SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CN) – Union workers say Elkhart County enacted an unconstitutional anti-picketing ordinance that, among other things, bars a giant inflatable rat that has been the subject of lawsuits around the country. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 says that while protesting with their giant inflatable rat in front of Niblock Excavating, workers were illegally cited and arrested.
In July 2008 Elkhart County banned “speeches, picketing, protests” and other activities that disrupt traffic in construction zones. The union says that ordinance is overbroad and unconstitutional.
The union says that on numerous occasions this year its workers were threatened, arrested and cited while protesting against Niblock in a picket line which included the inflated rat, rat pictures and the words “Rat Patrol.”
The union says the rat is a traditional symbol in labor disputes, a “means of communicating a union’s message … with an employer,” and that the blow-up rat, in displaying workers’ grievances, is a form of protected speech
The union says Niblock and Elkhart conspired to prohibit picketing: the brother of an Elkhart County Board of Commissioners vice president is a Niblock employee, according to the complaint.
A Niblock relative also works as the project manager for Elkhart’s Highway Department, the union says.
The union wants Elkhart County enjoined from citing or arresting picketers, and punitive damages. Its lead counsel is Melinda Hensel.