You might have seen it, a large blowup rat flanked by protestors holding signs. Most commonly you will see it outside commercial construction sites or businesses where unions have protested the use of non-union labor or when they are on strike.
You also might have thought to yourself, why a huge rat?
The story goes like this. In the 1980s, according to NPR, “The story of the rat dates back to the late 1980s with a guy named Jim Sweeney. He’s a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the local just outside Chicago.”
Sweeney would put workers in rat costumes as a symbol that the company they were protesting were rats themselves. Eventually, it evolved into a giant blow-up rat used in the 1990s by union construction workers protesting the construction of a ShopRite supermarket using non-union labor.
Eventually, the rats caught on with others and grew in size and popularity.
Nowadays, the rats have become the symbol of union workers protesting against commercial projects using non-union-labor.
In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board argued that the presence of the rats is “coercive” and “intimidating”.
Today, the rat has a name, “Scabby the Rat”, coined by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. In 1989, the union had a “Name the rat” competition and Lou Mahieu won the contest with the name Scabby.
Rats typically range between six feet and twelve feet tall.