Bus drivers want to keep the NYPD off their vehicles

A New York City Bus (AFP Photo / Don Emmert)
Bus drivers in New York City have been telling the NYPD that they don’t have to give free rides to jail for Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, despite what the Police Department seems to think. Now they are taking the issue to court.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 brought the matter to the New York State Supreme Court on Monday, where they asked for an injunction to keep the NYPD from forcing city bus drivers into giving protesters lifts to the big house. During Saturday’s mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge, bus drivers in New York City say that police officers commandeered their vehicles and insisted they move the 700 detainees to jail to be processed.

TWU spokesman Jim Gannon issued a statement on Monday to the media in which he revealed that in at least one incident over the weekend, passengers were ejected from a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus and told to wait for another so that police could make room for detainees.

John Samuelsen, president of Local 100, added at the conference that the Department’s actions over the weekend were over-the-top.

"The government may only compel a citizen to assist in law enforcement when there is imminent danger. There was no imminent danger here, and therefore the Operator's Fourth Amendment rights were violated,” said Samuelsen. “Just the opposite, the protesters this weekend appeared to be marching peacefully as is their right. Mayor Bloomberg is elevating the tension on Wall Street by these actions, when he should be calmly embracing New Yorkers' rights to free speech."

In an email to Bloomberg News, MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said, "We have no intention of changing our longstanding policy of cooperating with the NYPD,” but the union says that their assistance was not needed on the Brooklyn Bridge. Samuelsen added that drivers would gladly assist with the NYPD in cases of emergency, but added yesterday, "this was not such an emergency, and our members' rights were violated. They are there to transport passengers, not be an arm of City Hall to squelch free speech."

Jim Gannon of the TWU added in a statement regarding the injunction that the move is to show the union’s solidarity with the protesters, whom he says TWU’s members can certainly relate to.

“We’re a pretty mainstream blue collar union,” says spokesman Jim Gannon. “We view the protests as young people who are articulating the same kind of things that we’ve been trying to articulate.”

“They’ve really thrown a spotlight on issues that are bothering people, especially bothering workers like our members,” he says. “Right now, we’re discussing how we’re going to give them material support, what we should do for them.”

Last week the Transit Workers Union Local 100’s executive committee unanimously voted in favor to support the protestors, three days before 700 demonstrators were arrested over the East River. In addition to the union, which has around 40,000 members, SEIU 32BJ, the NYC-based union that represents doormen and security workers, has also offered their support.