NEW YORK ― New Yorkers are accustomed to seeing a massive, clawed rat from time to time when walking past hotels or construction sites. It is a tactic that labor unions of various stripes use to shame management during a dispute.
The inflatable rat, known as Scabby, made an appearance outside a less-conventional location Thursday: the offices of the subscription news service Law360 in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
The non-management staff at Law360, which unionized with The NewsGuild of New York in August 2016, has been fighting since then to negotiate its first collective-bargaining contract.
After two years of talks that the union claims have not led to significant economic concessions, members voted by a wide margin on Oct. 23 to authorize a strike. (Ordinarily, collective bargaining in newsrooms produces a contract after about a year.)
Several dozen of those employees walked off the job Thursday afternoon, braving snow and freezing temperatures for a brief rally opposite Scabby the Rat on 19th Street.
“We are using our maximum leverage and maximum pressure to get this done before the end of the year,” Juan Carlos Rodriguez, a senior environmental reporter and chairman of the bargaining unit, told the crowd through a megaphone.
“The rat is going to help us along the way,” he said, eliciting laughs from his colleagues. “But look, we voted: We can have it out here every day if we need to. We’re serious about it.”
Nastaran Mohit, a NewsGuild organizer, led the group in a chant. “What do we want?” she asked. “A fair contract!” they replied. “When do we want it?” she asked. “Now!” they answered.
The demonstration concluded with the union members posing for a photo in front of Scabby.
The union has been steadily escalating its tactics since authorizing the strike. On Wednesday, bargaining unit leaders hand-delivered a letter with their demands to Mike Walsh, the CEO of LexisNexis, which bought Law360 in 2012.
Employees emphasized to HuffPost that they are prepared to make good on their vote and go out on strike.
Law360 is not budging on the union’s demand for across-the-board annual pay increases and paid sick days that are distinct from the vacation days allotted to staff members, according to the NewsGuild. The company has even avoided agreeing to times for bargaining meetings, the union said.
A spokesperson for the company did not immediately respond to an email inquiry asking about the lack of a contract and the factors driving it.
Some employees at the demonstration maintained that pay at the outlet lags behind its competitors.
“I might not have trouble paying my bills, but I know people who do,” said Danielle Smith, an active member of the Law360 bargaining unit. “I know people who struggle in the newsroom and need these protections and things that we’re fighting for.”
The strong state of the economy has encouraged the union not to back down, according to NewsGuild of New York President Grant Glickson. Glickson said the union had given companies some latitude during the Great Recession, but it was less accommodating when business was booming.
“Now that things have turned a bit in journalism, we feel like it’s time that they start paying people appropriately and that they have protections they should have in a professional career,” he said.
It has been several years since Scabby the Rat was last used in a news media contract dispute, but it is far from the first occasion, he noted.
Law360’s alleged hardball tactics are in keeping with its aversion to its employees unionizing in the first place. The company hired a notorious “union avoidance” law firm during the 2016 organizing drive, encouraging employees to attend meetings with anti-union consultants who, among other things, played up the burden of union dues. The employees, many of whom are deeply familiar with labor law, voted to form a union anyway.
The management of Law360’s fight against the unionization drive and subsequent bargaining difficulty with the union are likely the strongest instances of labor strife since the digital media industry began unionizing en masse in June 2015.
HuffPost, whose eligible staff is represented by the Writers Guild of America, East, ratified its first collective-bargaining contract in January 2017.