Transit Union Challenges NYPD Order to Help Arrest Fellow Protestors

After Saturday’s arrest of 700 Occupy Wall Street protestors, the New York Police Department ordered bus drivers to go to the Brooklyn Bridge, and transport protestors to police facilities for holding and processing.

Police arrest a protestor on the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday. Transit workers say it's not their job to help. Photo: Reuters

But the bus drivers didn’t think helping cops suppress protestors’ first amendment rights was in their job description, and the Transport Workers Union took the NYPD to court this week to assert their rights to abstain from police activity. The union was unable to convince a judge, however, that city buses and bus drivers shouldn’t be utilized for police business.

“TWU Local 100 supports the protesters on Wall Street and takes great offense that the mayor and NYPD have ordered operators to transport citizens who were exercising their constitutional right to protest — and shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place,” said Union President John Samuelsen, who called the police’s power play “a blatant act of political retaliation.” Three days before the mass arrests, TWU had declared their support for the Occupy Wall Street protests, with their demand for “Democracy Not Corporatocracy.”

Samuelsen says the drivers’ fourth amendment rights were violated, since the government may only compel a citizen to assist in law enforcement when there is imminent danger, and according to Samuelsen, there was no imminent danger.

MTA said the agency has “a long history of cooperating with the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies when they require vehicles to perform their duties” and that they “have no intention of changing [that] longstanding policy.”

The New York local of TWU brought the matter to the New York State Supreme Court Monday, asking for an injunction to keep the NYPD from forcing city bus drivers to deliver protestors to jail. TWU spokesperson Jim Gannon said Monday that at least once over the weekend, normal passengers were ejected from an MTA bus to make room for detainees.

The court rejected TWU’s lawsuit, saying police could arrest city bus drivers who refuse to drive Occupy Wall Street protesters to prison, according to Courthouse News Service.

The union’s lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, said Judge Paul Engelmayer “made it clear” that the union can move forward with a case for a permanent injunction preventing the police from recruiting public transportation workers to drive prison buses. City and transit officials had hoped to get the case tossed entirely.

Today, TWU members, along with members of other unions, joined the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The Amalgamated Transit Union also declared its support for the protests yesterday. ATU President Larry Hanley said, “The ATU applauds the Occupy Wall Street activists for their courage and strength to expose the greed and corruption on Wall Street as the rest of America struggles to survive,” adding that ”transit riders have paid with record fare increases and service cuts.”