Representative Keith Ellison talks with community about rail safety

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Representative of the Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, Keith Ellison, had an informal talk with citizens at the Lutheran Social Service, Center for Changing Lives in Minneapolis on Thursday, May 28.

“At my congressional office we really do regard you as our partners,” Ellison said at the event. “If we are not serving you as well as we should be, we want to know about it because we are not afraid of getting better.”

Ellison said that listening to people and arguing on their behalf at the national level at Congress is his top priority. The topics discussed included prosperity for working families, reforms in the juvenile criminal justice system and an update on rail safety in Minnesota.

One member in attendance asked if there would be reforms in the juvenile criminal justice system to prevent the youths from being trapped in the cycle where they’d continuously be on the streets. Ellison said there are a number of bills including one to help juveniles become employable. He also mentioned they are spending less time in county holdings where they’d be imprisoned with other juveniles waiting for their trial.

“We know that the longer time a kid’s in detention, the longer that kid’s going to be a juvie case and the more likely that kid will be an adult offender,” Ellison said.

Rather than be imprisoned they are now doing analysis work or going home and being monitored. It makes it cheaper for the county and keeps the juveniles away from staying in that environment.

“I think there’s a lot of change in that area and we are also working with [a] nonprofit,” Ellison said.

When it came to issues concerning low income families, Ellison said there are two other factors that can be done besides raising the minimum wage.

“I’m all for increasing the minimum wage, and I’ve been fighting for it but, the minimum wage does not solve all our problems if you can’t schedule around your family needs or have to go to work sick,” Ellison said.

Fair work scheduling is being addressed on a state level, however, Ellison said it should be addressed nationwide. He reported some workplaces are forcing low-income workers to work during hours when they are not available because of family obligations.

“I’m not saying the workforce should not be able to ask you but they should not be able to force you or retaliate against you if you can not do it,” Ellison said.

Ellison also added that, out of all the big economy countries in the world, the U.S. is the only country where employees are not getting paid sick leave.

Catherine Dorr, a volunteer at CARS (Citizens Acting for Rail Safety), raised the issue of rail safety in the Twin Cities. Dorr explained that Minnesota is a conduit for cars loaded with oil from North Dakota as they pass through Minnesota on a daily basis. However, it’s not just oil they carry, she said; it’s also hazardous chemicals.

District Director Jamie Long said the executive board has finalized a bill that will impact train safety. They will require trains to slow down in certain areas and require cars to be updated. Long said the timeline these changes will be put into effect is roughly six years.

Ellison mentioned how a train company in the Northeast District rerouted their trains after citizens there stood for their cause.

“Citizen action around this issue is going to be effective,” Ellison said.

Dorr is certainly doing what she can do to help, as she lives in Northeast Minneapolis, where those trains pass by her house on a daily basis. Afterwards, she spoke with the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Dorr explained she came for an update to see what was happening on a federal level because the train cars she is advocating against are regulated federally. She said the trains are basically a pipeline on wheels, but unlike pipelines there are no regulations for what trains transport.

“This is a many headed hydra, there are so many issues on so many levels,” Dorr said. “If you go back to the 1880s back to the industrial revolution. Trains are basically given a blank check by the federal government…and that has continued to persists.”

She said her group is advocating for the following: the disclosure of the train cargo, train staffing, routing the trains around cities and populating areas, improving structure and safety, train insurance liability and reducing speeds, which has been implemented.

Dorr said she appreciates that Ellison’s office is paying attention to this issue, which this new founded group in 2015 has tried to raise awareness for. CARS-Twin Cities is comprised of retired workers who want to address this issue as they are each affected by these trains. Corresponding to Ellison’s call that citizen’s action will be effective, this group is at work.

“We’re looking out for the safety of our community,” Dorr said.

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