The Rapid steps up intimidation tactics against ATUGR members and supporters
In late January we posted a story about the Day of Action organized by members of the local bus drivers union (ATUGR) and students from the GVSU chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).
Those who participated in the Day of Action hung banners, passed out flyers on buses and engaged in a sit in during the monthly Rapid Board meeting. The Rapid decided to call the police and police told the sit in participants that if they didn’t leave they would be arrested. Everyone complied and left the Rapid Board meeting. End of story, or so it would seem.
The ATUGR and students with the GVSU chapter of USAS are now reporting that, “Grand Rapids police detectives went to the homes of students and workers, threatening them with charges of disturbing the peace for their participation in the January sit-in to protest the proposed fare increases, the termination of workers’ pensions, and stalled contract negotiations between ATU Local 836 and The Rapid.”
Late last year a federal court ruled that The Rapid could not prohibit or interfere with the free speech rights of ATU Local 836 members working for the agency. However, The Rapid has suspended one of the ATU Local 836 members for speaking out during The Rapid board meetings.
In a recent press release ATU International President Larry Hanley, stated, “This is a witch-hunt by Rapid CEO Peter Varga and the City of Grand Rapids that knows no bounds. We will continue this fight for as long as it takes to protect the students, our riders, and the livelihoods of our Rapid workers.”
The press release also included comments from one GVSU USAS member who said, “I was surprised and scared that there was a Grand Rapids police detective at my door to question me,” says Grand Valley State University junior Jen Knickerbocker “It’s very frightening to be told you are going to be charged with a crime for participating in a peaceful protest at a public meeting.
“It’s clear to me that the city and The Rapid will stop at nothing to silence anyone who stands in their way. The very fact that the mayor and The Rapid are using police officers as political operatives to intimidate members of the community should alarm everyone.” Knickerbocker says the detective also asked her about fellow students who also attended the sit-in.
We contacted another organizer and participant in the Day of Action sit in, Lindsey Disler. She stated, “It seems ridiculous that they would start coming after us 2 months after the event took place, and after a federal judge ruled that there could be protests at board meetings. It honestly seems like they are just trying to scare us into silence and it wont work. “
Grand Rapids has a long history of union busting and intimidation of workers demanding justice. Despite the continuous accolades this city receives about being progressive, this most recent round of intimidation tactics only demonstrates that this City doesn’t tolerate disobedient workers, especially those that challenge power.