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: ##

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.”

  • Ian Turner

    Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve seen the TWU do something respectable.

  • Occupy the MTA

    Why is this a story in Streetsblog DC? This is national transit news? How? Why? Really? Does this failed action by TWU mean more money for transit? No fare hike in 2012? Please share.

  • Anonymous

    @9ab26cee462bb3deee7835f9f7618850:disqus transit workers being forced to perform police activities while on hours?  PUBLIC transportation vehicles being commandeered to assist in arrests on shaky constitutional grounds?  I think this is very relevant to streetsblog issues.

    If you don’t agree on those grounds, it’s called streetsblog, and this is something happening on the streets, which has national implications.

  • I agree with the union here. The MTA should cooperate with law enforcement in full, and this means challenging arbitrary arrests for the crime of not being liked by NYPD.

  • Rob Durchola

    There is an issue not being addressed here.  If the buses pulled by the police were pulled from recovery locations during their assigned hours of operation, then people waiting for those buses did not have service.  Unless there is a true emergency (for example, taking patients from a nursing home that caught fire on a night with temperatures of -10 degrees to other shelter), this should never be done and the MTA should work out different protocols with the police.

    If, on the other hand, these operators were at the depot (extra board operators) or already done with their regular assignments and pulling in to the depot, then one has to err on the side of the police and fight it out in courts later. 


    The transit union is in collusion with the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  It seems they are breaking protocol by taking sides in the fight.  This is why unions are a complete joke.  In a nation of 9.1% unemployment, I’m sure plenty of hard working scabs are willing and able to drive a bus.  Bust the union…

  • Uh, Seminole, the bus drivers were not paid to transport the prisoners. They also were not hired to transport prisoners. That line of work is a lot more hazardous than ordinary bus driving.  What they NYPD did was flat out illegal. The police are only allowed to commandeer cars when life&death are on the line.

  • mestizO

    Incredible and renews whatever faith I have.  OWS in your city now…In the World Tomorrow!


Transit Funding Cuts Are Putting Bus Drivers in Danger

Attacks on transit drivers are not a new problem. But it seems to be getting worse. A bus driver now gets assaulted every three days in the United States, estimates the Amalgated Transit Union. Headlines abound of drivers getting kicked, punched, stabbed and shot, while the lower-profile offenses – spitting and verbal harassment – have […]

Larry Hanley: Part-Time Labor Won’t Save American Transit

Streetsblog sat down last week with Larry Hanley, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union and member of the AFL-CIO executive council. Yesterday, we published the first part of our interview, focusing on movement-building around transit. Here, we had a vigorous discussion about union rules and Buy America provisions that are the subject of some […]

How Can Bicycles and Buses Share the Road More Safely?

Share the Road – Buses and Bicycles from Chicago Bicycle Program on Vimeo. Yesterday morning, Megan Charlop was killed by a bus in the Bronx after apparently being doored and knocked into traffic by the driver of a parked car while riding her bike. Anyone who regularly rides a bicycle in New York City or […]

Oakland Cops Can't Be Bothered With OWS Vehicular Assault

The Occupy movement has added a new layer to the battle for the public right of way. In many cities where protesters have asserted their constitutional right to assemble, law enforcement has intervened swiftly, even violently, the moment demonstrators get in the way of the movement of motor vehicles. We saw it when hundreds of […]

Oakland Cops Can’t Be Troubled With OWS Vehicular Assault

The Occupy movement has added a new layer to the battle for the public right of way. In many cities where protesters have asserted their constitutional right to assemble, law enforcement has intervened swiftly, even violently, the moment demonstrators get in the way of the movement of motor vehicles. We saw it when hundreds of […]