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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
An inflatable rat, often nicknamed "Scabby" by union workers, photographed Feb. 21, 2024.

Scabby the Rat highlights labor struggles on N. Lake St.

The ten-foot-tall inflatable rat sits in front of the construction site, representing fair wages and benefits for all construction workers.

Scabby the Rat, a ten-foot-tall inflatable rat, has found a new home at the construction site on N. Lake St. as workers picket construction company HM Brandt. 

Scabby is used by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 139 to bring public attention to companies with unfair labor practices, according to NPR.

Workers are protesting HM Brandt’s substandard wages and lack of benefits, bringing awareness to this project and larger labor struggles across Wisconsin, according to Michael Ervin, the organizing director of IUOE Local 139. Ervin said the picketers will remain until wages are raised or the project is complete.  

Scabby is situated in front of the former State Street Campus Garage at 415 N. Lake St., which will become “a mixed-use project containing an intercity bus terminal, public parking structure, ground floor retail, and student housing,” according to the City of Madison Economic Development team.  

IUOE Local 139 has gathered and picketed each day since construction began to bring awareness to what Ervin said were substandard wages from HM Brandt.

The picketers are members of the union — some of whom have been laid off — and others who work full-time for the organizing division. They show up each day on behalf of the workers at these sites who “aren't getting paid the proper standard wages and benefits,” Ervin said.

The picketers’ mission goes beyond bringing awareness to this project alone, Ervin told The Daily Cardinal. Scabby goes up “whether union or not… it's about the fact that they are not paying the standard wages and benefits.”

Ervin said there are further implications to HM Brandt paying their workers lower wages. By underpaying workers, the company is able to bid underneath local contractors who pay the standard wages and provide benefits, which he said undermines area rates and undercuts contractors with local workers “who would like to have that work.” 

Ervin said he ran heavy equipment for 16 years and has been an avid member of IUOE Local 139 since 2013. He became the organizing director of IUOE Local 139 in 2020.

“I am just passionate about this union. All the stuff that the union gives me and my family, I want everyone else to have,” Ervin said. “I just want everyone else that does the same work that I do, when I ran equipment to have what I have, the great wages and benefits, to be able to take care of their families.” 

Workers at 415 N. Lake St. are not receiving health care or retirement benefits, according to Ervin. 

“Benefits are important,” Ervin said. “You want good health care, to take care of your family and you want to have a nice retirement so you don't have to work your whole life.” 

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Ervin said he hopes the picketing will get HM Brandt to change course and pay workers standard wages and benefits. 

“That would be the end all be all success, but bringing awareness to it and getting a lot of the support from the students and the city workers and people that go by is just as important,” Ervin said. “But ultimately, the end goal is for them to get paid accordingly.” 

IUOE Local 139’s picketing goals include awareness and fair pay, according to Ervin 

However, this is not a new fight here in Wisconsin. Ervin pointed to the 1886 Bayview Massacre, where seven people died fighting for workers' rights and the eight-hour workday. Ervin said he believes the fight for workers' rights is an essential piece of American history and present. 

HM Brandt did not immediately return a request for comment.

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