The March of The Rats


Volume C, No. 6June, 2000

Tim Dubnau

Local 79 of the Laborers’ Union has been getting a lot of attention recently, after installing huge helium rats in front of nonunion job sites. The rats say it all. Nonunion contractors now worry that their job will be visited by one or more of these hideous creatures.

Borrowing a page from Local 79, other unions are also setting up rats around town. The Hotel Workers, UAW and Carpenters have all recently purchased rats. Last winter Local 802 borrowed two of the rodents and set them up in front of the New York City Ballet. The rats tend to get a lot of publicity. About one year ago, the NYPD “arrested” a rat (impounded it, really). The Laborers went to court to get it back, and captured sympathetic press by insisting that their smaller ten-foot rat missed its mom, who was in jail.

The city’s labor movement is now planning a large Union Square rally – on Wednesday, June 14, at 3:30 p.m. – to highlight how difficult it is to form unions, and how strongly employers fight union efforts. The New York Central Labor Council, in cooperation with the AFL-CIO, is planning “The March of the Rats” – a tentative plan to have at least ten helium rats on flatbed trucks join the union marchers. Each rat will wear a placard with the name of an employer currently fighting a unionization effort., including the Apollo Theatre, where Ray Chew and the Crew are fighting for union recognition (see April Allegro).

The June 14 rally is part of the national AFL-CIO’s “Seven Days in June” initiative. This effort aims to bring attention to the extreme measures employers will take to defeat unionization attempts. Local 802’s campaign at the Apollo is a good example. The Apollo’s lawyers are claming that Ray Chew and the Crew do not have the right to form a union because they are supposedly “independent contractors.” Apollo management has promised a legal fight over this issue, despite the fact that the musicians have been working at the theatre for the last eight years.

Local 802 has more than 10,000 members. I hope you can be among those who show support for Ray Chew and the Crew and the other New Yorkers who are fighting to get what many of us already enjoy – the respect and benefits of a union contract. Please make every effort to join Local 802 at the June 14 rally. For more details, call me at (212) 245-4802, Ext. 143.

The rats will be there. Will you?