When Pigs Fly New Symbol of Union Protest

By Jessica Marquez

Sep. 11, 2007

The giant inflatable rat—long a device used by unions to protest at a nonunion work site—seems to have a new colleague. This time it’s a pig.

    During the past several months, labor organizers in New York City have been introducing the “greedy pig” balloon to employers at their work sites. The 12-foot-tall balloon portrays a sneering creature decked out in a top hat and suit, chomping on a cigar.

    While the giant rat, with its sharp fangs and beady eyes, has been effective in getting people’s attention, it was time for something new, says Richard Weiss, a spokesman for Local 79 Construction and General Building Laborers, a New York union that helped design the pig a couple years ago.

    “We felt that it was time to spice it up,” he says.

    Also, there was concern among union officials that the days of the inflatable rat might be numbered, as lawsuits by employers fighting the use of the rat at their job sites began to pile up in recent years, Weiss says. The suits allege that since the rat is a well-known symbol of anti-union labor, it’s the same thing as picketing and should be restricted as such.

    Last year, the National Labor Relations Board decided not to rule on the issue of whether the inflatable rat constitutes unlawful picketing. “The case law hasn’t yet materialized, but it still could,” says Chaz Rynkieicz, a field organizer for Local 79.

    Local 79 officials worked with the owners of Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights, a Chicago-based company that manufactures all of the union balloons, to come up with the concept of the greedy pig, Rynkieicz says.

    “We wanted to create something that would look just like a mean employer,” he says. “And people seem to be able to relate to the pig better than other balloons. They say, ‘Hey, that reminds me of my boss.’ “

    So far, Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights has sold 20 greedy pig balloons, most of which are in New York City, says Peggy O’Connor, co-owner of the company.

    “It’s not quite as popular as the rat, but I assume that within the next 10 years it’s going to be all over,” she says.

    And that’s not good news for employers, who might find it tougher to get rid of the greedy pig than the inflatable rat, observers say.

    “I feel like I had more of a chance of getting rid of the rat than the pig,” says Gerald Hathaway, a partner at the law firm of Littler Mendelson. “But frankly, I would rather we see neither.”

Workforce Management, August 20, 2007, p. 4Subscribe Now!

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