MANHATTAN (CN) - An inflatable rat and its pockmarked belly graced Manhattan Criminal Court in support of labor rights Tuesday with plans to scurry across the city through November.
The purportedly unprecedented protest stems from the banding together of 10 court unions as a "Core Issues Alliance," griping about the reduction or elimination of benefits, a practice that the labor movement has nicknamed "givebacks."
Dennis Quirk, the president of the New York State Court Officers, addressed the crowd that had assembled around the rat in front of Manhattan Criminal Court near lunch hour on Tuesday.
"We've been three and a half years without a raise," Quick said. "They're asking all of these organizations to give back things that we've worked for and earned over the course of the last 35 years."
The alliance and their rat already gathered at Brooklyn Supreme Court last week and have plans to assemble in front of Nassau, Bronx, Queens and Richmond county courts before Thanksgiving to oppose health insurance increases, payroll lags and changes in layoff procedures.
Quirk served as a Supreme Court sergeant for 15 years.
Joseph Walsh, who heads the New York State Court Clerks Association, called the contract presented to his union the worst he has seen in 34 years on the job.
"It fundamentally changes and asks us to give back everything that we worked for and fought for in the past 25 years," he said. "We join together to tell [the Office of Court Administration] that we are not going to accept those givebacks, and we want them off the table so that we can negotiate a fair contract for our members."
The crowd swelled as the 1 p.m. lunch hour drew near, and union members spilled onto the road of 100 Center St. as chants of "No givebacks!" erupted.
One protester held a placard demanding: "$HOW U$ RE$PECT."
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, left the unions' cheese out in the wind.
"We don't negotiate in the media or respond to demonstrations," Bookstaver said in an email. "However, we remain very willing to talk and negotiate in the proper setting."
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