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Latest News - May 2011

May 26, 2011
Rat Balloons Used in Union Protests Allowed by Labor Board
Source: Bloomberg
By: Holly Rosenkrantz

Inflatable rats displayed by labor unions outside a company’s offices are a legal form of protest, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board ruled in a case that will expand the scope of worker protests.

The NLRB, which mediates disputes between unions and companies, decided that rat balloons at a company’s suppliers or customers, not just the facilities of the business they are protesting, isn’t coercive, according to a statement.

The board ruled 3-1 after a federal court in 2007 reversed a decision from the previous year that a Florida union’s mock funeral, using a person dressed as the Grim Reaper, outside an acute-care hospital was unlawfully coercive. The court sent the case back to the board, with orders to review issues including balloon displays as a protest symbol.

The board, controlled by a majority appointed by President Barack Obama, is faulted by Republicans for pro-labor decisions on organizing efforts and worker rights. Republican lawmakers are protesting the board’s decision to file a union-retaliation complaint in April against Chicago-based Boeing Co. (BA)

Chairman Wilma Liebman and board members Craig Becker and Mark Pearce found that balloons aren’t confrontational conduct, unlike picketing. Nor was the display coercive, the board found. Union agents at the display didn’t shout, impede access to the business, or interfere with hospital operations, according to a statement by the NLRB.

Symbolic Rat

The “rat balloon itself was symbolic,” the majority wrote.

The issue of secondary boycotts, targeting suppliers and customers of the business being protested, is being followed by employers and labor lawyers. Business groups say expanded protest rights show the board favoring unions. Labor leaders say the NLRB has restored the mandate to protect workers after pro- management slant under President George W. Bush.

“The board is taking startlingly aggressive positions aimed at augmenting union power,” Peter Schaumber, a former board chairman appointed by Bush and now a labor consultant, said in an interview last year.



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