Light Rail Transit in the Twin Cities

On Thursday, November 29, CTUL participated in an Open House on the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transitway Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), providing feedback about the DEIS from the perspective of low-income workers. CTUL supports the proposed Southwest Transitway (a light rail project from North Minneapolis to Eden Prairie) and the proposed Bottineau Line (a light rail project from North Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park), as they will provide people with more access to more job possibilities, and more access to organizations that fight for social justice in the Twin Cities.

At the same time, we are concerned about the overwhelming influence of big business on public transit projects. The Southwest Corridor Investment Partnership is a private coalition of large employers in the path of the planned Southwest Transitway that is organizing for the interests of large employers, including Target Corporation, UnitedHealth Group, Comcast Corporation and others. The Bottineau Line already seems to be destined to end at Target Corporation headquarters in Brooklyn Park.

There needs to be a counterbalance of low-wage workers’ voices in the planning of public transit projects, ensuring that these projects lead to good jobs that include fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace. The Hiawatha Line provides access to a much larger client base for large employers like Target on Lake Street and stores at Mall of America, yet many of the workers who work in these areas still earn sub-poverty wages. In fact, during the time that the Hiawatha Line has existed there has been a decline in wages and working conditions in retail cleaning jobs that are contracted to clean many stores along the Hiawatha Line. Over the past few years, CTUL has partnered with dozens of workers at jobs along the Hiawatha Line who faced wage theft – the underpayment, or lack of payment, of wages. We have to question why large employers should benefit economically from public transit projects while workers continue to earn sub-poverty wages, and in some cases are not even paid their full wages.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota states that “Hiawatha and related transit upgrades are estimated to have brought more than 5,000 low-wage jobs into areas near downtown Minneapolis and suburban Bloomington light-rail stations.” Rather than create good jobs that pay fair wages, it would seem based on this study that the Hiawatha Line essentially established a “Corridor of Poverty-Level Jobs” through the southern metro area.

CTUL is proposing a research project where low-income communities of color who live and/or work along proposed corridors are directly engaged in research about the potential impacts of the projects on their communities. Provided with resources, community-based organizations could hire low-income people of color who live and/or work along the proposed route to lead surveys in the community about current wages and working conditions, and could provide workers with resources related to workplace rights to ensure that similar incidents of wage theft and poverty wages do not happen along future corridors.

Unless there is a counterbalance of the influence of large employers along the path of future proposed public transit projects, we are afraid that such projects will establish more “Corridors of Poverty-Level Jobs” in the metro area. We look forward to partnering with the Met Council and other members of the community to ensure that the Southwest Line and other proposed public transit projects in the Twin Cities metro area become “Corridors of Opportunity” for low-income communities throughout the metro area.