NEWBURYPORT — The union protesting Anna Jaques Hospital's decision to hire nonunion electrical workers as part of its $15 million renovation project has been conspicuously absent from the downtown area the last several days.
But those hoping that members of the International Brother of Electrical Workers Local 103 have decided to pack up their 9-foot-tall inflatable rat and leave the city for good are in for a disappointment. A union representative said yesterday they would be back protesting today.
IBEW Local 103 representative Louis Antonellis said the union decided to take a few days off after he was asked by Mayor Donna Holaday to remove the inflatable rat from the Market Square area for the rest of Yankee Homecoming, the eight-day celebration that wrapped up Sunday.
"We decided that, talking to the mayor, we would pull back a little bit to let the people of Newburyport enjoy their weekend," Antonellis said.
Holaday confirmed the conversation, saying the inflatable rat, which was last seen outside the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts near the beginning of the Homecoming celebration, was creating a safety hazard and taking up too much space, as thousands of people a day visited the downtown area.
Months of back and forth
Prior to Yankee Homecoming, IBEW Local 103 had been stationing its large, gray rat inside the bullnose area of Market Square during several consecutive weekends.
The union has been upping the ante in its protests over the past few months, staging rallies during the city's Memorial Day parade and renting a plane to fly a banner highlighting an anti-hospital website during Newburyport High School graduation exercises. Like the inflatable rat, the flyovers have been part of the weekend landscape for weeks now.
Those activities and other statements made by the union infuriated Holaday, who said yesterday she has been exchanging letters and other correspondence with Antonellis for months.