"We’re fighting against inequality," said Fernando, one of the pickets who was holding a sign protesting the firm, Flintlock construction, "because when you work without a union, they treat you like an animal."
Flintlock is commissioned to build a posh condo and health club on the corner of Washington and 12th Street. Members of Laborers Local 79 have set up this informational picket, distributing leaflets and talking to workers and passersby outside the site, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day since March 24.
The union flyer exposes several safety violations that the nonunion firm has been found guilty of.
"They are just bean counters," one of the unionists said referring to the construction bosses. "To them injuries and deaths on the job are just money questions." As he spoke, a truck driver passing by the picket in a delivery truck laid on his air horn in a show of support.
The pickets are all on the out-of-work list for the union.
"There’re 1,800 union members currently on the out-of-work list," said Paul Ryan, a seven-year union member, "that’s 20 percent of the union and about double the number that were out of work this time last year."
The Laborers union was the first to begin using the giant inflatable rodents to draw attention to "rats," or nonunion employers, in the mid-1990s, as part of countering the bosses’ antilabor offensive in the construction trades. They have used informational pickets like this to reinforce recent efforts to organize workers in demolition and asbestos removal.
The rat has since become a popular symbol in the labor movement in New York and elsewhere, appearing at picket lines and union rallies all around the city. A total of five giant rats are on full-time staff for the Laborers, three of which are currently on the job in different areas of the city.
When a Militant reporter remarked that he hadn’t seen the rat in a while, Ryan said, "Oh, there’s still plenty of rats out there. I hope someday there won’t be any need for the rat."
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