The Biggest Rats in America Are Spreading to the U.K. and Beyond

Since 1997, Scabby the inflatable rat has become a New York icon synoymous with corporate greed; "a cheap exploiting cockroach, just doing the wrong thing to their workers, a filthy disease-ridden animal who is looking to do a project on the cheap," as described by members of Local 3 of the Building and General Construction Laborers Union, based in Mountainside, NJ. 


The union's 2,700 members hope to shame contractors into better hiring practices. They plant their inflatable ally at job sites where developers see an opportunity to capitalize and create more profit by doing things non-union. 

"The Rat is becoming as common in New York City as corner hot-dog vendors," New York Law Journal reported in 2005. However, according to The Journal:

The Rat was first spotted in Chicago in 1987. Since then, the original rat has spawned offspring, many of which have found their way to the streets of New York City. Unions have placed inflatable rats in front of apartment buildings, retail stores, and even the occasional Broadway show. The rat has also been spotted outside Manhattan, at construction sites in Brooklyn and in the suburbs of Long Island. In 1999, one of the rats was arrested in New York, when a member of the Laborers Union, Local 78 refused to deflate it during a union protest (it was later released).

Unions often use the rat to alert the public, employees and non-union employers to an unlawful labor dispute.

“The idea of having more profit in your pocket is more appealing to developers than the safety of the job site and construction of the project,” Paul Roldan, a Local 3 engineering field representative, told the New York Daily News. "That’s really irrelevant to them. They just want the building up." 

Unions—and Union rat enthusiasts—can purchase various versions of Scabby online through the Chicago-based Big Sky Balloons and Searchlight company, which created and trademarked the rat (though they say the rat originated in 1990). 

"These rats have multiplied and are found thriving throughout the U.S.A....can be found anywhere from the streets of New York to the Strip of Las Vegas and along the wharfs of the West Coast [and] have been seen from the front page of the Wall Street Journal to the New Yorker Magazine and the New York Times," the website claims. 

However, in recent years the rat has migrated far beyond the U.S. In 2012, Scabby appeared on London's Fleet Street, where "the Unite union [was] asking Transport for London not to 'rat on bus drivers' and to pay them a £500 Olympic bonus" LBC reported. The rats continued to show up at similar U.K. rallies, and rats have made their way to Porirua, New Zealand as of last month. 

Talk about a plague unleashed. 

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