Laborers haul out giant rat again

Related story: "Union label: 20 ft. inflatable rat"

Typical union threat, intimidation in labor-state

No, Halloween didn’t come early this year: The 16-foot-tall inflatable rat bearing beady red eyes and menacing yellow teeth posted outside Selinsgrove Elementary School on Monday was part of a union protest.

A Harrisburg-based asbestos workers union, the Mid-Atlantic Laborers Association, travels throughout eastern Pennsylvania with a giant rat they use to symbolize perceived injustice. They were stationed outside Selinsgrove Elementary School on Monday because the district hired a nonunion contractor to remove asbestos as part of its 18-month-long renovation project, a spokesman said.

“It’s definitely an attention-grabber,” said union organizer Joe Wingert, of Dalmatia. Wingert and two other men set up beach chairs flanking the rat on Broad Street. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., they waved at honking cars and took turns handing out fliers.

“Their safety records are questionable,” organizer Tim Bowen said of asbestos removal company Power Components Systems. His association claims Power Components Systems has been fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for “serious and repeated violations.”

A search of OSHA’s online records reveals two occasions in the last five years in which government inspectors said the company had violated requirements regarding the wiring methods used at the job site. One violation was categorized as a “serious” infraction.

Union representatives also said the contractor was cited by the EPA for violating the Clean Air Act and was once removed from a job at Sadler Health Center in Carlisle.

A Power Components Systems spokesman on Monday did not dispute the union’s claims.

Selinsgrove Superintendent Dr. Frederick Johnson on Monday said the demonstration “mean(t) nothing to me.”

Johnson said his district doesn’t discriminate between union and nonunion contractors. “We feel those kinds of issues are company issues,” he said. “We know we have to pay the prevailing wage. After that, we don’t get much into it.”

Johnson said the demonstrators were on borough property and were within their rights.

And as it turns out, the giant black and brown rat has a name.

“His name is Thor,” said Wingert. “My daughter named him.”


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