Spotting one 15-foot-tall inflatable rat at a union protest in McHenry County would be a rare sighting.
On Wednesday night, lined along the stretch of Route 14 in front of the Algonquin Township Highway Department, there were 10.
Flanking “Scabby the Rat,” more than 100 members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 toted signs in protest of Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser’s firing of three laborers last year and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees the road district spent in a subsequent legal fight.
“We’ve went to court, we’ve won every way along the court battle, [and] it’s time to put these people back to work,” Local 150 business representative Rich Fahey said. “We’re out here to make sure they do that.”
Protesters’ signs featured a cartoon of Gasser in a spacesuit with a nickname, “Gasser the Rat.” A truck bed billboard parked across Route 14 read, “Shame on Andrew Gasser.” Another popular picket sign said, “Stop wasting taxpayer dollars.”
“Gasser’s a rat,” Fahey said. “We want guys to go back to work. Honor the contract that was put into place, that’s all we’re asking for.”
In May 2017, minutes after he was sworn in as highway commissioner, Gasser fired the two sons-in-law of his predecessor, Bob Miller – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – as well as former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos.
In a legal battle that followed, Gasser tried to nullify the collective bargaining agreement his employees entered before he took office.
In August, Gasser’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate the union contract was dismissed with prejudice. The highway commissioner and his $400-an-hour Woodstock attorney, Robert Hanlon, are angling to appeal the decision.
The protests began about 90 minutes before Algonquin Township officials met for their monthly meeting to audit bills and discuss business. Inside the meeting, union members stepped up to the microphone to share statements on behalf of Local 150.
Gasser did not attend the meeting.
Chirikos said the highway commissioner’s legal battle is an “endless waste of money that’s only filling a lawyer’s pockets.”
Hanlon’s bills have accounted for a large portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees that mounted in multiple lawsuits in the past 16 months. Since June 2017, Hanlon’s firm has billed the road district more than $400,000.
Kevin Fitzgerald, one of Gasser’s full-time employees, also stepped up to the lectern.
“This man never even saw them work one day,” Fitzgerald said of his boss and the employees he fired on his first day in office. “He fired them because of who they were and his own personal, political agenda.”
In the past two years, Gasser cut Fitzgerald’s pay by almost $2 an hour while continuing to fund unsuccessful legal fights, Fitzgerald said.
“When are we going to stand up?” Fitzgerald said. “Why is this guy still able to sign his name and play house with Monopoly money?”
Algonquin Township officials were receptive to Local 150’s presence.
The board voted, 3-2, to reject the $35,000 in bills Hanlon submitted to the road district this month.
“I will not approve – not one more – Hanlon’s bills,” Trustee Melissa Victor said. “It’s time to hire these people back.”