Rat Company Routed by New York Movers

New York City movers on strike took their friend the giant rat to picket lines where the employer was using scab labor. Photo: Teamsters Local 814.

It’s 12 feet long, with a tail, claws, and sharp teeth. It’s only a gray balloon, but the rat strikes fear in the hearts of New York City building managers.

The inflatable rat helped Teamsters Local 814 win a big victory for non-union movers who struck for a month for recognition and fair pay. Movers for ATM Enterprises were angry that they had no union and made $8 an hour with no benefits. Most of them did the same work as Teamster movers at Trucking Office Products System (TOPS) and worked right alongside the Teamsters--who made $16-$22 delivering the furniture to downtown office buildings. The fact that ATM and TOPS had different names but the same owners didn’t fool the ATM workers.

The inside warehouse workers won raises of $5 an hour and medical insurance for the first time. ATM movers got a $5 raise, health care, and a pension. The already union workers at TOPS won $1 an hour and vastly improved health care.

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They did it by handbilling and picketing the buildings where TOPS was using scabs to deliver furniture. “The building manager would come running out,” said business agent Walter Taylor. “’No, no, no, not in front of my building!’ they’d say. ‘I can’t have this rat in front of my building.’ We’d get the subcontractors tossed out.”

Taylor said the Manhattan office buildings in question are “high-profile, nice, marble-looking buildings” on Fifth Avenue and Lexington Avenue. Many have a union harmony clause in their contracts with tenants. If the tenant disturbs labor peace—say by employing a scab mover—the building manager can intercede to work out an agreement. In this case, stop using scabs and take down the rat.

“We developed a reputation because of the strike,” Taylor said. “Now they’re talking about the 814 guys: ‘They don't care. They’ll put up the rat.’”

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.