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Union alleges Grand Rapids bus system administrators threatened demonstrators

Public Access to Court Electronic Records

The union representing more than 300 bus drivers and mechanics in Grand Rapids is suing the public transit system in federal court.

They allege system administrators violated members’ right to free speech by “threatening them with discipline and arrest if they distribute informational leaflets related to ongoing collective bargaining” negotiations at the main bus station downtown and another in nearby Kentwood.

The flyers accuse the bus system's CEO of “robbing workers” of their pensions. A big part of the conflict is whether to switch from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution plan.

The current contract expired in June, but was extended through this Saturday. The system’s board will likely discuss the issue at its meeting tomorrow afternoon. It’s expected to vote on next year’s budget, whichincludes a potential fare increase for riders.

In court documents, lawyers for the union local say members were never threatened for handing out flyers on previous occasions. They say members were allowed to distribute leaflets in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 promoting public transit issues, urging people to vote in favor of millage requests, gubernatorial candidates, and statewide ballot initiatives.

They say this amounts to “content restrictions” that violate the First Amendment.

A spokeswoman for The Rapid said they do not have any comments on the lawsuit at this time.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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