The lifetime maximum benefit for the Railroad Employees National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit (ERMA or GA-46000) Plan will increase from $182,700 to $188,000 beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

At the end of 2001, labor and management had agreed on various procedures to administer the annual changes in the amount of the lifetime maximum benefit under the ERMA Plan.

In conjunction with the formula established in 2001, a new lifetime maximum was calculated by utilizing the October 2022 consumer price index (CPI) data for Hospital and Related Services and Physician Services. The result is a lifetime maximum for 2023 of $188,000.

For individuals who have reached the lifetime maximum, the incremental maximum available is applied to eligible expenses submitted for dates of service on or after the effective date of the new maximum. For 2023, this amount will be $5,300.

This change will apply to all railroads and crafts participating in ERMA.

Railroad Retirement annuitants subject to earnings restrictions can earn more in 2023 without having their benefits reduced due to increased limits indexed to average national wage increases.

Like Social Security benefits, some Railroad Retirement benefit payments are subject to deductions if an annuitant’s earnings exceed certain exempt amounts. These earnings restrictions apply to those who have not attained full Social Security retirement age. For employee and spouse annuitants, full retirement age varies depending on an individual’s year of birth, and is age 67 for those born after 1959. For survivor annuitants, full retirement age also varies, and is age 67 for those born after 1961.

For those under full retirement age throughout 2023, the exempt earnings amount rises to $21,240 from $19,560 in 2022. For beneficiaries attaining full retirement age in 2023, the exempt earnings amount, for the months before the month full retirement age is attained, increases to $56,520 in 2023 from $51,960 in 2022.

For those under full retirement age, the earnings deduction is $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings over the exempt amount. For those attaining full retirement age in 2023, the deduction is $1 for every $3 of earnings over the exempt amount in the months before the month full retirement age is attained.

When applicable, these earnings deductions are assessed on the Tier I portion of Railroad Retirement employee and spouse annuities, and the Tier I and Tier II portions of survivor benefits.

All earnings received for services rendered, plus any net earnings from self-employment, are considered when assessing deductions for earnings. Interest, dividends, certain rental income or income from stocks, bonds or other investments are not considered earnings for this purpose.

Retired employees and spouses, regardless of age, who work for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer are also subject to an additional earnings deduction, in their Tier II and supplemental benefits, of $1 for every $2 in earnings up to a maximum reduction of 50%. This earnings restriction does not change from year to year and does not allow for an exempt amount.

A spouse benefit is subject to reduction not only for the spouse’s earnings, but also for the earnings of the employee, regardless of whether the earnings are from service for the last pre-retirement non-railroad employer or other post-retirement employment.

Special work restrictions continue to be applicable to disability annuitants in 2023. The monthly disability earnings limit increases to $1,150 in 2023 from $1,050 in 2022.

Regardless of age and/or earnings, no Railroad Retirement annuity is payable for any month in which an annuitant (retired employee, spouse or survivor) works for a railroad employer or railroad union.

Most Railroad Retirement annuities, like Social Security benefits, will increase in January 2023 due to a rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2021 to the corresponding period of the current year.

Cost-of-living increases are calculated in both the Tier I and Tier II portion of a Railroad Retirement annuity. Tier I benefits, like Social Security benefits, will increase by 8.7%, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. This is the largest increase since 1981, when it was 11.2%.  

Tier II benefits will go up by 2.8%, which is 32.5% of the CPI increase. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) are not adjusted for the CPI change.

In January 2023, the average regular Railroad Retirement employee annuity will increase $215 a month to $3,344 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $304 a month to $4,838. For those aged widow(er)s eligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $120 a month to $1,691.

Widow(er)s whose annuities are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 will not receive annual cost-of-living adjustments until their annuity amount is exceeded by the amount that would have been paid under prior law, counting all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable. Some 49% of the widow(er)s on the RRB’s rolls are being paid under the 2001 law.

If a Railroad Retirement or survivor annuitant also receives a Social Security or other government benefit, such as a public service pension, any cost-of-living increase in that benefit will offset the increased Tier I benefit. However, Tier II cost-of-living increases are not reduced by increases in other government benefits. If a widow(er) whose annuity is being paid under the 2001 law is also entitled to an increased government benefit, her or his Railroad Retirement survivor annuity may decrease.

In late December the RRB will mail notices to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2023.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 8.7% in 2023, the Social Security Administration announced. On average, Social Security benefits will increase by more than $140 per month starting in January.

The 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 65 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2023. Increased payments to more than 7 million SSI beneficiaries will begin Dec. 30, 2022. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Medicare premiums are going down and Social Security benefits are going up in 2023, which will give seniors more peace of mind and breathing room. This year’s substantial Social Security cost-of-living adjustment is the first time in over a decade that Medicare premiums are not rising and shows that we can provide more support to older Americans who count on the benefits they have earned,” Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi said.

To view a COLA message from Acting Commissioner Kijakazi, please visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgm5q4YT1AM.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $160,200 from $147,000.

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount. The fastest way to find out their new benefit amount is to access their personal my Social Security account to view the COLA notice online. It’s secure, easy and people find out before the mail arrives. People can also opt to receive a text or email alert when there is a new message from Social Security — such as their COLA notice — waiting for them, rather than receiving a letter in the mail. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.

Information about Medicare changes for 2023 is available at www.medicare.gov. For Social Security beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare, their new higher 2023 benefit amount will be available in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.ssa.gov/cola.

Follow this link to view a fact sheet on the 2023 changes.

October 12, 2022 — The membership of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART MD) has voted to ratify a tentative agreement with the carriers, after almost three years of negotiations between the union and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). The vote was passed with a 54% margin in favor of the negotiated contract.

The ratified contract includes historic wage increases, five annual service recognition payments, an additional paid day off and enhanced healthcare benefits. Members will immediately receive a 13.5% wage increase, and members will also receive retroactive pay and $3,000 in service recognition payments within 60 days.

“It was up to our members to decide whether to accept this agreement, and the members have made the decision to ratify a contract with the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national freight rail bargaining,” said Joseph Sellers, Jr., general president of SMART. “However, we hear the concerns of our members who may be disappointed in the outcome of this vote, and I promise that we will never stop fighting to ensure that they receive the wages, benefits and working conditions that they deserve for keeping the American economy running.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the Part B premium and deductible costs for 2023. Railroad Medicare processes claims for Part B services.

This year saw a modest decrease in both costs. The 2023 annual Part B deductible decreased from $233 to $226, a $7.00 difference. The 2023 standard Part B premium amount also decreased from $170.10 in 2022 to $164.90 in 2023, which is a difference of $5.20. Per CMS, most people pay $164.90, although those with higher or lower incomes have monthly adjusted amounts.

The following table shows the monthly premium payments based on your 2021 income:

If you filed an INDIVIDUAL Tax Return with income in 2021 of If you filed a JOINT Tax Return with income in 2021 ofIf you are married but filed a separate tax return with income in 2021 ofPart B premium you will pay each month in 2023
$97,000 or less$194,000 or less$97,000 or less$164.90
Above $97,000 up to $123,000Above $194,000 up to $246,000Not applicable$230.80
Above $123,000 up to $153,000Above $246,000 up to $306,000Not applicable$329.70
Above $153,000 up to $183,000Above $306,000 up to $366,000Not applicable$428.60
Above $183,000 and less than $500,000Above $366,000 and less than $750,000Above $97,000 and less than $403,000$527.50
$500,000 or above$750,000 or above$403,000 or above$560.50

If you have questions about your Part B Premium, you can call the Railroad Retirement Board toll free at 877-772-5772, or for the hearing impaired (TTY) call 312-751-4701. General information can also be found at the RRB’s website at www.RRB.gov.

If you have questions about your Railroad Medicare coverage, you can call Palmetto GBA’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, or for the hearing impaired, call TTY/TDD at 877-566-3572. Customer Service Representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. ET.

You are encouraged sign up for Palmetto’s free internet portal, MyRRMed. MyRRMed provides you with access to your claims information, along with historical Medicare Summary Notices, and a listing of individuals you have authorized to have access to your protected health information (PHI). You can also submit requests to add or change your authorized representatives through the portal. To access MyRRMed, please visit www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.


Palmetto GBA is the Railroad Specialty Medicare Administrative Contractor (RRB SMAC) and processes Part B claims for Railroad Retirement beneficiaries nationwide. Palmetto GBA is contracted by the independent federal agency Railroad Retirement Board.

September 11, 2022 — SMART’s Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (Mechanical Department or MD) reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which includes the highest wage increases ever achieved in national freight rail bargaining. The tentative agreement provides our members with a 24% general compounded wage increase over five years. In addition, members would receive five annual service recognition payments of $1,000. Upon ratification, our members, including our retired and deceased members, will receive full retroactive pay consisting of the wage increases and service recognition payments.

Furthermore, the tentative agreement will provide an additional paid day off that can be used as either a personal leave day, a vacation day or on the employee’s birthday. Our healthcare benefits were enhanced to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder and an increase in hearing aid benefits. There are no work rule changes or cuts to our healthcare benefits. The tentative agreement also includes a “Me Too” provision, where if another union reaches an agreement that provides more economic value, we can receive that same value in our agreement. The tentative agreement was reached based on the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 250.

SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated, “After nearly three years of difficult and protracted negotiations with the carriers, I’m very pleased that our Mechanical Department members are receiving the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national bargaining. Contrary to what the carriers may say, our highly skilled members’ contributions are the reason for the carriers’ extremely high profits, and it’s about time that our members receive the fair contract that we have been fighting for, and that the carriers have been fighting against, for the past several years.”

Ratification ballots will be mailed to SMART MD freight rail members soon. While SMART MD was able to reach a tentative agreement, the Transportation Division is still negotiating with the NCCC. General President Sellers calls on the NCCC to resolve the attendance policies and working conditions impacting operating employees in order to provide a better quality of life for our brothers and sisters in the Transportation Division.

The SMART Transportation Division is seeking high-quality bus and rail photos for the annual Alumni Association calendar. If your photo is chosen, you will receive five copies of the calendar featuring your photo.

All photos should be taken from a clear point of safety. Your high-resolution, horizontal photos should be submitted to news_td@smart-union.org by no later than September 19, 2022. Please be sure to include your local number, the name(s) of all person(s) in the photograph (left to right) and any other pertinent information such as the date and location where the photo was taken.

Please remember to review your employer’s policies regarding use of cameras on the property or during work hours and to only take photos when it is safe for you to do so. All photographs submitted become the property of SMART Transportation Division.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson

SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) would like to take a few moments to update the thousands of essential rail workers whom we proudly represent, the rail shippers and customers, as well as the public at large on the real status of labor negotiations and about the serious factual misrepresentations that the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and railroad representatives are stating as “FACT” surrounding the “railroad labor negotiations and the need to avert a network shutdown.” Their claims are simply not true.

Let me be clear, rail labor is NOT looking to strike or shut down the nation’s economy at the expense of everyone. We want and deserve a fair agreement for our members. We strongly believe that a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) will help us to garner that without the necessity of a strike. This does not mean that we will not do what’s necessary to get a fair agreement, but rather we expect the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to do its job as it has in the past so that it does not come to that. We are fully prepared to act if the provisions of the RLA get to the point of self-help or strike.

I was present and testified with a full team of experts in front of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on April 26th and 27th in Washington D.C., concerning the massive network disruptions, the negative effects of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), and the pending supply chain collapse due to railroad mismanagement of their networks. Shippers don’t know when they will be serviced, and the workforce doesn’t know when we will be going to work. I was proud to testify to make it known that we fully support our customers’ efforts to have the reliable and consistent service that they not only deserve, but also contracted with the railroad(s) for. I made it clear then, and now do so once again, that we stand ready to do everything within our power to keep freight moving and to support this country’s supply chain and economy.

Much like the testimony delivered by the railroads and AAR at the STB hearings, again there’s a steady stream of lip service, half-truths and misleading innuendo trying to skew the truth about the status of negotiations. I would also note that, to date, the AAR has not put forth any data supporting the “fair” percentage wage increases they are proposing and “provide well-deserved compensation increases to our essential employees and are consistent with labor market benchmarks.” What they are purporting as fair is only fair in their eyes and obviously not seen as “fair” by their essential employees who are quitting their jobs in record numbers. I have been at the negotiating table. I have yet to see any fair proposals put forth by the carriers in three years of negotiations. The benchmarks they are using at the negotiating table were established well before the pandemic and inflation occurred. I would also cite the fact that due to the PSR scheme worker productivity is running at such a high level that it is literally about to snap like an overstretched cable or chain.

Assuredly, a 16% wage increase over five years is not acceptable by today’s benchmarks. The railroads’ plans to increase the employees’ share of healthcare costs to such a point that the raises become net-zero is not reflective of rail carriers’ record profits or of their desire to keep their “valued freight rail customers,” isolated from further network disruptions caused by lack of manpower. The proposed five-year increases also come below all standard cost of living metrics. The railroads these days are having a very difficult time attracting potential new employees because of their refusal to bargain in conjunction with today’s benchmarks, much in the same way that they refuse to acknowledge shippers’ need to have sufficient and reliable service in accordance with their common carrier obligations.

On multiple occasions, SMART-TD has stood up for shippers, while carriers lacked any interest in fixing the current shipping problems that worsen by the day. PSR is the reason. Everyone knows it. Legislation may be needed for a permanent fix to the problem, and I think that day is coming soon. The quickest fix is to stop the railroads from running such ridiculously long trains, which the current infrastructure can’t handle, and get back to basics now! Instead, they cajole shippers to help them save a few dollars of their record profits, wanting to tip the scales against the very people who do the work and who are chiefly responsible for getting the railroads their profits. This is appalling. By hanging the fear of service disruptions in front of the shippers, it would almost be comical if the current state of the supply chain situation were not so dire.

Meanwhile, the tales told by the mouthpieces of the carriers keep getting bigger and bigger. One such fish tale dangled in front of people mentions that labor seeks a 47% wage increase. Even the head of the National Railway Labor Conference can’t provide the evidence to document this whopper. The truth is the three biggest railroads at the negotiating table don’t want to part with ANY of their record profits, nor do they wish to reward the workers who have busted their asses for the last three years without a raise, to get them those record profits. The shareholders were rewarded with record buybacks of $10 billion. Where is the reward for the employees who are actually doing the back-breaking work to make those buybacks possible? With a stale contract that has been in effect since prior to inflation taking hold, the workers have nothing to show for their blood, sweat and tears, as well as the sacrifices they and their families have made.

Pouring on the risk and absurdity, the big 3 claim they wish to get a deal done given those “fair” proposals they’ve allegedly made. What they’re not telling everyone is that instead of negotiating with labor at the national table to get this deal done, they are instead more concerned with keeping up their mediation meetings in an attempt to get a crew-consist agreement completed to further reduce the rail workforce, thanks to the allegedly “fair” arbitrator selection process out of the previous National Mediation Board (NMB). Carriers again are attempting to go to one person occupying the cab of a freight train. (Their ultimate stated goal is zero crewmembers on trains frequently carrying hazardous freight.) Such a measure would put the safety of our communities at serious risk and the supply chain in dire jeopardy, more so than it is right now. Were carriers so concerned about a fair national agreement to stop service disruptions, one would think they would concentrate on the goal of a national agreement. Instead, carrier execs and their cronies are off for two weeks at a time trying to find a way to get rid of more employees rather than trying to come up with a fair and equitable agreement to keep the ones they now have. UNBELIEVEABLE, but not surprising!

Class 1 railroads are not just servicing their own greed and that of Wall Street, they are working against serving their own customers, their own workforce, the families of their employees, the communities they serve and the American economy. This strategy will net them those short-term monetary gains they desire at the expense of the long-term viability of the American supply chain, our national security and the long-term health of the national economy.

Lastly, I find it very offensive that the railroads, via the AAR, would reach out to the shippers to assist their efforts in advocating for so-called “fair-minded” arbitrators with rail industry experience to the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to help facilitate what they perceive to be a reasonable agreement and avoid network disruptions. We all know that getting a good contract for the workforce will not only stop the bleeding, but it will also help employee morale and keep the supply chain moving. Absent an enticing contract, the current workforce will continue to shrink and worsen the situation more than any other factors possibly could. I can’t stop my members from leaving the industry, but the railroads can by offering a truly fair and equitable agreement with wage increases, no changes to healthcare costs and predictable scheduling, among other asks.

To the rail customers: I urge you to respond to the AAR’s request by telling them that you support SMART-TD and labor as we have supported you. We have faith that the Railway Labor Act process will work just fine, much like it always has since 1934, and you should too. Don’t let yourselves “get railroaded” by the AAR. America’s Class 1 railroads are attempting to “railroad” customers, railroad employees, their families, and the American public, as a whole, and “attention must be paid.” Don’t listen to their propaganda. Do your research and look at the facts for what they are. I can assure you, if the carriers get what they are proposing, things will only get worse and it will be their own fault.

Sincerely,

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Former Vice President Robert “Bob” W. Earley, who served our union’s membership for decades, died June 7, 2022, at Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, N.Y., after a short illness.

Robert Earley

Brother Earley, a member of Local 610 (Baltimore, Md.), began his railroad career in 1963 starting with the B&O Railroad and became an active member of the United Transportation Union. He became secretary of the B&O General Committee in 1981. As he continued his advance in the UTU, he served as a general chairperson and was elected ninth vice president at the seventh quadrennial convention of the United Transportation Union before his retirement in 1999.

During his railroad career, Brother Earley studied the history of railroad labor at Cornell University and furthered his education at the George Meany Center for Computer Studies and Labor Relations. Following his retirement, he maintained a strong connection with his union by donating to its political action committee and as a member of the SMART-TD Alumni Association.

“He will be remembered for his work ethic, generosity and kindness. He loved life and was young at heart,” his family wrote in his obituary.

Brother Earley was married to the former Ann Campbell, who survives. Also surviving are two daughters; a son; eight grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; a brother; and loving nieces and nephews.

There will be no visitation. A memorial celebration will be held at the convenience of the family at a later date.

The SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to Brother Earley’s family, friends and to those who knew him.

Follow this link to read Brother Earley’s official obituary.