PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The oversized, inflatable rats found snarling at nonunion worksites are getting some high-flying backup.
An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union local in Philadelphia — a city with a long history of union power — now employs three surveillance drones that can fly over protests and construction sites.
They were purchased a few months ago to deploy at job sites for protests and to document any rule violations, according to Local 98 President John Dougherty.
"They're out and about," Dougherty told KYW-TV. The drones will also provide proof that union members aren't violating any rules in their protests, he said.
The union recently posted a YouTube video of the drone at work above a large protest in January, set to Rockwell's paranoid 1984 hit "Somebody's Watching Me." It hovers over streets full of union protesters, inflatable rats and a van dressed up like a rat, then swoops down for close-ups and pans away for intersection views.
The rats, with their scabby bellies and red beady eyes, have been used for decades by U.S. unions as a sort of silent protest, found by courts to be a free speech right. The local carpenters union opts for a giant, inflatable "fat cat" with his arm wrapped around the neck of a blow-up carpenter. It's not clear if other unions are using drones to boost their protesting power. A call Monday to the AFL-CIO wasn't returned.
Wally Zimolong, a lawyer representing the rehabilitation project at the former Parker Spruce Hotel — the target in the IBEW's YouTube video — told the TV station the drones could possibly be used in ways that violate labor laws. But he also conceded the technological technique could be effective.
"He has a pretty good track record of achieving his ends," he said of Dougherty. "There's some suspicion that this video was placed out there to chill any ideas other developers might have about a construction project in the city of Philadelphia that might not utilize union labor."