Unions’ use of inflatable rats is widespread across America and internationally, and that started at Local 150! That’s right, Scabby the Rat calls Local 150 home, and it is an important part of our heritage as a union.
In 1986, President-Business Manager Bill Dugan hired Jim Sweeney as Local 150’s first organizer, and an era of rapid growth begun. As Local 150 prepared to protest a non-union contractor at a public event, Sweeney and fellow organizer Bob Paddock produced signs with cartoon drawings of rats on them. Because the protest was being held outside of a hotel, the signs drew public attention and attracted people to come over and ask what what happening, and the organizers took notice.
From there, an organizer had his friend in the stagehands’ union produce a costume, similar in quality to what would be used in a musical or play. The rat suit was even more effective, but it came with one drawback– it was notoriously difficult to clean the suit without destroying it. With frequent use over long days in the hot summer months, the rat suit quickly took on a formidable aroma, and was often assigned to the newest organizers on staff.
One Saturday morning, while driving to the District 1 Hall, Jim Sweeney took a look at an inflatable gorilla at a nearby car dealership, and the era of the inflatable rat was born! It began as a small rat that was kept on a car’s rooftop luggage rack and could be stowed when not inflated. An old car was painted yellow and fitted with the rat and a pump, and dubbed the “Scab Tracker.” The attention this drew was unmistakeable, and so additional cars were fitted with this “rat pack” until a fleet of cars made up the “Rat Patrol.”
In the 1989 issue of the Local 150 Engineer, a naming contest was announced for what until that point was known as Mr. Rat. In January 1990, the Local 150 Executive Board announced its winning submission: Scabby the Rat, submitted by Local 150 member Lou Mahieu, who won a jacket for his contribution.
Over time, the use of Scabby grew, and Scabby himself grew right along with it. Big Sky Balloons quickly went into business producing inflatable rats ranging from eight to fourteen feet high.