According to a ruling of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Thursday, protesting labor unions have a right to use large, inflatable rats:

The 3-1 majority said the use of a huge, puffy rodent balloon outside a hospital construction project did not amount to threatening or coercive conduct by the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Instead, the “rat balloon itself was symbolic speech,” Chairman Wilma B. Liebman and members Craig Becker and Mark Pearce concluded. “It certainly drew attention to the Union’s grievance and cast aspersions on [the contractor], but we perceive nothing in the location, size or features of the balloon that were likely to frighten those entering the hospital, disturb patients or their families, or otherwise interfere with the business of the hospital.”

The sole dissenter, Brian Hayes, admitted that the rat “might seem more comical than coercive” when considered from a figurative or literal distance.

“Viewed from nearby,” he wrote, “the picture is altogether different and anything but amusing. For pedestrians or occupants of cars passing in the shadow of a rat balloon, which proclaims the presence of a ‘rat employer’ and is surrounded by union agents, the message is unmistakably confrontational and coercive.”

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