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14 inflatable rats and a cat line Larkin Avenue as unions protest Joliet construction site

Building trades unions demonstrate at North Ridge Plaza

Motorists got more than their usual eyeful of the inflatable rats outside a Joliet construction site Friday.

Fourteen of the inflatables, mostly rats and one cat, lined Larkin Avenue outside the North Ridge Plaza, where a Starbucks is under construction.

The Starbucks is the latest addition to a shopping center that’s been under renewal for the past two years, adding Portillo’s Pick Up and Vasa Fitness.

But the unions object to the arrival of Englewood Construction, a Lemont-based national builder that apparently has several projects pending in the shopping center at Larkin and Theodore Street.

“It is because of Englewood Construction,” Juan Rico said when asked why so many rats. “They’ve got four projects at North Ridge Plaza.”

Rico is the assistant business manager for the Joliet-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 176, which led the demonstration that included several building trades unions that brought along their own inflatable rats.

The rats are used to draw attention to the presence of non-union workers at a job site, although usually not so many are used. One rat had been posted at the site the previous three days, and the unions stepped up their presence Friday morning.

“The issue that we have with Englewood is that they reached out to find union contractors and then hired non-union contractors and pocketed the money,” Rico said.

A spokesman for Englewood did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking a response.

The job site apparently is not all non-union.

One contractor, who would not provide his name, said he was leaving the Starbucks site because he was a union contractor.

“I’m a union contractor, and I can’t be on a site that is non-union,” the man said.

Rico said he did not know whether any union contractors were hired for the job, but he knew of many who were not.

“We got a lot of phone calls from local contractors who thought they were getting the job and then found out that they did not,” Rico said.

The construction site was empty by late morning, but there still were a dozen rats facing Larkin Avenue.

One union left – and took their rats with them, Rico said.

Aside from electricians, other unions demonstrating on the site represented laborers, carpenters and iron workers, Rico said.

He said other projects coming to the shopping center are dd’s Discounts, American Freight furniture and a Threading Station eyebrow salon.

“We’re just out here to show our strength and solidarity, and to make the public aware,” Rico said. “We know everything’s not going to be 100% union, and we don’t expect it to be. But we try to keep our people working.”