September 19, 2005

CUPD Stops Student Protesters Biking in Front of TCAT Buses

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Last Wednesday morning, a group of six students bicycling in front of a number 81 TCAT bus were issued a warning against further actions of that nature by the Cornell University Police Department. The students, members of Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA), were pulled over by a member of the CUPD and detained for approximately 35 minutes. In the week prior to the warning, COLA members had undertaken approximately four similar rides in support of the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit workers, represented by United Auto Workers Local 2300.

The bus drivers, who have been in contract negotiations with TCAT since January, are not contractually allowed to carry out any work site demonstrations, including slowdowns.

According to Wes Hannah ’06, COLA decided independently to circumvent that regulation by slowly riding bicycles in front of TCAT buses.

“[The bus drivers] can’t specifically slow down their buses while they’re driving, for themselves, but it’s also illegal for them to hit bikers,” Hannah said.

On Wednesday, protesters inducing such a slowdown were blocked by a police car and asked for identification by the officer on the scene. The police officer proceeded to confer with both the students and a TCAT supervisor, who was also on the scene. Later, they were all joined by two additional police officers.

Blaine Friedlander, of the Cornell press office, described last Wednesday’s incident as “something so minor that [the police] didn’t write a report about it.”

“Let’s say you go you’re driving down the road and you do something wrong, and the police officer pulls you over, you’ve got a choice, he can either give you a ticket or give you a warning. They were given warnings,” Friedlander.

Patrick Young ’06, former president of COLA, agreed that the interaction between the students and the second and third officers on the scene occurred in that manner described by Friedlander. However, according to Young, the officer who initially pulled in front of the students “berated” the students for their lack of regard for safety and the general public and told them that they were “being charged with disorderly conduct and a slew of traffic violations”.

When asked about the verbal mention of charges, Simeon Moss ’73, director of Cornell’s press relations office, said, “Well, that’s their allegation, but I don’t know anything at this point.”

The CUPD referred questions to the press relations office.

A week earlier, on Wed., Sept. 7, a group of COLA bike riders were pulled over by a CUPD officer in a similar incident. The students maintain that they officer wrote up the incident as a “peaceful demonstration” and told them that if their actions resulted in a traffic problem, proper action would be taken by the Judicial Administrator.

“He didn’t specifically tell us that we shouldn’t be doing it, which we took to mean that we had at least some underlying support in the CUPD, who are union members,” Hannah said.

Through their efforts, the students hoped to achieve a bus slowdown and increase campus awareness of the labor conflict.

In past week, prior to biking in front of a bus, one of the students would get on the bus to talk to the riders and hand out flyers to people getting on the bus. Additionally, the bicyclists would call out to pedestrians, especially those at bus stops, while riding.

“Not everyone’s happy with it but we try and let them understand,” said Hannah.

Young would not say whether or not COLA members would continue biking in front of buses. He did say that COLA members are trying to organize support for the TCAT bus drivers among Cornell University faculty, staff and students.

“We’re doing actions like this to prepare to support them when they go on strike” said Young.

“Which will be any day”, added Hannah. “As they said, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they go on strike.”

Archived article by Katie Pollack
Sun Staff Writer