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Free speech, Labor groups condemn police intimidation of students fighting for Grand Rapids ATU members

The United Farm Workers (UFW) and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation (BORDC/DFF) have strongly condemned Grand Rapids, MI, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss for using city police to intimidate students and workers who took part in a peaceful sit-in during a meeting of the board of the Rapid – the city’s public transit system.

The organizations were responding to the actions of police detectives who went to the homes of students and workers, threatening them with charges of disturbing the peace for their participation in a January protest of proposed fare increases, the theft of workers’ pensions, and stalled contract negotiations between Local 836 and the transit agency.

This all came on the heels of Mayor Rosalynn Bliss attending a march to honor the life and legacy of labor activist Cesar Chavez, famed for using civil disobedience tactics on behalf of farm workers abused by their employers.



The UFW letter to Mayor Bliss expressed particular outrage that she had marched in the name of their founder the day before dispatching officers to harass activists:

“I am writing to express our deep disappointment in the breathtaking hypocrisy demonstrated by your administration this past week. One day you marched under our banner to commemorate the work of an American icon and our founder Cesar Chavez.

“The very next day, you dispatched Grand Rapids police to the homes of student activists to intimidate them for organizing a January sit-in to support transit workers,” wrote UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. “Union-busting and police intimidation of workers and activists has a dark history in our country, one that is especially painful for farm workers.”

This latest attempt to silence workers and community activists by Mayor Bliss is part of an ongoing, aggressive effort to muzzle anyone who speaks out against The Rapid’s theft of transit worker pensions, violations of the workers’ First Amendment rights, a recent 16% fare hike, and a generous raise for the agency’s CEO.

When asked about the police visits to the homes of students, Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Terry Dixon told The Grand Rapids Press that officers had closed the case, but that the department was “subsequently asked to reopen the case” almost two months after the incident. Sgt. Dixon goes on to admit that, “There doesn’t seem to be much really to go on. We are standing down. There will be no charges sought.”