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Getting to know the TWU rat handler

Joe Ruggiero is on rat duty for the transit union. For the past year, Ruggiero, 46, is the sole person responsible for setting up and deflating the “union rat” balloons, one of which was set up outside MTA chief Jay Walder’s house to protest layoffs. amNewYork recently spoke to him:

What’s in your rat collection?
“There is a baby, a mommy and a cockroach.”

How do you choose which one to use?
“If we decide there is a big problem, we’ll take out the big rat ... If it’s windy, we don’t usually have the big one.”

What’s set up like?
“I can have it out of the van, inflate it and on the sidewalk in five minutes.”

What does the rat symbolize?
“That rat gets to the heart and soul of the working class people ... When people try to disenfranchise the American dream, that’s what it’s for.”

How have people been reacting to it?
“People are taking pictures of it. People are upset it’s in front of their home ... It’s a great tool. The rat is how we bring things to light.”

When else have they been used?
“(In 2005 during bargaining with the head of Liberty Lines), we found out the owner had a restaurant Montauk Point ... We set up shop there with the cockroach. We had ladies … go in there and give him a piece of their mind. Not too long after that they came back to the bargaining table.”

 

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