Unions Agree: Let Bus Drivers Kill People With the Right of Way

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers
Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Just about all of New York’s major labor unions signed a Transport Workers Union letter demanding that MTA bus drivers be allowed to legally injure and kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way.

The letter, dated June 11, was sent to New York City Council members [PDF]. The unions want the council to pass a bill that would exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

The letter was signed by heads of the New York State AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, the Hotel Trades Council, 1199SEIU, the United Federation of Teachers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, and others.

One union chief who didn’t sign the letter: Pat Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents NYPD officers.

After the requisite lip service to “the goal of reducing traffic accidents,” the unions object to “arresting, handcuffing and charging bus operators like common criminals for accidents that do not involve speeding, texting or some other form or demonstrably reckless behavior.”

The implicit meaning of that statement? Hitting and killing someone with the right of way is just an “accident” if you’re driving a bus. Union officials who signed the letter agree with TWU that bus drivers should not be treated like other motorists. “Bus Operators are in a class by themselves,” the letter reads.

A major point in the letter is that MTA discipline and training protocols are stringent enough to ensure that bus operators drive safely. But one of the TWU’s own once took issue with that claim. Pete Donohue is a TWU employee and former Daily News reporter who used his column as a platform for union opposition to the Right of Way Law. In 2012 Donohue chastised the MTA for failing to ground the bus driver who struck and killed Seth Kahn the first day he returned to the job after getting suspended for texting while driving.

MTA bus drivers killed eight people in New York City crosswalks in 2014.

The council bill to exempt bus drivers from the law has 25 sponsors, one short of a majority. Mayor de Blasio has defended the Right of Way Law against union attacks.

  • steely

    Noble Streetsblog Readers! think about the safety-minded teachers you know and on Monday please forward them our soon to come action alert. meantime, retweet shame on you @UFT such as https://twitter.com/Laurajaxheights/status/609428840029532161

  • stairbob

    Why just bus drivers? Shouldn’t members of any of the listed unions also be exempt from the law? And any other professional drivers. And people in a bad mood. I mean, we can’t expect people in a bad mood to drive without killing people can we?

  • ohhleary

    Could it be any more blatantly obvious what’s happening here? The TWU recruited these unions to use their collectively political donations as a bullying tactic to force more city councilpeople to give their members a special protection from the law.

    They must be stopped.

  • Morris Zapp

    Look, the letter clearly states bus drivers are not like other people.

    Can’t we all agree on that?

  • Union member

    From the letter:

    “The advocates believe there is no such thing as an accident. They refer to accidents as ‘traffic violence’ and all involved in such incidents as violent criminals.”

    They keep saying this – Pete Donohue said it on NY1 – but that doesn’t make it true. There are honest-to-goodness accidents. This law only applies after CIS determines that a pedestrian’s right of way has been violated and that the crash could have been avoided. There seems to be a deliberate tactic, devised by Donohue when he was at the Daily News, to confuse this point.

    You’re not necessarily a violent criminal if you hit another person with the right of way. No one thinks anyone set out to kill or harm another person. But if you hit someone with the LEGAL right of way, you have committed a criminally negligent act and, for that, should face criminal consequences. Are these unions against personal responsibility? How un-American.

  • Joe R.

    Meet them half way. When the police arrest bus drivers for violating the ROW law don’t put handcuffs of them. It’s not like the bus drivers represent a flight risk anyway. If they did escape from the police car, the police have their name and home address.

  • Mark Walker

    Smoking gun: “Bus Operators are in a class by themselves.” One might argue that they’ve just joined a class that already includes police officers and placard holders who routinely violate traffic laws. But custom is one thing and law is another. To enshrine a new “class” in the law? That’s something new and scary.

  • vnm

    Agreed. They are hung up on the handcuff thing. Do the police have to handcuff someone during an arrest, or is it discretionary? I get the feeling this whole huge debate never would have started if the bus drivers hadn’t been cuffed.

  • Reader

    I’d imagine the cops have their reasons. A person who doesn’t think he ought to be arrested is told to get in the back of a squad car for a trip to the precinct to be booked – that person might turn violent or resist, posing a danger to the cops. This, however, is a question of NYPD protocol, not of de Blasio wanting to really stick it to bus drivers.

  • Mountain Man Mike

    Tweets directed at @UFT are coming fast and furious the last hour. Everyone should register their displeasure.

  • Kevin Love

    Why just bus drivers? Why not every other union member?

    I see that the “New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council” is one of the unions that signed the letter. Why not give them a pass if their criminal negligence kills someone with food poisoning? If union members are above the law when it comes traffic signs, then why should they not be above the law when it comes to the “Wash your hands after using the toilet” sign?

    After all, Typhoid Mary was a New York City worker. Let’s let her counterpart today be above the law, just like bus drivers. See:


  • Larry Littlefield

    The executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs. They are out of solidarity with other workers, and people should say so.


  • WoodyinNYC

    Some troublemakers have been handcuffed, put in the back seat of a police car, and still managed to shoot themselves in the head, showing how potentially dangerous they were to others.

    That is, according to the police reports of the incidents.

  • BBnet3000

    I don’t seriously think their concern is about the handcuffs, but the NYPD simply saying “we won’t cuff ROW violators automatically anymore” would take a lot of the rhetorical wind out of the sails of the people wanting to gut this law.

  • BBnet3000

    This is a huge opportunity to finally legalize negligence for all the unionized trades. Let’s finally stop arresting law-abiding negligent electricians and plumbers, especially those who work on gas lines.

  • Kevin Love

    Occasionally I have no alternative but to lock my bike to a gas line. I always have a guilty secret fantasy about some bike thief trying to cut the line and achieving a do-it-yourself cremation.


    It will be tragic if these morons in City Council approve this exemption. What more can we do? They are 1 shy if a majority.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Try to prevent the “me too” legislation for the rest of them? Or not, and just gain understanding of what we are dealing with?

  • Andres Dee

    Hey, bike-ped advocates. Next time a union sidles up to you to join their coalition for what they present as a mutual concern (aka “Rider Rebellion”), remember who they’re really looking out for.

  • Andres Dee

    The “handcuff” issue is just union hyperbole. The issue is criminal liability. If the NYPD promised never to handcuff a TWU member and to let the driver turn themselves in at leisure, they’d still be bawling.

  • Joe R.

    That harkens back to the days of one set of laws for the common people, another for the nobility. Except in this case the “nobility” are mainly government union workers, the police, the wealthy, and politicians.

  • JudenChino

    But why would they agree? Public unions have a lot of political capital. Why spend it on this? Would TWU stand in solidarity with UFT for not firing teachers who may have sexted their students?

  • vnm

    Disagree. I would think that the unions that represent MTA workers and MTA riders would have a lot of common ground, for example, getting a fully funded capital program. Don’t let this b.s. get in the way of pushing for common-ground issues. I’ve actually been very disappointed by how LITTLE the unions have had to say about a fully funded capital program. After all, it isn’t as if it pays for their their livelihoods.

  • vnm

    Also the Rider Rebellion is from TransAlt! It’s not a union thing.

  • ohhleary

    Why wouldn’t they agree? They have absolutely nothing to lose. We plebes can find their position detestable, but what do they care? They have money, power, and influence.

  • JudenChino

    Because their political capital is limited I’d think and I’d further think they’d pick and choose the moments to expend such political capital wisely. Perhaps it’s costless but I don’t think that’s the case.

  • Andres Dee

    TWU represents and protects transit *workers* and that’s an important thing. They don’t represent *riders* and as we’re learning here, they’re not looking out for the public as a whole. Rider Rebellion was a collaboration between TA and TWU. It’s not that walk/bike should not play with the TWU and unions. It’s that they need to be conscious of what they are giving the unions and what they expect in return.

  • neroden

    Well, these objectively pro-manslaughter “union leaders” have just thrown their credibility in the toilet.

    I approve of the concept of unions, but this is unacceptable behavior by union leaders.

    I strongly suggest that you write to the union membership to make them aware that their leaders signed a letter promoting manslaughter. With the exception of the blatantly corrupt TWU, I think they may not be happy with their “leaders” doing this.

  • neroden

    The other union “leaders” clearly didn’t read the letter before signing it. It’s worth contacting them individually to explain to them that they signed an objectively pro-manslaughter letter.

    The TWU is not in solidarity with anyone. The other union leaders may not have noticed this.

  • Africaine

    Why just bus drivers? The horse carriage drivers should be exempt from laws also. After all, they flout them now by making dangerous u-turns and not tying up their horse while they BS with other drivers … or using their horse as a battering ram sneaking in between cars on the street and creating very dangerous situations. Wow. Imagine a bus making a left turn and a horse carriage. Who has the right of way?

    Spooked horses have been involved in serious accidents. They get in the way of ambulances, firetrucks and other emergency vehicles but this tiny “industry” is supported by the Teamsters. They drive in off limits areas and the NYPD look the other way. Yay unions!

    So why don’t we just codify it and make them like bus drivers who are “different? ” Give them the keys to the city. Their jobs are really not union but the Teamsters and Central labor Council pretend they are. After all, the unions own NYC.

  • neroden

    AFT is currently in a huge fight with Cuomo, over Cuomo’s dreadful, evil, and unconstitutional plans to redirect public school money to religious schools.

    They sure don’t need to be signing letters in favor of manslaughter in the middle of this.

  • Andres Dee

    How many cyclists have pedestrians have been killed by carriage horses in NYC in the past 5 years?
    How many documented cases are there in the past 5 years of homes burning down or people dying because emergency vehicles could not pass horse carriages in the tiny part of the city where they operate?

  • Bolwerk

    You know what would really be interesting? A study into how union members, and union leaders, drive in comparison to the general population of NYC.

    I bet they all see the ROW law as something of a threat to their perceived suzerainty over their own cars and the public space they consume to operate their cars.

  • Tommy

    Charge the Transit Authority and the DOT with manslaughter. They bought these dangerous buses. The DOT denies us turning arrows

  • Andrew

    Take responsibility for your own actions, sir. It is possible to drive safely with the equipment and traffic engineering you have – if you choose to do so.

  • Tommy

    What about if you couldnt see them because of blind spots on a bus that we are forced to drive….

  • Andrew

    A blind spot is something you learn to compensate for, not a license to kill. When in doubt, assume someone’s hiding in it.

  • Tommy

    Are you a NYC Transit Bus Operator Andrew?

  • Tommy

    Your good at the theoretical. Now try operating a bus. The blind spots are now 14 inches across. no way to compensate for that….yes we should just sit in our buses all day and not drive…

  • Andrew

    Nobody said it’s an easy job. It pays well and has good benefits, but if you’re incapable of doing it safely, you’re in the wrong line of work.


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