Transport Workers Union of America President John Samuelsen said June 3 that his flagship local's support of a Bus Operator's refusal to transport people arrested in Brooklyn while protesting George Floyd's death in police custody was an assertion of members' rights rather than "a slight of the police."
The May 29 incident near the Barclays Center came after the NYPD had arrested 200 protesters, according to The Hill newspaper.
Driver Cheered by Crowd
A video widely circulated on social media that evening showed the Bus Operator being cheered by the assembled crowd.
Across the country, in cities including Miami, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Houston, TWU locals refused police requests to transport protesters who were under arrest, according to Mr. Samuelsen.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents Bus Operators who work for the Metro Transit system that serves Minneapolis and St. Paul, took a similar stand.
After the Local 100 Bus Operator refused the NYPD request, the union tweeted, "TWU Local 100 Bus Operators do not work for the NYPD. We transport the working families of NYC, all TWU Operators should refuse to transport arrested protestors." The tweet included the hashtag #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd.
'A Law-Enforcement Role'
When asked to comment, the Police Benevolent Association declined but forwarded another Local 100 tweet that said the union's position was "not an attack on the NYC police. Transit workers aren't cops or corrections officers and shouldn't be compelled to move prisoners or arrestees. That's a law-enforcement role."
"I don't think it is a controversy at all," Mr. Samuelsen said during a phone interview. "It's not transit work to transport arrested protesters. It is not a slight of the police. It is an affirmation that the TWU does not transport arrested protesters."
Mr. Samuelsen said the union "supported the right to peacefully protest," but "beyond that we don't do this work and it is absolutely a safety issue."
He recalled a 2011 incident when he was Local 100 president during the Occupy Wall Street protests "when a Bus Operator was knocked to the floor and pepper-sprayed accidentally in the middle of a scuffle involving the transportation of arrested protesters."
'Can Refuse Unsafe Work'
After that, the union went to court to get a temporary restraining order "and then we realized we had contract language that protected us so that we could refuse unsafe work," Mr. Samuelsen said.
The NYPD did not respond to an email request for comment.
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority source said the NYPD had the authority to commandeer buses in emergency situations, but agency Bus Operators are entitled to decline to operate the bus when that happens.
"In some situations, as when the NYPD seeks to move a bus into a known ongoing conflict zone, bus supervisors may remove the NYCT bus operator (requiring the NYPD to operate the bus)," according to the source.
Followed Unity Moment
Two days before the Bus Operator's refusal to transport NYPD prisoners, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch delivered 1,000 heroes and other sandwiches to Local 100 President Tony Utano and his members as a thank you for their efforts to keep the city running during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We're all in the same boat," Mr. Lynch said alongside Mr. Utano on Livingston St. in downtown Brooklyn. "We're all on the same train, we're riding the same buses."
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