February 5, 2009

Court gives union right to use rat balloon

A union has the right to display an inflatable balloon in the shape of a rat during protests, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court found that an ordinance in Lawrence, N.J., banning inflatable signs isn't content-neutral because it allows businesses to use them for grand openings.

The case began in 2005 when Local 269 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers protested outside Gold's Gym because of a dispute with a contractor working there. The union took a 10-foot inflatable rat to the demonstration.

A union official, Wayne DeAngelo, was given a summons when he refused to obey a police officer who told him to deflate the balloon. DeAngelo lost in municipal court. Superior Court and the Appellate Division before winning in the Supreme Court.

Lower courts found that the ordinance has a legitimate purpose -- keeping Lawrence safe and beautiful. The high court disagreed because Lawrence allows temporary signs including grand opening balloons and signs for yard sales.