Born in Chicago, Scabby the giant inflatable protest rat may be banned from picket lines by national labor board


For nearly 30 years, Scabby the Rat, a giant inflatable balloon with sharp claws, a perpetual snarl and a menacing demeanor, has loomed over construction sites across Chicago and beyond to protest the hiring of nonunion labor.

Like deep dish pizza, skyscrapers and the Ferris Wheel, the giant inflatable rat is a Chicago creation that has found its way into the broader culture. Scabby had a memorable star turn on a “Sopranos” TV episode centered around a construction work stoppage.

But soon, Scabby the Rat — who comes in a variety of sizes and designs — may be out of work.

The National Labor Relations Board previously gave the giant rats a wide berth but it’s shifted its stance under the Trump administration. The board is weighing whether to crack down on their use, on the grounds that the rats may be scaring away customers from “neutral” businesses not involved in the labor dispute.

“Their use is unlawful under the (National Labor Relations) Act and not protected under the First Amendment because they are being used specifically to menace, intimidate and coerce in aid of an unlawful purpose,” Peter Robb, the NLRB’s general counsel, said in a brief filed last month in a case in Philadelphia.

Banning the rats not only would eliminate what has become the go-to protest symbol for many local unions, but it would also be a blow to Big Sky Balloons, a southwest suburban Plainfield company that created and manufactures Scabby.

Scabby was commissioned in 1990 by the bricklayers union in Chicago, which was looking for an eye-catching way to make its case against alleged unfair hiring practices. A protest icon was born, and rats as tall as 25 feet have been inflated at construction sites on behalf of a variety of trade unions ever since.

“Everybody in Chicago knows what the rat is and that somebody is on strike,” said James Allen, president of District Council 1 of the International Union of Bricklayers in Elmhurst. “Before, you could drive by and see six guys with picket signs and probably never notice them.”
Use of the rat over three days last summer by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Philadelphia is facing a stiff test before the National Labor Relations Board.

Protesting the hiring of nonunion labor during the renovation of a downtown Fairfield Inn, the local union brought in two 8- to 12-foot rats, positioning them between the entrances to the hotel and restaurant and scaring away customers, according to a complaint filed by the hotel with the NLRB.

The five-member board has yet to rule on the complaint, but the brief filed by Robb, the agency’s general counsel, didn’t mince words.
“A huge, menacing inflatable rat placed near a business entrance thus inherently conveys a threatening and coercive message that will restrain a person,” the brief stated. “For three days, pedestrians, guests, employees and contractors…could not avoid large, intimidating, hostile-looking inflatable rats that were mere feet, and sometimes inches, away from them.”
Also at issue is the notion that the hotel and restaurants were neutral companies, and that the union’s primary beef was with the contractor that hired the nonunion labor to do the renovation.

There is no disputing that the rat balloons were meant to be threatening.

Mike and Peggy O’Connor launched Big Sky Balloons in Plainfield as a hot air balloon ride company in 1980.

The couple moved into advertising a few years later, inflating large tethered balloons above car dealers and store grand openings. The business really took off in 1990, when they created Scabby for the local Bricklayers union.
“They called him with the idea, Mike came up with the design,” Peggy O’Connor said. “The guy said he wanted it meaner looking, with festering nipples and big claws. Mike redesigned it and the guy liked it.”
Rats range in size from 6 feet to 25 feet, and in price from about $2,600 to $9,300 each, she said. Big Sky sells about two to three Scabby the Rat balloons a month.
In addition to Scabby, Big Sky sells an assortment of giant inflatable vermin, including “Cockroach,” “Fat Cat” and “Greedy Pig,” all of which may be endangered by the pending NLRB case. The protest menagerie has nonetheless been out in force this summer across Chicago.
For six weeks, a 15-foot Scabby has been stationed nearly every day on the sidewalk at 15 W. Washington St., in downtown Chicago, part of an ongoing protest against Urbanspace, a New York-based company building a new food hall set to open this fall. Unions have been embroiled in a labor dispute with general contractor Level Construction for allegedly hiring nonunion tradesmen at lower wages to renovate the 12,000 square foot ground floor space.
On July 29, Level Construction filed charges with the Chicago office of the NLRB against the Painters District Council 14 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Local 1 over the protests, claiming in part that the excessive use of the rat balloons interfered with the daily operations of the building, its tenants and people navigating the busy sidewalk.
“One day they put 17 giant balloons outside the building,” said Saim Salahuddin, vice president of development for Harwood Heights-based Level Construction. “It looked like a fortress guarded by rats.”

Urbanspace did not respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday morning, two members of the electrician’s union, Local 134, stood in front of the building in bright yellow vests under the watchful gaze of the giant rat, its air compressor adding to the street noise of passing cars, bikes and pedestrians.
A bicyclist whizzed by in the adjacent bike lane, raising his fist in solidarity with the union protestors and the giant rat.
By Wednesday morning, the rat pack had grown to four giant rodents.
Louise Mayo, 65, of Chicago, who was taking an early morning coffee break from her nearby office, stopped to ask the union representatives about the protest. Mayo told the Tribune she was supportive of the workers’ plight, and their right to free expression, but questioned the value of the giant rats.

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s very effective,” Mayo said. “I’ve seen these things up and down and up and down, but I think the real negotiation takes place in the office – whether you have these things up or not.”


AUG 07, 2019 | 4:33 PM

Twitter @RobertChannick

Article Photo: One of several inflatable rats protests a construction project at a building on the 100 block of West Washington Street in Chicago’s Loop on Aug. 7, 2019. Created in Chicago nearly 30 years ago, Scabby the inflatable union protest rat, has become a fixture at picket lines. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

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Janus anti-labor Supreme Court ruling one year later: Illinois government unions doing OK


Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, told the Chicago Sun-Times if now former state worker Mark Janus and his allies thought “this decision would lead to seriously damaging public-sector unions, that doesn’t seem to have occurred.”

WASHINGTON — On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court delivered what seemed a potential death knell to public-sector unions in the landmark Illinois Janus v AFSCME Council 31 case.

A year later, the government worker unions in Illinois are doing OK.

With the election in November of the Democratic pro-labor Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who trounced the anti-government union, former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, public-sector unions have enhanced clout. Union membership has ticked up. The Janus decision is responsible for union revenue loss but not enough to so far make a dramatic difference.

Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, told the Chicago Sun-Times if now former state worker Mark Janus and his allies thought that in Illinois, “this decision would lead to seriously damaging public-sector unions, that doesn’t seem to have occurred.”

In a 5-4 decision — with the conservative justices prevailing over the liberals — the court said under First Amendment protections, public workers who do not want to join a union —but are still represented by a union — do not have to pay a fee for the coverage.

Rauner started the case on Feb. 9, 2015, shortly after taking office. One of his crusades was weakening the power of the Democratic-allied public-sector unions in Illinois.

After a lower court ruled Rauner did not have standing, the lawsuit was amended.

Janus, who was a child support specialist in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who lives in Springfield, became the plaintiff.

Janus’ legal team was led by The Liberty Justice Center, affiliated with the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative activist organization, partnering with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Virginia.

Shortly after the ruling, Janus, 66, quit his state of Illinois job and today works for The Liberty Justice Center as a roving ambassador to spread the word to workers about “Janus Rights.”

He was in Washington earlier this month to mark the one-year anniversary. “Because of the decision, you do not have to be a member of a union in order to work in the public sector,” Janus said. Government workers “have the freedom to make their own choice. My job is just to go out and let these people know they do have a choice,” he said.

Bruno, who has been studying the impact of the Janus ruling, said, on the whole in Illinois, there has only been a “small drop” in total revenues to the labor organizations because of the loss of fees from non-union member workers.

The unions “lost some of those fee payers but they’ve also converted a number of those fee payers into members and there hasn’t been an exodus of any significance of members,” Bruno said.

The unions don’t make public precise numbers regarding revenues from dues and fee payers pre- and post-Janus.

Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, told the Sun-Times, in the wake of Janus, “We’ve weathered it very well actually, and much better than anybody — and probably including me — actually anticipated that we would.”

AFSCME Council 31 has about 55,000 members. The Janus decision ended the flow of fees from about 6,000 fee payers. Balancing this revenue loss: Since April 2019, the union added 1,100 dues-paying members with about 800 more memberships pending.

The Chicago Teachers Union added members in the wake of the Janus decision, from 24,361 to 24,991. The CTU estimated fee payers totaled only a few hundred. “We’ve held our own and raised the number of full dues-paying members,” said CTU communications director Chris Geovanis.

SEIU Local 73 has added about 2,000 members since last spring. Current membership is at 27,000. There were about 5,000 fee payers before Janus.

SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said, Janus “was an attempt by anti-worker extremists to weaken unions, but in the case of SEIU Local 73, it didn’t work. In response to the extremist attacks on collective bargaining, members mobilized like never before.”

Jen Hill, the media director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said “less than one percent of our membership chose to opt out. But overall, we’ve gained, thanks to organizing new groups and engaging with those who were previously “fair share.”

The fight is not over.

The Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed a Janus “follow-up” lawsuit in federal court in Chicago on May 1 against AFSCME Council 31. Seeking to be a class action, a judge is being asked to order a refund of fees paid from May 1, 2017, to June 27, 2018, plus interest.

Said Patrick Hughes, the Liberty Justice Center president, “We are committed to the full implementation of the Janus decision and will continue to litigate here in Illinois and across the country.”

DISCLOSURE: Some labor organizations have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.


Chicago Sun Times

Article Photo: Mark Janus speaks as the Supreme Court hears a major challenge to union membership in Janus v. AFSCME. Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo

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Pritzker signs ban on local government ‘right-to-work’ laws

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SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed into law a bill that prohibits local governments from enacting so-called “right-to-work” laws that are aimed at weakening the power of labor unions.

“The Collective Bargaining Freedom Act makes it abundantly clear that we have turned the page here in Illinois,” Pritzker said during a bill-signing ceremony in his statehouse office. “From the start, right-to-work was an idea cooked up to lower wages, slash benefits and hurt our working families. Right-to-work has always meant right to work for less money, and it’s wrong for Illinois.”

The first right-to-work laws in the United States were enacted in the 1940s, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when soldiers were returning home and the U.S. economy was shifting from war production to civilian manufacturing.

Marc Dixon, a sociologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said during an August 2018 interview that different arguments have been used over the years to campaign for the laws.

The first states to adopt them were primarily in the South, he said, where the laws were used to weaken labor unions, especially the Congress of International Organizations, or CIO, which were actively supporting civil rights legislation for African-Americans.

Later, in the 1950s, he said, they were supported by people who claimed certain labor unions embraced communist sympathies or had ties to organized crime.

More recently, supporters have argued for right-to-work laws on the basis of free speech. As more and more blue-collar workers aligned with the Republican Party, supporters have argued that workers should not be forced to join unions that, broadly speaking, tend to support Democrats.

The bill that Pritzker signed Friday came in response to a local ordinance adopted in north suburban Lincolnshire in 2015. It provided that workers could not be compelled to join a labor organization as a condition of employment within the village.

A U.S. District Court judge struck down that law in 2017, ruling that federal law allows only states to regulate collective bargaining. And in March 2018, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. But other federal circuits have ruled that local governments may enact local right-to-work laws, making the issue ripe for a U.S. Supreme Court review.

Asked about that during the bill-signing, Pritzker said he is confident the new Illinois law would be upheld.

“The law as it is does not allow a state to hand this responsibility down to local communities,” he said. “This bill actually just establishes what is the law today, so I believe that that would be moot, essentially, at the Supreme Court.”

Article Photo:
Gov. J.B. Pritzker hands a pen to state Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) as he signs a bill that prohibits local governments in Illinois from enacting right-to-work ordinances. Also at the bill signing ceremony Friday in Springfield was Sen. Ram Villivalam (left), a Chicago Democrat who was lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Peter Hancock)
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Evers takes aim at right-to-work law, seeks prevailing-wage protections


Gov. Tony Evers has called for the repeal of Wisconsin’s right-to-work law and the restoration of prevailing-wage guarantees in public-works projects, despite critics’ concerns that those proposals could become a drag on the state’s economy.

The governor’s February budget blueprint supports the elimination of the state’s right-to-work statute, which restricts private employers from entering into agreements that compel union membership as a condition of employment or mandating the payment of dues to a labor union.

Evers also supports the restoration of the prevailing wage on state and local public-works projects to ensure that workers are not underpaid in comparison to employees performing similar tasks in the region.

Among the groups expressing concerns about the new Democratic governor’s proposals is Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, whose state director said the proposals would overturn protections on worker freedom and increase the cost of doing business in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin’s economy is roaring because of numerous pro-growth reforms over the last decade, but the labor reforms in this budget put that growth at risk,” Eric Bott said in a prepared statement.

Not only would repeal of the right-to-work law limit worker choices about union affiliation, but it could be a drag on the state’s ability to attract job creators, he said.

“Right to work lets Wisconsinites keep more of their paycheck, so that they can invest their hard-earned money in the things most important to them, like their families, local businesses and communities,” Bott said in an email.

And Evers’ support for a prevailing wage would be a bad deal for taxpayers, he said.

“The governor is supposed to stretch our tax dollars, not shrink them,” Botts said. “Restoring prevailing wage would drive up the cost of every public-works project and pass those costs on to taxpayers. … Let’s be clear, this doesn’t benefit the average Wisconsinite. This benefits special interests.”

Frank Emspak, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Department of Labor Education-School for Workers, doesn’t expect Evers’ effort to repeal right to work to be embraced by the majority of state lawmakers.

“Given the nature of the state legislature at this point, a repeal is probably not going to happen because Republicans control the legislature, and they are very much opposed to the repeal,” Emspak told

There is no established link between the right-to-work issue and decisions by companies to invest in the state, he said. In the case of a heavy goods manufacturer that uses industrial machinery, labor costs represent only 5 to 7 percent of the cost of doing business, according to Emspak. A more significant issue is land acquisition and the cost of borrowing money, he said.

“The effect of the right-to-work law in Wisconsin has been pretty marginal,” Emspak said.

Foxconn, which is building a sprawling electronics facility in southwestern Wisconsin, agreed to locate its campus in the state not because of right to work but because of $3 billion in tax advantages negotiated by the previous governor, he said.

Restoring the prevailing wage would be helpful to both the construction industry and the employees who work in it, according to Emspak. Allowing companies with public-works contracts to pay their workers less than their counterparts in a region means those firms are undercutting the competition by cutting labor costs, which in turn drives down wages and working conditions, he said.

Having the prevailing wage in place means the construction companies would be in a better position to focus on providing high-quality, skilled work at a competitive cost, according to Emspak.

Labor union officials generally support Evers’ proposals. Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said Evers’ budget blueprint strikes the right note for workers and the state’s economy.

“The repeal of right to work is a step towards a healthier middle class with strong union rights,” Bloomingdale said in a prepared statement. “Restoring prevailing wage and the right to a project labor agreement will grow our economy with family-supporting jobs while ensuring tour construction projects are completed safely on time and on budget.”

The National Institute for Labor Relations Research, however, contends that right-to-work states have seen greater economic growth than states with no right-to-work laws. Right-to-work states recorded an 8.8 percent growth in employment between 2007 and 2017, while job growth over the same period in other states was 4.2 percent, the Virginia institute reported.

And manufacturing employment grew by 5.5 percent in right-to-work states during that time period, compared to 1.7 percent for states without right-to-work laws, according to the institute’s numbers.

Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, says the idea of forcing workers to accept and pay for union membership is an affront to workers’ freedoms.

“This harms workers in Wisconsin and harms our state’s economy overall by putting us at a massive disadvantage to attract businesses here,” Vebber told in an email.

And the concept of a prevailing wage is antiquated and forces taxpayers to support above-market wages in construction projects, he said.

“Wisconsin was right to have eliminated it just a few years ago, and the governor’s proposal to bring it back will do nothing but drive up the cost of government projects, harming taxpayers and ultimately our state’s economy as a whole,” Vebber said.

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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers


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Pritzker budget to boost education, use marijuana money, freeze income tax

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In his first budget address, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to pitch an “austere” spending blueprint with no increase in the state income tax rate, a bump in education funding and new revenue from business licenses he hopes the state will create to sell recreational marijuana.

Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times he will also push for taxes on e-cigarettes and vaping, and for the legalization of sports betting to help bring in more money for state government.

The governor also hopes to get a yet-unspecified amount of revenue from something that is not yet legal: recreational marijuana. The budget is “banking some revenues,” from legalizing marijuana, “but just from the selling of the licenses,” a Pritzker spokeswoman said.

Licenses, however, can’t be sold until recreational use of marijuana is legalized in Illinois, which shows that the governor will make a big push this session to get a comprehensive legalization measure passed. While Pritzker remains committed to recreational use of marijuana, the exact plan for how to do that — and its timeline — remains unclear. The governor’s office said the state could gain revenue from marijuana business licenses within the upcoming 2019-2020 fiscal year should a legalization bill pass during the spring legislative session. The fiscal year begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2020.

The governor will deliver his first budget address in Springfield on Wednesday. And Pritzker told the Sun-Times he’ll focus on moving past the “damage” incurred by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“There’s a focus here on trying to not only rebuild from the damage that was done over the last four years but also to set us up for growing the economy, which happens in part because of our investments in education,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker’s first budget plan will recommend pumping $375 million more into the school funding formula, which is a $25 million increase over what the state is required to fund. His budget also proposes $21 million in funding in special education grants; $5 million more for career and technical education programs for high school students and $2 million for assistance to help low-income students pay for Advanced Placement testing.

The plan also includes a $100 million increase in the Early Childhood Block grant, an increase of $7 million for early intervention programs and $3.8 million more for a pre-school to age five grant. And it will include $55.2 million in additional funding for public universities; $13.9 million for community colleges and $50 million for MAP grants.

Educational advocates have long said that the state must work its way closer to funding public schools at the 50 percent mark. The state is nowhere near that — last year state funding was at just 24.4 percent — with most funds coming from local sources, including property taxes.

“As you know the evidence-based formula suggests that the state put $350 million more into the formula. We’ve done that and more. I’d like to do more, but of course, we’re in a significant budgetary challenge, in which we need to do the best we can to meet the needs within our revenue,” Pritzker said. “And so we’re pleased with what we were able to do even with this relatively conservative, or austere, budget, particularly in education, where it’ll have the biggest impact on our economy and helping kids succeed.”

And echoing what he said he’d do on the campaign trail, Pritzker said he plans to cut back on a private school scholarship program championed by his Republican predecessor.

“I want to make sure that we are fully funding our public schools before we turn to funding private schools and providing tax credits for wealthy people in the state,” Pritzker said. “So we are cutting back on that program — making sure that we’re providing the tax credit funding for the kids who are already taking advantage of it, but scaling it back so that we’re taking those dollars and applying them to public schools.”

The selling of the James R. Thompson Center will not be in the budget proposal; it had been counted as proposed savings in Rauner’s past budgets. But Pritzker said he wants to sell the building to use it as “an asset to offset liabilities, possibly liabilities in the pension system,” he said. His administration’s plans to deal with an astounding $130 billion in pension debt were detailed by Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes on Thursday in a speech to the City Club of Chicago. It includes borrowing money, deferring scheduled payments, transferring assets and using money from a not-yet-approved graduated income tax.

Pritzker spent his Thursday evening on the Illinois House floor celebrating the passage of a minimum wage hike, which he said will give 1.4 million people in the state a raise. He says the “near-term cost” of the hike — which was decried by Republican lawmakers and most business groups – will be included in his budget. And he plans to sign it prior to his address.

“We have a balanced budget that we are proposing that you’ll see on Wednesday, and that [the hike] is included in the budget. So it’s all paid for within the context of that budget,” Pritzker said. “And we also included tax credits, not just for small businesses but for every organization that has a payroll that will be increasing their payroll because of the raise in the minimum wage. So they are able to take that tax credit.”

Although some groups, including the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago have recommended a bump in the income tax rate, Pritzker said the rate won’t be hiked in his budget plan.

“There’s a common recognition and understanding that there is a need for revenue along with bringing efficiency to state government, and I believe that they all advocate an income tax hike,” Pritzker said. “I am advocating a graduated income tax so that it does not hit the middle class or people who are striving to get there but rather leans on people who are post able to pay. And that’s why it’s not in our budget today but I will be asking the Legislature to pass a graduated income tax, and as you know, that could not go into effect until the November 2020 elections.”



Article Photo:
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, right, are acknowledged on the House floor at the Illinois State Capitol, Thursday, the day the Illinois House approved an increase in the state minimum wage. | Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press
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Chicago Teachers Union suspends city’s second charter school strike after winning pay increases


Regular classes at four Chicago International Charter School campuses were set to resume Tuesday, after negotiators reached a tentative deal to end the city’s second strike at the independently operated schools.

A pending four-year contract for some 200 unionized educators includes pay raises, class-size limits, one week of paid parental leave and shorter work schedules. CICS also will pay for a 7-percent chunk of teachers’ required pension contributions.

Charter officials said the agreement, reached after a two-week work stoppage that affected about 2,000 students, will cost an additional $5.5 million over the life of a deal that reflects broader national tensions over education policy and teacher pay.

“We also are proud to say that CICS had to contribute money to settle this contract,” charter teacher bargaining leader Jen Conant said Monday. “That means we changed the way that CICS does business, and they will serve our schools better in the future.”

Led by the Chicago Teachers Union, striking charter educators staged a camera-ready civil disobedience campaign that filled downtown sidewalks with loud protests, blocked access to a Loop office tower used by CICS board President Laura Thonn and crowded outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office for a Valentine’s Day card writing campaign.

Mayoral contender and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth in a group of candidates in the Feb. 26 city election and union-allied politicians who voiced support for the striking workers.

Those workers still must approve the deal formally, though there’s tension about how to pay for some of the proposed contract’s provisions.

Affected CICS educators will receive an average pay raise of nearly 35 percent over the course of the deal, according to the Chicago Teachers Union, and teachers will have salary schedules that meet or exceed rates seen at traditional Chicago Public Schools.

That means a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree would see their salary increase from $44,500 today to $57,000 by the contract’s fourth year, according to CICS. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and six years of experience would go from $51,000 to $76,011 during the same time frame.

“With the limited funding that is an unfortunate reality in public education, in order to pay for such a significant salary increase, we will be forced to make certain cuts and compromises,” CICS said in a statement.

“For example, we will likely need to limit the number of instructional coaches, assistant principals and other valuable support staff members.”

Classrooms at the four CICS campuses could not hold more than 30 students under the proposed deal, according to the CTU, and the pact would set class size “goals” of 28 students. A CICS spokeswoman said class size limits had previously been set at 29 students in high school grades and 28 elementary students.

CICS said teachers would receive additional cost of living raises atop their scheduled salary increases, when state lawmakers increase education funding levels. The union also said full-time teaching assistants would staff every kindergarten through second grade classroom.

Student instructional time would not change under the tentative contract agreement, though teachers would see their work year calendars cut from 202 days to 190 days while shaving 15 minutes off their daily work periods.

Other contract language emphasizes protections for immigrant students, commitments to add classroom doors that lock from the inside and promises to comply with required services for special education students.

The CTU merged with a division of unionized charter educators last year and has since pressed for working conditions at the independently operated schools that are similar to those at traditional Chicago Public Schools.

Charter teachers work under contracts negotiated with each charter operator. They can bargain over issues that state law excludes from negotiations with teachers at traditional schools in Chicago. They also have broader flexibility to call strikes.

CICS campuses are operated by five independent “school management organizations” that use taxpayer dollars to finance their day-to-day operations. Striking educators at the four campuses affected by the charter network strike have been bargaining with the Civitas Education Partners firm.

“Some of the conditions we agreed to in this contract still allow us the flexibility to offer what we think is a unique experience for our students,” Civitas CEO LeeAndra Khan said Monday. “I’m not going to lie, this does squeeze us a bit, but I’m still very confident and hopeful that we will still figure out a way to do the work.”

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Juan Perez Jr.

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Chicago Tribune

Article Photo: Members of Chicago International Charter Schools teachers stage a civil disobedience protest inside the building that houses PricewaterhouseCoopers offices on Feb. 13, 2019. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

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Workers Battle Trump Appointees on the National Labor Relations Board


Rather than encouraging collective bargaining and protecting workers’ freedom of association, the new leadership is making radical changes to Board policies, paving the way for corporate interests to dismantle unions.

Government employees at the National Labor Relations Board are pushing back against anti-union changes at the agency made by President Donald Trump appointees John Ring, who serves as chair, and Peter Robb, the general counsel.

The board, an independent agency that enforces labor law in regards to collective bargaining and unfair labor practice charges throughout the United States, was created to protect the rights of unions and workers.

On Thursday, November 8, members of the National Labor Relations Board Professional Association, a union of attorneys with the NLRB, protested Ring and Robb at the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Conference in San Francisco, California, over bargaining on a new labor contract.

The protest comes in the wake of a petition delivered earlier by the NLRB Professional Association to Ring in response to an email he sent out on October 12 announcing a change in a collective bargaining agreement with the union to negotiate an entirely new contract rather than make amendments to the existing one.

“The Agency’s current leadership cast aside years of a peaceful, collaborative relationship with its employees by terminating our contract and, by all accounts, preparing dramatic cuts to employees’ benefits, job protections, and compensation—even though there has been no funding change to the Agency and it ended the last fiscal year with a significant budget surplus,” NLRB Professional Association President Karen Cook told me in an email.

Ninety-two out of 110 NLRB Professional Association members signed the petition affirming their support for union officers to bargain on their behalf.

A handbill passed out by the union at the conference stated, “since their appointment, General Counsel Robb and Chairman Ring have engaged in a systematic attack on the employees of the National Labor Relations Board and on the agency as a whole.”

These attacks include budget cuts, hiring freezes, reduction of employee compensation and benefits, and consolidating authority of an agency designed to function as non-partisan, to a handful of Trump appointees.

“We will make proposals, some of which the union leadership may not like,” Ring wrote in the October 12 email. “They will make proposals, some of which we may not like. There will be a healthy exchange of ideas and proposals.”

The bargaining contract is just the latest in a string of anti-union changes enacted by Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board and which are openly opposed by NLRB employees. According to the union, employee dissatisfaction at the NLRB increased from 22 percent in 2017 to 47.4 percent in 2018.

John Ring was sworn in as chair of the National Labor Relations Board in April 2018. He was previously a partner at the Philadelphia based union-busting law firm, Morgan, Lewis, and Bockius.

In an email, Ring told me, “As an agency that enforces the rights of employees to engage in collective bargaining, we are pleased to see the enthusiasm of our NLRB employees to engage in bargaining. We look forward to our upcoming negotiations for a new labor agreement which has not been updated in almost twenty years.”

Prior to General Counsel Peter Robb’s appointment to the NLRB, he represented several employers working to stop or reduce unionization of employees. Since being sworn in Robb has made several anti-union decisions in his role overseeing the investigation and prosecution of all unfair labor practice cases and 26 regional field offices.

Earlier this year, Robb announced a restructuring of the NLRB that effectively demoted regional directors, a move perceived to undermine the pro-union leaning of these directors. Robb has also expressed interest in consolidating NLRB districts and appointing his own officers to oversee them.

Under Robb, the NLRB is working to change standards that now hold employers accountable for employees they hire and retain through temporary agencies or subcontractors, making it easier for employers to exploit employees working under subcontractors and temp agencies.

Robb released guidance for field offices to favor any ambiguities in workplace rules in favor of employers and directed NLRB attorneys to permit workers looking to disband a union to intervene in unfair labor practice charges, providing union opponents with a new mechanism to prevent unionization.

In September 2018, Robb recommended the elimination of an Obama-era rule permitting employees to use their employee email to discuss unionization. He also directed regional officials to ratchet up prosecution of “negligent” unions on matters previously treated as harmless error, such as not returning a workers’ phone call.

“The administration’s appointee for General Counsel of the NLRB is undermining the purpose of the National Labor Relations Act,” said General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union, Nicole Berner, in an email. “Rather than encouraging collective bargaining and protecting workers’ freedom of association, Peter Robb continues to make radical changes to Board policies, paving the way for corporate interests to dismantle unions.”

Communications Workers of America spokesperson Beth Allen shared a similar perspective, stating in an email, “Focusing on cases against unions, which are an extremely small percentage of all NLRB charges filed annually, and ignoring or promoting ambiguous employer handbook rules that squelch worker empowerment are, unfortunately, more examples of the Trump administration’s advancement of corporate interests at the expense of workers’ rights.”


November 15, 2018

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Article Photo: The Progressive


Trump Labor Counsel Hopes Legal Trap Can Kill Scabby the Rat


The Trump administration has found yet another way to pick on the little guy — who in this case, is actually a critter that towers over many labor protests. On Tuesday, Bloomberg Law reported that the Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board may try to ban the display of Scabby the Rat on union picket lines. The large rodent-shaped balloon with yellow incisors and a mangy belly has become a well-known symbol mocking bosses and all who cross picket lines. Scabbies vary in size and in specific design. Sometimes his mouth is open in a snarl. Sometimes he holds cheese. At all times, however, his leering face promises a protest nearby. Peter Robb, the NLRB’s general counsel and a former management-side attorney, is not a fan:

“GC hates the rat,” a senior NLRB official who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Bloomberg Law. Robb “wants to find it unlawful to picket, strike or handbill with the rat present.”

Robb would have to reverse case law to ban Scabby, and First Amendment experts told Bloomberg that they didn’t believe a ban would survive a legal challenge. Courts have customarily found that Scabby is a noncoercive protest tactic. Robb might hate him, in other words, but balloons inflict no material harm. The rat is a symbol, an imaginative product of organized labor’s rank-and-file membership. A ban on Scabby would strike a significant psychological blow to labor.

As Sarah Jaffe and Molly Crabapple reported for Vice News in 2013, Scabby is a relatively recent phenomenon. He originated in 1990, when Illinois-based members of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers devised him to direct public attention to picket lines. Peggy and Mike O’Connor of Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights, Inc. produced the first Scabby. “Mike and the organizers were going back and forth, saying, ‘We need it more snarly.’ They wanted a mean, ghastly looking kind of rat,” Peggy told Jaffe and Crabapple.

Scabby is indeed a gnarly sight, an apt visual depiction of the rat metaphor striking workers have historically applied to bad bosses. And he can be controversial, even within the labor movement. As Jaffe and Crabapple noted at the time, trade unions themselves once considered abandoning him. “Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition,” Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, once tweeted. Whatever that new value proposition happened to be, it failed. Though he is a new addition to the cultural history of organized labor, he quickly became popular with workers. So he lived on, in tweets and on picket lines and in the hearts of leftists everywhere. In an era marked by right-to-work laws and declining union membership, Scabby sparks joy.

The rat owes his endurance partly to his efficacy as a nonviolent troll. “It’s one of those meddlesome things that all management lawyers really hate,” a management-side attorney for Seyfarth Shaw told Bloomberg Law. Which is entirely the point. If organized labor has one cool trick for making your boss squirm, it might just be Scabby. But unions don’t limit his use to formal strikes, nor is he meant solely as a means to shame union-busting bosses and scabs. He has broader significance. His ostentatious presence tells passers-by that there’s a fight nearby — that some injustice has occurred, or is occurring, and the workers standing next to him want to tell you about it, if you’ll listen. No wonder Robb hates him.


New York Magazine



Article Photo: Scabby in action. Photo: The Washington Post/Washington Post/Getty Images

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Dem-Leaning States Push Pro-Union Bills in Aftermath of Public Union SCOTUS Decision


Prior to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, government unions were already devising ways to keep members and dues flowing. In a previous post, I discussed some of the ideas that the National Education Association put forth to lessen the impact of a potential Supreme Court decision that ruled forced union dues unconstitutional.

Ultimately, forced union dues were struck down and blue states started introducing bills to minimize the impact of Janus by limiting workplace choice and granting labor unions more privileges. Some publicemployers even refused to comply with the Janus ruling.

California was quick out of the gate. Even before Janus, in the summer of 2017, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 119, which provides union access to new public employees. As I previously wrote:

“This enables unions to make their pitch to a ‘captive audience,’ a practice unions condemn employers for conducting, while prohibiting opposing views at the meeting. Many times these orientations are mandatory to attend. In Washington State, the Service Employee International Union misled home care providers at an orientation meeting that joining the union was mandatory.”

In addition, AB 119 also forces public employers to hand over public employees’ personal information to the union. This policy does not permit unwilling employees to opt-out of sharing their private contact information. A similar rule was put into practice at the federal level. Yet, even the pro-union National Labor Relations Board under President Obama admitted that workers’ private data could be used to “harass, coerce, or rob employees.” Further, unions have been known to coerce and threaten workers to join the union. The states of MarylandNew Jersey, New York, and Washington have all passed similar legislation that either requires employee captive audience meetings or forces public employers to hand over workers private information.

To protect unions from having to reimburse non-members for forced union dues, California passed Senate Bill 846. This law offers government unions “complete defense” against lawsuits that seek back dues paid before the Janus ruling. However, this only protects unions in state court. Already, there is one case that is working its way through federal court that is seeking to win back around $100 million in forced union dues for California public employees.

California is not alone in passing legislative Janus workarounds. In Delaware (House Bill 314) and Hawaii (HB1725 HD2), legislation was passed that changed how public employees may opt out of union membership. In Delaware, it created a default setting on how and when an employee may opt out of the union. If not set by a collective bargaining agreement, an employee may only opt out during a “period 15 to 30 days before the employee’s anniversary date of employment, effective on the employee’s anniversary date.” Similarly, Hawaii’s law limits opt outs to a 30-day window.

Despite the passage of these laws, which limit when an employee may opt out of union membership, they will likely be found illegal. Union members in states that, prior to the Janus decision, required non-members to pay agency fees, or forced union dues, should now have the right to immediately stop paying dues to the union. This is because these employees were faced with a now-unconstitutional choice—join the union and pay full membership dues or pay agency fees. In essence, employees could not have waived rights that they did not know they had. This makes signed dues-authorization forms dated before the Janus decision invalid. In these states, which includes Hawaii and Delaware, the union must collect new signed forms that authorize dues payments, which are dated after the Janus decision on June 27, 2018.

Later this week, I’ll take a look at bills that have been recently introduced with the goal of diminishing the Janus decision and to prop-up government unions.

Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy non-profit group in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

By Trey Kovacs | January 24, 2019 | 2:22 PM EST
Article Photo: WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 26: Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner speaks to members of the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after a hearing on February 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. The court is hearing the case, Janus v. AFSCME, to determine whether states violate their employees’ First Amendment rights to require them to join public sector unions which they may not want to associate with. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)