Graff Diamonds San Francisco is suing the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 22, claiming that the inflatable fat cat the union mounted outside its store significantly damaged its Valentine’s Day sales.
The suit, filed Feb. 28 in California Federal Court, charges that the 20-ft. balloon cat, which wore a suit and large diamond ring, blocked the windows of the company’s store on Third Street and obstructed its entrance. In addition, it claims that the union used a camera to capture those entering and leaving the store, in what it calls an attempt to “coerce, threaten, and otherwise restrain customers.”
Graff was targeted because of the labor group’s ongoing dispute with Shawmut Design and Construction, the papers said. Graff said that while it used Shamut to help construct its San Francisco store in 2011, it hasn’t used the company since, and has no plans to use it in the future. (It also noted that Shawmut used union labor to build the store.)
The legal papers said that when a Graff representative contacted the union, complaining that it hasn’t used Shawmut in over two years, a union official told him Graff should choose its contractors more carefully in the future, noting Shawmut has a history of labor disputes. He added that the only way Graff could rid itself of the cat would be to contact the construction company and urge it to talk to the union, the papers say.
The suit said the protests caused foot traffic to decline significantly leading up to Valentine’s Day, costing it at least $100,000 during the season.
The suit charges the union with violating the National Labor Relations Act and seeks damages of at least $75,000. The company has also filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union has not yet filed a response, and it could not be reached for comment by press time. In the past, however, courts have ruled that the giant rat and other union protest icons are protected free speech.