Adam is a bus driver in Minneapolis and a member of ATU Local 1005 and Socialist Alternative MN. In the midst of the ongoing protests in Minneapolis, he made the decision to refuse police officers’ request to use his bus to transport arrested people to the precinct. As a consequence of this and other pressure, ATU International has recently released a statement calling for an independent investigation into the death of George Floyd and supports the right of its members to refuse transporting police officers and arrested demonstrators. We caught up with him to discuss the ongoing protests in Minneapolis and how union members can support the fight against racist police brutality.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you came to the decision to not allow Minneapolis police to use your bus line to transport arrested protestors?
So, I am a city bus driver. I have been a driver for the past two years. I drive a bus that covers the surrounding metro areas of Minneapolis and St Paul. I am a member of Local 1005 and I have been involved in left organizing for a few years going back to the police shooting of Philando Castile. I don’t know if you remember but he was shot and killed by police in Falcon Heights, a suburb between Minneapolis and St Paul. There was a series of protests after his murder. There was the occupation of the governor’s mansion which wasn’t far from where Castile was murdered. I participated in the protests and marches that took over Interstate 94 which runs between Minneapolis and St Paul. Many of us were arrested there that night and we were loaded up into city buses and metro bus operators drove us to the county jail.
It was my experience with those protests that made me see how the police department expects to use buses and workers. I decided to take this job because it has good benefits and a strong union. But now I find myself in a similar situation. What do I do? When the George Floyd protests erupted, I was there on the second day. The protests began at the location where he got killed and we all marched to the precinct. On the third day which was this Wednesday, the situation developed into the occupation of the 3rdprecinct. I couldn’t participate that day because I was working. But when I was driving my route, I got a message on my monitor offering overtime to drivers who wanted to drive a police bus. I knew immediately that the police department was trying to use metro transit to prepare for mass arrests. Over my break, I just typed up a quick post on Facebook–what you ended up seeing. It read something like this “Hey, as a union member and as a worker I can’t in good conscience participate in this.”
But I didn’t want to just write a Facebook post. I also wanted to convince my co-workers. I realize that I am just a bus driver and I don’t have real authority over 2500 workers. But I wanted to show my co-workers that It’s pretty easy to refuse because they are just offering it as overtime. They can’t make us do it. As long as they are offering it as overtime, we can refuse it.
Besides the Facebook post, I also started an online petition for my co-workers and other union members to sign. We have also created a Facebook group Union Members for #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd to support the protests.
Have you tried to have one on-one conversations with your co-workers about the protests?
It’s been difficult. Even under normal circumstances, you don’t see your co-workers often.Most of the time you are alone in your bus. The opportunity to talk to someone is more difficult now because of COVID-19. We have reduced service and drivers are out sick and not coming to work because they had been exposed or because they are afraid to bring it home to their families. So, it has been a very stressful time.
I went into work this afternoon and basically right when I walked in, they announced that the whole system is going to shut down. They said there are too many riots happening that people can’t continue to risk going to work. However, we were told that if we should stick around if we wanted to volunteer.
What does that entail?
Well you can volunteer to do one of three things: drive buses from one garage to another, transport police officers and now potentially the National Guard, or you take arrested protesters to jail. So, I used that opportunity to talk with my co-workers. I asked them: “Are you willing to do this for a police department that has criminals?”
How did they respond?
A lot of drivers said things like: “I don’t want to go into a dangerous situation. My wife will kill me if she finds out that I went into the riot.” Drivers are concerned for their personal safety. Another driver said that she is worried that if she drives cops, she will be a target for protesters.
And then I witnessed one of my co-workers agree to volunteer. The dispatcher said she would have to be willing to transport cops. And she said no and sat back down. She said: “I will drive from one garage to another, but I will not drive the police around.”
When I saw this, I thought that there was enough of a mood of drivers who do not want to provide any support to a police department that it could make a difference.
What do your co-workers make of the ongoing protests? I saw in the news that a police precinct was burned down.
I was able to have these conversations in the garage today. Everyone that I talked to recognized that it was especially egregious how the cops murdered George Floyd and that the police officer was in the wrong and should be charged and arrested and stand trial for what he did. There’s a lot of sympathy for the protest because of such obvious injustice. But, at the same time, the conversation went from that to–do we agree with recent escalations of the riots? I tried to redirect the conversation so that drivers could see how political elites have mismanaged the city and allowed the police department to go without accountability. The police officer is a racist piece of shit. He has been on the police force for 19 years and has committed brutality while on duty for many years. He’s been violent towards people he has arrested. The mayor and the city council have gotten more liberal and will give mouth service to the Movement for Black Lives, but yet this police officer has been allowed to remain on the force all this time. They increased the police budget year after year when there is a housing crisis. Their first statement after Floyd was murdered was a complete lie. They talked about him resisting arrest. There has been now a video released and there no point where George Lloyd resisted arrested.
What does Minneapolis look like right now?
When people arrived at the 3rdprecinct they were met with rubber bullets and riot police. The police did nothing to deescalate the situation. That was Tuesday night. But I would say that among the protesters there is no trust in the city political establishment, no trust in Trump’s FBI doing a thorough investigation and no trust in a police department that continues provoking protesters with their methods. The mayor is a typical establishment liberal politician that’s not condemning the waythe police are approaching the protestors and the tactics they are using.
It’s not surprising that people had reached these conclusions that they can’t rely on the police establishment and the city’s leadership who has shown them they are incapable or unwilling to bring justice to past victims. So why would they trust them this time around? So, they are taking matters into their own hands.
What do you hope to do by engaging your co-workers?
It has gotten to a point where for the protest movement to move forward, there has to be a transitional way and what has been brought up repeatedly. Liberals are telling them to go home but that’s not going to work. There have been efforts today by different progressive groups independent to continue protests at the downtown city government’s city office where the prosecutor’s office is.
There has also been a demand that that the head county prosecutor should bring charges against the four officers involved. I think there will be protests making their way there as we speak. I will probably make my way down there myself after I get off the phone with you. There are thousands of people down there. It’s a good development. People want to fight back and don’t want to go home. They might not see the tactics from last night as effective, but they don’t want to stay home. They want to come back out and fight, but maybe with different methods.
What’s exciting to me in all this that Minnesota Nurse Union and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Local 1005 have all made statements condemning the murder of George Floyd. They have all stated that justice needs to be served and used strong language. I think it’s necessary that the labor movement connect with protesters. More and more people of color are filling the membership of unions but for the labor movement to grow and become a viable force to fight the bosses, we have to show that we are capable of fighting for the entire working class. That means we need to transcend what’s happening inside the workplace and to reach unorganized workers and able to fight with them beyond the workplace. This is a role that unions can play among lives of working-class people.
Labor has been pushed and beaten back. They’re still the most effective fighting force for working class people because they can be that collective power for workers to oppose and to protect them against the bosses’ interest.
What are some next steps you are planning?
They are stopping transit service until Monday. So, unfortunately, I will not be going to work to talk with co-workers. But I think that I have been able to establish methods to stay in communication and to organize outside our workplace. I am going to encourage them to come out to the protests. On Saturday, a very large protest is expected again, and I see a moment to organize a labor contingent that shows solidarity with the protesters. This is an opportunity for labor members to show they can use their position to fight for justice and demands that the protesters are putting forward. Organized workers can also act collectively to shut down production and company profits which is the biggest threat to the ruling political class.