Scabby the Rat in Long Island City. Source: Wikipedia


If you walk the streets of Manhattan with any regularity, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a giant rat.

I don’t mean the real rats that crowd around garbage cans and on the subway tracks, (although they can often be huge). I mean a really giant inflatable 10 foot rat who goes by the name of “Scabby” and has long been the most recognizable sign that one of New York’s unions is protesting the unlucky business where Scabby has been perched.

Union activists often exercise their legal right to protest by plunking Scabby right in front of a hotel, bank, or clothing chain where they claim union workers are being mistreated or excluded.

Scabby is such a distinctive symbol that he has his own Twitter feed. And naturally, some journalists decided to s-eek out his backstory (#sorrynotsorry). Those stories have included some interesting information. Scabby was created and is sold by Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights in suburban Chicago. Other stories document all the cities and towns where Scabby has been used and spotted. You can also find a few pieces on the legal challenges unions have won in order to keep Scabby in certain public places.

But as I passed the Scabby balloon in front of a Bank of America on 7th Avenue last month, I realized no one has bothered to look into the most important question of all when it comes to this prime symbol of union defiance: Is Scabby made by union labor?

That is, no one has asked until now.

I started asking that question in late December. I asked the union leaders. I asked the folks at Big Sky Balloons. I asked some of the union guys standing and guarding Scabby on 7th Avenue.

Their answers were predictable, especially for those of us who have been following the trends in manufacturing over the last few decades. Every one of them either refused to answer me or told me they didn’t know … on the record. But off the record some sources admitted to me that Scabby is made in China … and obviously not by American union workers.

Okay, this isn’t exactly the scandal of the century. But it is indicative of the kind of ignorance that pervades our economic and political debates in America today. Just think about it: dozens of America’s unions are using a non-union made product to protest non-union businesses. And the union members and leaders making the decision to use that symbol either don’t care or don’t know about this fact. Basically, they know that Scabby is such an effective symbol that it’s not important where he comes from.

Does that mean whatever grievance those unions have with any said business is illegitimate? No. But it does mean that those unions are being hypocritical as they choose to make their statement with the same kind of cheaper and more effective non-union tools corporations use all the time.

There are many parallels to this kind of hypocrisy that the American people should call out at long last. Pro-gun control politicians protected by teams of taxpayer funded armed guards sneer at voters who want the right to own guns for their own protection. Politicians and super rich celebrities lecture the rest us about carbon emissions as they choose to travel in private jets and limos across the world. Middle East dictators decry Israel as a racist violator of human rights even as those same dictators preside over countries with no human rights at all.

Scabby is just another eye-catching hypocrisy that’s literally and figuratively filled with hot air. We should all put our decisions to support or not support unions on hold at least until those unions decide to practice what they preach. The same goes for politicians, celebrities, and dictators who want to tell us what to do.


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