MANHATTAN (CN) – Duty-torn transit workers joined roughly 15,000 to protest at Occupy Wall Street on Wednesday, rallying, with help from documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, against a police directive calling on them to abandon their bus routes if the city needs help taking demonstrators to jail after they have been arrested.
City bus drivers face arrest if they refuse to leave their routes at police orders to shuttle jail-bound arrested demonstrators. Just a day earlier, a federal judge refused to block the New York City Police Department and NYC Transit Authority from enforcing the allegedly unconstitutional practice.
Hours later, the Transport Workers Union of Greater New York, Local 100, stood with the protesters in the Financial District. One former bus driver who still works with the union said that he would rather get arrested than haul prisoners.
“They could arrest me. That’s fine, because it wouldn’t stick,” Tommy McNally of Staten Island told Courthouse News. “It’s not an assigned route. It’s not part of our job description, and, morally, we’re supporting the people that are here. We’re not here to transport people to jail.”
Saying that he has followed the union’s fight, filmmaker Michael Moore offered to buy a “paddy wagon” for lower-ranking cops to arrest “white shirt” commanding officers who break the law.
“Well, what I offered to do is, I’ll put up the money for a paddy wagon to take the white shirt cops away, next time they break the law, all right,” Moore told Courthouse News. “The street cops don’t like what they’ve seen these white shirts do, and I would love to see one of the patrol officers arrest some of these white shirts. And I’ll provide the paddy wagons.”
Moore made these comments shortly before cops reportedly used mace and batons against protesters and even Fox News journalists. Fox reporters who returned to cover the demonstration said that approximately 20 protesters were arrested.
Transit union president John Samuelson said his members were mad that the city has turned them into potential corrections drivers. Samuelson filed the lawsuit against the designation on Monday.
“The reason [the NYPD] stated in court why they did it was because the police buses and corrections buses were held up in traffic,” Samuelson told Courthouse News. “The Constitution provides for the allowance of pressing a civilian or a citizen into service because of an emergency or an immediate threat to life and limb. Not because police buses got stuck in traffic.”
Rank-and-file member Paul Flores remembered the last time such an emergency happened, on Sept. 11.
“We helped transport the firemen and first responders at the World Trade,” Flores said. “That was an emergency. Bus drivers, they didn’t even have to be asked. Many of them just volunteered for the job – some of them on no pay. They even just felt compelled to help out, and now for them to turn around and do this on us, we feel it’s wrong.”
Another TWU member, Alicia Fields, said she joined the march because the city laid her off from her job as a station agent.
“It was due to budget cuts,” Fields said. “And it didn’t only affect myself. It affected my family because I’m a mom of five, and two of the children are disabled. And there are very much limited services due to budget cuts all across the board, in terms of education, labor and transportation.”
Unions are fed up across the board, too.
The United Federation of Teachers. United Agricultural Workers. Communication Workers of America. Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. National Writers Union. Service Employees International Union. Musicians Union, Local 802.
All those banners were raised among the 15,000 protesters that the Guardian newspaper counted. They filled Foley Square, spilled over onto the steps of the adjacent New York Supreme Court and thronged around the 33,000-square-foot park across from the New York Stock Exchange.
One man waved the banner of a union that recently sprang into existence.
His sign read, “Eat the Rich, Local 802.”