, and should not be used in a no strike clause. That would be saying they all should rebel and team with the rat.

3/14/2016
Stroudsburg, PA
Mark R
Mr Hanna/Stroudsburg
I think that all three rulings were in fact correct, as the use of the rat did not violate any laws that were constitutionally acceptable. The law that forbade all inflatable signs was deemed as a violation of the first amendment, and so I agree that scrappy should have been allowed to be used. Also, if people need to go to a hospital, an inflatable rat will not stop them from doing so if they need critical care. Their fear of dying would outweigh any fear of rats. Finally, I don't think that inflating a balloon and standing around would constitute a strike, something else would be needed.

12/4/2015
Watertown/Ma
Barry
Mr.Rimas/Watertown High School
I believe that it is unconstitutional for laws to ban an inflatable rat. These workers were just expressing that they were dissatisfied with whom they worked for. The first amendment allows people to have freedom of speech and to peacefully assemble. Scabby is just another tactic to show their opinion that everyone is entitled to share and they did so peacefully. Therefore it is unconstitutional for them to ban these workers form using the inflatable rat to protest.

11/23/2015
Sidney,MT
Sadie
Mr.Faulhaber/Sidney High School
No is not unconstitutional to use an inflatable rat named Scrabby to protest or picket. Scrabby has been used since 1990 with no problems until now. Why make a huge deal about it now years down the road? This protest complaints are invalid and do not work in this case because Scrabby is protected by the First Amendment. Which gives us and anyone freedom of speech and expression. Violates the right to that amendment, it may be intimidating in some peoples cases but for example gay rights just happened and people find that intimidating but again falls under First Amendment and is protected until they change that amendment if they do.

11/23/2015
Sidn
Chelsey
Mr.
I do agree with all three of the specific ruling. When an ordinance is in place for the safety of the public, I can understand when the protest is shut down. The right to protest is still available to all these cases, but without a blow up rat. They can still protest other ways. All inflatables to be banned would violate the First Amendment. This would ban something that voices positive opinion just as much as negative. If statistics have proven to affect a company's business, than no, the rat does not affect the potential customer outlook.

11/19/2015
Sidney, MT
Hunter Nice
Mr. Faulhaber
No it is not unconstitutional to use an inflatable rat to protest or picket. This inflatable rat has been used since 1990 so why are people making a big deal of it now? It is a peaceful nonviolent way to protest. Granted the inflatable rat might be intimidating, it is not unconstitutional for people to use it during a protest or picket. It all falls under the first amendments freedom of expression and speech.

11/19/2015
Sidney, MT
Kaitlyn
Mr. Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
I do not agree with the ruling regarding Scabby in the sense that the protesters signed a no-strike contract. However, a law against an inflatable sign has nothing to do with the First Amendment. A giant inflatable rat might intimidate potential customers, but, they are on strike and the intimidation factor does not count. When the union has a no-strike cause, the rat should not be used as it is associated with picketing. In the end of this discussion, I find that I agree with the ruling on Scabby.

6/7/2015
Stroudsburg
Harry
Mr. Hanna
Yes because it would be violating the picket groups freedom of speech rights.

6/5/2015
Stroudsburg, PA
Gabriel
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
It is not unconstitutional because the balloon is just another way for people who are on strike to express themselves about the company they used to work at. It is not violating any particular law and it doesn't spark any violence and riots. The balloon is not a very peaceful protest with arguing and fighting, but it does not spark any violence like riots or damage to company property. The rat balloon is also a other means of freedom of speech. If people on strike really dislike the company and really want to show how they feel about the company, let them. They want to express their full opinion and that's what really matters.

6/4/2015
stroudsburg, PA
Alexa
Mr.Hanna stroudsburg
It's not unconstitutional because its freedom of speech. It's also just a balloon. If they want to protest with a rat balloon they they should be able to. Being able to protect is a freedom of speech and should be allowed so inflating a rat balloon as long as there is no vilence should be allowed.

6/4/2015
Stroudsburg PA
Dylan
Mr.Hanna/stroudsburg jhs
They should be allowed to use inflatable sings should be allowed. They would be going agains freedom of speech if it is band . Also it won't lose that much busse unless that all beleaved them

6/4/2015
Stroudsburg/ PA
Kelsee Schouppe
Mr. Hanna/ SJHS
agree with the rulings, because the use of Scabby didn't actually violate any laws, it was just found to be a nuisance by some organizations. Yes, if the banning of inflatable signs would limit freedom of assembly, press, religion or speech. No, as long as Scabby wasn't harming any potential costumers or limiting access to a business' building. No, using an inflatable rat doesn't mean the union went on strike, only that they were calling attention to their protest.

5/21/2015
Washington/New Jersey
Anthony Ventriglia
Rokosny/Warren Hills
I agree with the rulings, because the use of Scabby didn't actually violate any laws, it was just found to be a nuisance by some organizations. Yes, if the banning of inflatable signs would limit freedom of assembly, press, religion or speech. No, as long as Scabby wasn't harming any potential costumers or limiting access to a business' building. No, using an inflatable rat doesn't mean the union went on strike, only that they were calling attention to their protest.

4/23/2015
Irving/Tx
Chellandria
Bradley/Nimitz
I agree with all three rulings due to Scabby, because the protest is protected in the first amendment. Any law that is forbidding all inflatable signs would violate the first amendment. I also believe that the customers should have the options if they're going to be regular customers due to the fact that the rat is intimidating doesn't violate any laws. As long as the customers can still enter the building it doesn't effect the protesters, so therefore, the rat doesn't represent a strike action.

4/22/2015
Irving/TX
Sophia
Bradley/Nimitz
Scabby The Rat seems like a great way to get the attention of the media and help the labor unions' cause. This tool can be and should be used by all labor protesters. The First Amendment is being violated by the Lawrence Township sign ordinance. The public should be allowed to use any signs as long as it doesn't endanger anyone in the protest or any bystanders. This tactic is only helping the strikers' with their cause by intimidating customers from the places they are striking, so no, scabby the rat isn't unconstitutional. The protesters are strategically using a tool to their advantage. The rat represents the protest of laborers, but not a total strike.

4/17/2015
Irving,TX
Hans
Bradley/Nimitz
While I personally object to most forms of obtrusive protest, the unions were still in the right, thus I do agree with the rulings. The inflatable sign is still a form of protest and any law someone would try to pass to ban them would be unconstitutional. To say that the size or depiction of said rat was "intimidating" is most likely a stretch to gain sympathy. Even still, they can use whatever subject matter they see fit as long as it remains unobtrusive to the potential customers. Ultimately these are just cases of big business not wanting any bad press on their hands and trying desperately to find a loophole when in fact there isn't one.

4/17/2015
Irving/Texas
Jamon
Bradley/Nimitz
The three rulings that involve Scabby are rules I agree with because you have the right of freedom of speech,petition and assembly. Business’ around can’t really limit or have restrictions on entries or by transactions by the business to somewhere else. The rat does not violate the no-break agreement due to the fact witht the establishment of the First amendment which indicates,”The right to Free speech, and the right to protest”, you can still break the law by indulging on someone else’s business affairs.

4/17/2015
Irving/Texas
Abraham
Bradley/Nimitz
I agree with all three ruling regarding Scabby, since the 1st amendment allows freedom of speech, so the union is able to protest freely. I believe that the laws that forbid inflatable signs are okay, only if the sign is being used as an strike, however since the union is using them as a way of labor protest, the laws would violate the 1st amendment. I don’t think the rat is intimidating any potential customers, since one its inflatable and a sign of protest, and isn’t blocking anything at that matter. However, if other companies are complaining about that, then the union should let the public know that they are exercising their 1st amendment, by protesting by using Scabby.

4/17/2015
Irving/Texas
Brian Vigen
Bradley/Nimitz
All three rulings adhere to the freedom of petition, speech, and assembly. The law attempting to limit these rights by outlawing inflatable signs infringes upon these rights. Also, despite the daunting size of the rat, the business cannot limit this because it in no way prevents entry to the business or transactions by the business. The externalities caused by the protest are not unconstitutional. Finally, the inflatable rat does not break the no-strike agreement because it is guaranteed by the first amendment.

4/17/2015
Irving/Texas
Rebecca
Bradley/Nimitz
Scabby the rat seems to be a clever tool to get around sometimes well-meaning intent to get the labor-union's point across. Consider the hospital, which sought to protect its business, not to stifle the union's message because it disagreed with them. However, the courts were correct to rule in favor of the display of the inflatable rat because of the right to free speech under the first amendment to the constitution. This is simply the case of a large plastic rat showing us just how big the loopholes in our policy are.

4/10/2015
Irving/TX
Carol
Bradley/Nimitz
I do agree with all three rulings regarding Scabby because though he may be intimidating, it is the protesters first amendment right. A law prohibiting all inflatable signs would most definitely be a violation of the First Amendment right. Scabby might be intimidating but he is not blocking anything, therefore patients can still get into the building, just because Scabby scares them is of no concern to the protesters. I believe that inflating the rat is not a firm of protest because nobody else knows why it is inflated.

4/10/2015
Texas
eddie
Bradley/Nimitz
The first amendment gives you the right to free speech and the right to protest but once you infringe on someones elses ability to pursue there rights, by impeding on there ability to run a business you are breaking the law. Just like you cant board up to doors of a store as an act of "protest" you shouldn't be able to picket with items that induce fear into costumers. However if its been proven that the scabby doesn't hurt the business then it should be allowed to stay

3/26/2015
Irving/Texas
Ali
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz
I agree with all three rulings regarding Scabby, because the rats stand as a symbol for freedom of speech, and the circumstance it was used in did not violate any local laws. To forbid all signs violates the first amendment unless there is a particular safety hazard of the sign in the case of protesting. To tell if Scabby’s presence impedes local businesses, an experiment needs to be done testing out sales with and without the sign; otherwise it is up for opinion how Scabby affects business.

3/17/2015
Irving/TX
Rabab
Bradley/Nimitz
I do agree with all three rulings regarding scabby because scabby is an inflatable rat which cause no harm to anyone. A law forbidding inflatable signs, in my opinion does violate the first Amendment because the first amendment is in regard of “Freedom of speech” and scabby was used as a symbol in the protest so it does not violate the Amendment.. No Scabby’s presence during the picket does not violate the labor laws because it did not stop the business or it did not come in their way and as NLRB said that the rat could stay as long as it didn't prevent people from entering the building.No the rat does not represent a strike action because it was used to call attention to the cause and not to prevent people from doing their business.

3/9/2015
Irving/Tx
Jennipher
Bradley/Nimitz
I do agree with all three rulings because in no way is the inflatable rat a protest, it is rather an expression of the ideas and feelings of the people that can all be protected by the First Amendment. A law forbidding all inflatable signs does violate the First Amendment because it forbids the people and unions from expressing their opinions or releasing them to the public in the form of press. In this case it would be much better if states such as New Jersey made laws forbidding certain sizes or types of signs in order to maintain safety rather than briefly stating that all are illegal. Unless Scabby was physically in the way of potential customers it should not violate any labor laws. No Scabby does not represent a strike action because the inflatable animal is just used to call attention to the cause but there are no people preventing potential customers from entering the premises and there is no real strike.

3/9/2015
Irving/TX
Cynthia
Bradley/Nimitz
I agree with all three rulings regarding Scabby the inflatable rats, because it is true of what is said in the rulings, the inflatable rat is not violating anything, it is a form of the freedom of speech in the First Amendment. A law forbidding all inflatable signs violates the First Amendment because it would be like taking away the freedom of speech, as I have said before, it is a different form of protesting. Scabby was used as a way of protesting, therefore the presence of Scabby during a picket does not violate labor laws by intimidating a business’s potential customers, as long as Scabby was out of the way. The rat does not represent a strike action because the only thing the inflatable rat is doing is seeking attention, it wants the protest to be noticed.

3/6/2015
murrieta/ CA
Tre Gudger
Jabro/ Creekside highschool
Yes, a law forbidding an inflatable sign goes against the first amendment, because every one has the right to peaceably assemble which is basically protesting or announcing your beliefs in whatever way you please that doesn't go against any other amendment of law.

2/27/2015
Irving/Texas
Jayden
`Bradley/Nimitz
I completely agree with the rulings regarding Scabby. There's nothing wrong with using an inflatable rat to get a point across; it's not like he's going to come to life as if it were in Night At The Museum. Because Scabby was/is used to get a point across, the prohibition of using inflatable signs does seen unconstitutional (first amendment). Scabby's presence was not a distraction nor was it dangerous. Only if he came to life & began acting in an uncivil way, laws against Scabby could be brought forth.

2/25/2015
Irving/Texas
Kamille
Bradley/Nimitz
I am in favor of the rulings enacted because there were no actual violations of any laws. Scabby was not in the wrong, there wasn't anyone using its presence to deny or hurt others. This was just distressing to those not in favor. A law forbidding the use of inflatable signs in a violation of the first amendment to an extent and it is just a trivial reaction. The use of this enlarged rodent is nothing more than a call to action and a symbol for protest. It was nothing more than an attention grabber and in the end it offended those opposed to the cause.

2/23/2015
Irving/Texas
David
Bradley/Nimitz
I agree with all three rulings regarding Scabby. He’s an inanimate inflatable rat: he’s not going to hurt anyone. In my opinion, a law forbidding all inflatable signs does violate the First Amendment, since in this case Scabby was used as a mascot for free speech rather than a direct threat to the community or business. Unless Scabby was physically prohibiting customers from a business or otherwise harming the business directly, no Scabby’s presence did not violate labor laws during the pickets. No the rat does not represent a strike action in the case of a no-strike clause of a union as in the last case Scabby was used to call attention to a labor protest rather than to stop work altogether.

2/21/2015
Irving/Texas
Brittany
Bradley/Nimitz
I agree with the rulings, because the use of Scabby didn't actually violate any laws, it was just found to be a nuisance by some organizations. Yes, if the banning of inflatable signs would limit freedom of assembly, press, religion or speech. No, as long as Scabby wasn't harming any potential costumers or limiting access to a business' building. No, using an inflatable rat doesn't mean the union went on strike, only that they were calling attention to their protest.

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