Philadelphians are used to rats.

Giant, inflatable ones have long been a staple at union protests. There are reports that the city is getting more complaints about the rodents. And now, there's a van-sized rat making its way around the region.

John Dougherty, business manager for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, answered a few of our questions via email about the union's new mobile rat.

Q: What is the Rat Mobile, and how do you plan to use it?

A: The Rat Mobile is a customized minivan that we are using as a mobile protest unit to travel to the job sites and summer shore residences of unscrupulous developers and contractors who cheat the city out of taxes and other revenue sources by paying workers in cash and money orders and failing to obtain necessary permits and licenses. Whether they're on the way to Cape May, Wildwood or Ocean City, the Rat Mobile will be there all summer and these fat cats will know they have a problem.

Q: How was the Rat-Mobile constructed?

A: It was constructed by a close friend of one of Local 98's officers - and we're not giving away our trade secrets.

Q: When did/will you start using it?

A: It's already in use around the city and people are loving it. The little kids ask for a ride in it. It draws a LOT of attention.

Q: Will you still use the inflatable rats? What does the rat vehicle allow you to do differently from the inflatable ones?

A: Yes, the inflatable rats are still in use and serve a vital purpose to inform the public that there are developers and contractors in our region who shamelessly cheat the system and deprive workers of area wages and standards. The Rat Mobile allows us to quickly take our protests on the road and the Bose Speaker systems mounted in the ears give us the flexibility to change and customize the publicly broadcast messages. It currently says "Watch the Rat Car, please."

Q: How was the idea for the Rat-Mobile developed? Is this something other unions are doing?

A: The Rat Mobile was our idea at Local 98. No other union is using anything like it, as far as we know. We always try to think outside the box. Rat developers and contractors are constantly scamming the system and we constantly have to evolve to stay one step ahead of them. They'll feel the wrath of the Rat Mobile soon when they're trying to relax on the beach. It's coming - and they're not going to like it.