Author Archive

FTA transit safety training registration open

U.S. DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has announced that registration is open for National Transit Institute (NTI) and Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) safety training courses for transit personnel.

See the table below for some of the courses being offered by NTI.

FTA courseFTA course descriptionCourse dates & times offered
Assault Awareness and Prevention for Transit Operators (direct delivery)The goal of this course is to give bus operators in the transit industry the knowledge and skills needed to reduce the likelihood of assault incidents from occurring.
Prevention methods covered include defining assault, discussing the types of incidents that could be considered assault and recognizing key vulnerability factors. Prevention strategies focus on communication and response skills, and the value of reporting incidents. In addition, the training includes information on the importance of seeking assistance to recover from assault incidents.
02/17/2022

1:00 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.
Assault Awareness and Prevention for Transit Operators (Train-the-Trainer)This course will provide transit agency instructional staff with the support necessary to deliver the Assault Awareness and Prevention course within their agencies. Train-the-Trainer course participants review the direct delivery course curriculum and discuss strategies to utilize NTI course materials and activities to deliver in-house training. When delivered to staff at your agency, the goal of Assault Awareness and Prevention for Transit Operators is to provide transit bus operators the knowledge and skills needed to reduce the likelihood of assault incidents during revenue service. Prevention methods covered include: defining assault, discussing the types of incidents that could be considered assault, and recognizing key vulnerability factors. Prevention strategies focus on communication and response skills, and the value of reporting incidents. The training also includes information on the importance of seeking assistance to recover from assault incidents.03/09/2022

1:00 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.
Violence in the Transit Workplace – Prevention, Response and Recovery (Train-the-Trainer)The goal of this course is to provide participants with knowledge and skills to deliver training to transit agency personnel on how to prevent, respond to and recover from workplace violence. Prevention methods covered include implementing system and personal security measures, recognizing and reporting the warning signs of potentially violent behavior and using effective interpersonal skills for dealing with different, difficult and dangerous people. Response strategies focus on self-preservation and the importance of accurate reporting. The recovery module addresses the stress associated workplace violence and what employees can do to address the impact of it on themselves and co-workers.02/10/2022

1:00 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.
---
03/10/22

1:00 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.

The mission of the NTI is to provide training, education and clearinghouse services in support of public transportation and quality of life in the U.S. The classes listed above are currently only offered in a virtual learning setting and are free to attend. Each course lasts 3.5 hours. Click here for a listing of all courses being offered by NTI and to register (register by clicking on the course link).


TSI supports FTA’s mission by providing economical, timely, state-of-the-art training and educational opportunities to the transit industry. TSI assists FTA in meeting its federal training mandate by developing, managing and delivering innovative instruction through instructor-led course offerings and e-learning technologies. All training is designed specifically to meet the needs of today’s changing transit industry, its regulations and safety best practices.

Some TSI courses are multi-day, while others may be less than an hour long. The cost of attendance varies and ranges from $0 to $145. Courses are offered at different locations throughout the United States and some virtually. Click here and then click on “Public Transportation Safety (FTA) in the gray box to view a list of courses being offered.

SMART-TD member loses home in fire

On January 9, 2022, tragedy struck in the form of a fire for Alaska Railroad conductor and SMART-TD Local 1626 (Anchorage, Alaska) member Danielle Gallagher. Gallagher and her two children lost their home near Palmer, Alaska, that night, reports Local 1626 Secretary & Treasurer Justin Voss.

Gallagher family

The local has rallied around Gallagher and Alaska SLD and Local Legislative Representative Darren Toppin has set up a GoFundMe account to help her with expenses as the family works to recover from the fire.

“Danielle is a conductor for the Alaska Railroad and a very dedicated employee. She loves her job! Not only is Danielle a great coworker, she is also [a] great friend. She is always willing to reach out and lend a hand and helps anyone in need. No matter the situation,” Toppin said on the GoFundMe page. “This is now our chance to help her and her awesome kids and say, thank you for always having our backs.”

In addition to the loss of their home, some of the family dogs were lost in the fire. The farm animals, including horses and cattle and other livestock, were not harmed.

Click here to make a donation to the fund to help Gallagher and her kids.

 

Remembering Martin Luther King’s legacy

SMART-TD shares with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the dream that men and women should be judged not by the color of their skin, their nationality or religious beliefs, but by the content of their hearts.

King’s brilliance, vision, leadership and ultimate personal sacrifice shifted the course of American history by shedding light and bringing hope to a nation marred by racism, ignorance and inequality.

King’s work and his words brought the promise of justice, hope and freedom to people of color and to the oppressed everywhere. His words still ring as powerfully, relevant and true today as they did more than 50 years ago:

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

–- From Martin Luther King’s historic speech delivered Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Read King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety here.

Watch highlights of King’s speech.

Read an article about King and his connections with labor.

RRB: Retirees may need to increase tax withholding at age 62

Certain portions of a Railroad Retirement annuity are treated differently for federal income tax purposes. The following questions and answers explain these differences and address the importance of individuals establishing accurate tax withholding from their annuities. Certain beneficiaries, including those retiring at age 60 with at least 30 years of service, and some occupational disability annuitants, need to pay close attention to changes in tax withholding when they turn age 62.

1. How are annuities paid under the Railroad Retirement Act treated under federal income tax laws?

A Railroad Retirement annuity is a single payment comprised of one or more of the following components, depending on the annuitant’s age, the type of annuity being paid, and eligibility requirements: a Social Security Equivalent Benefit (SSEB) portion of Tier I, a non-Social Security Equivalent Benefit (NSSEB) portion of Tier I, a Tier II benefit and a supplemental annuity.

In most cases, part of a Railroad Retirement annuity is treated like a Social Security benefit for federal income tax purposes while other parts of the annuity are treated like private pensions for tax purposes. Consequently, most annuitants who are U.S. citizens or residents are sent two tax statements from the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) each January, even though they receive only a single annuity payment each month. While non–resident aliens also receive a single monthly annuity payment from the RRB, they are only sent one tax statement from the RRB.

2. What information is shown on the Railroad Retirement tax statements sent to annuitants in January?

One tax statement, Form RRB-1099 (only sent to U.S. citizens or residents), shows the SSEB portion of Tier I or special minimum guaranty payments made during the tax year, the amount of any such benefits that an annuitant may have repaid to the RRB during the tax year, and the net amount of these payments after subtracting the repaid amount. The amount of any offset for workers’ compensation and the amount of federal income tax withheld from these payments are also shown.

The other tax statement, Form RRB-1099-R (also only sent to U.S. citizens or residents), shows the NSSEB portion of Tier I, Tier II and supplemental annuity paid to the annuitant during the tax year, and may show an employee contribution amount. The NSSEB portion of Tier I along with Tier II are considered contributory pension amounts and are shown as a single combined amount in the Contributory Amount Paid box (Item 4) on the statement. The supplemental annuity is considered a noncontributory pension amount and is shown as a separate item on the statement.

Non–resident aliens are sent one tax statement, Form RRB-1042S, which shows the information included on both Form RRB-1099 and Form RRB-1099-R.

3. Can annuitants request federal income tax withholding from their benefit payments?

Yes. Annuitants may request that federal income tax be withheld from their annuity payments. To add or change federal income taxes withheld from SSEB payments, an annuitant must complete Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and send it to the RRB. To add or change the amount of federal taxes withheld from NSSEB payments, annuitants must file Form RRB W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Railroad Retirement Payments, (available at the RRB’s website, RRB.gov) and send it to the RRB. If an annuitant does not file a Form RRB W-4P with the RRB and the taxable annuity components exceed the IRS minimum mandatory withholding amount, taxes will automatically be withheld as if the annuitant were married and claiming three allowances. Railroad Retirement benefits are not taxable by any state, so state tax withholding from Railroad Retirement payments is not possible. Annuitants that wish to add or change federal tax withholding from their annuity payments may contact an RRB field office for assistance. While the RRB may provide the necessary forms for withholding, it is the annuitant’s responsibility to determine how much federal income tax withholding is needed. Annuitants are encouraged to discuss the amount of withholding needed with a tax adviser or the IRS.

4. Which Railroad Retirement benefits are treated like Social Security benefits for federal income tax purposes?

The SSEB portion of Tier I – the part of a Railroad Retirement annuity equivalent to a Social Security benefit based on comparable earnings and included on Form RRB-1099 (or Form RRB-1042S for nonresident aliens) – must be reported on an individual’s federal income tax return, and is treated for tax purposes the same way as a Social Security benefit. The amount of these benefits that may be subject to federal income tax, if any, depends on the beneficiary’s income. (To determine if any amount of the SSEB portion is taxable, please refer to IRS publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.) If part of the SSEB is taxable, how much is taxable depends on the total amount of a beneficiary’s benefits and other income. Usually, the higher that total amount, the greater the taxable part of a beneficiary’s benefit.

5. Which Railroad Retirement benefits are treated like private pensions for federal income tax purposes?

The NSSEB portion of Tier I, Tier II benefits, and supplemental annuities – which are included on Form RRB-1099-R (or Form RRB-1042S for nonresident aliens) – are all treated like private pensions for federal income tax purposes. In some cases, primarily those in which early retirement benefits are payable to retired employees and spouses between ages 60 and 62, some occupational disability benefits, and other categories of unique RRB entitlements, the entire annuity may be treated like a private pension. This is because Social Security benefits based on age and service are not payable before age 62, Social Security disability benefit entitlement requires total disability, and the Social Security Administration does not pay some categories of beneficiaries paid by the RRB.

6. How are 60/30 annuity payments taxed?

A railroad employee with 30 or more years of creditable rail service is eligible for a regular annuity based on age and service the first full month he or she is age 60. The employee’s spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month he or she is age 60. These “60/30” annuity payments are taxed as follows:

  • 60/30 annuity payments before the employee or spouse is age 62: All benefits paid to an employee before age 62 are considered NSSEB and are fully taxable and reported on Form RRB-1099-R (or Form RRB-1042S for nonresident aliens). This includes all Tier I and Tier II benefits and any supplemental annuity that might be payable. Spouse benefits are also fully taxable and reported on Form RRB-1099-R (or Form RRB-1042S for nonresident aliens) until both the employee and spouse are age 62.
  • 60/30 annuity payments after the employee is age 62:  Once the employee turns age 62, part of the Tier I benefit is still considered NSSEB, but some is now considered SSEB because equivalent Social Security benefits are payable at age 62. Since these equivalent Social Security benefits paid at age 62 would be reduced for early retirement, while 60/30 benefits are not reduced, the RRB computes the portion of the Tier I benefit comparable to that payable under Social Security, and reports the SSEB amount on Form RRB-1099 (or Form RRB-1042S for nonresident aliens). The SSEB portion of spouse benefits is calculated the same way, except the employee and spouse must both be at least 62 for spouse benefits to be considered SSEB.
  • WARNING for 60/30 annuitants who begin receiving annuities before age 62:  As noted previously, when the employee turns age 62 (or the spouse turns age 62, provided the employee is also at least age 62) the taxability of Tier I benefits changes from all private pension-equivalent benefits to a split between SSEB and NSSEB portions. For many annuitants, this means that the tax withholding in place will automatically decrease, and sometimes this change is significant. This is because any Form RRB W-4P on file with the RRB will not consider the SSEB portion of Tier I in the withholding calculation. In many cases, the SSEB portion will be subject to taxation because of the total amount of the annuitant’s income, and the decrease in withholding may result in an insufficient amount of taxes being withheld. Notices are released to annuitants advising of the change in the withholding amount, and they are encouraged to discuss the issue with a tax adviser or the IRS to determine the correct amount of withholding for them. Annuitants often need to file a new tax withholding election form with the RRB to increase withholding following this change, otherwise they may face a larger tax liability than expected when filing federal income tax returns the following year.

7. Are occupational disability annuitants subject to the same change in tax withholding at age 62?

Those occupational disability annuitants not qualified for a period of disability (also known as a “Disability Freeze”) as defined under the Social Security Act will similarly see the taxability of Tier I benefits change at age 62.

8. Where can an annuitant find more information about the taxability of Railroad Retirement annuities?

More information regarding the taxability of Railroad Retirement benefits can be found in RRB booklets TXB-25, Tax Withholding and Railroad Retirement Payments, and TXB-85, The Taxation of Railroad Retirement Act Annuities. These booklets are available at RRB.gov, or by contacting the RRB toll free at 1-877-772-5772.

Information is also available on the IRS website at www.irs.gov. To learn more about how SSEB payments, repayments and tax withholding amounts should be reported to the IRS, refer to IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits. For additional information about how pension payments, repayments and tax withholding should be reported to the IRS, or how NSSEB contributory amounts paid are taxed, refer to IRS Publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income, and/or IRS Publication 939, General Rule for Pensions and Annuities.

Member’s family hit hard by the effects of COVID-19

Michelle Mitchell

August 31st was a day that would forever change the lives of member David Mitchell (Local 937 in Mart, Texas) and his family. It was the day that he would come home with a diagnosis of COVID-19. By September 7, Mitchell’s wife, Michelle, would begin to show symptoms, and on September 13, she was hospitalized with severe COVID pneumonia. By Sept. 14, all four of the Mitchell kids had been diagnosed as well.  

Although David and his kids recovered quickly from COVID-19, Michelle did not. Her health continued to decline and on Oct. 5, she had to be intubated.  

“Oct. 6th after picking up my son from Timberview High School following an active shooter at his school, as if I wasn’t under enough stress already, I walked into my wife’s ICU room and touched her leg and her heart stopped,” David said. “Michelle was revived, and shortly after that her kidneys failed and her liver failed.” 

Although Michelle’s breathing slowly began to improve, other parts of her did not. The doctors took her off of sedation for three days, but she did not wake up. The doctors then decided to run a CT scan and MRI on both sides of her brain and discovered that Michelle had had multiple strokes on both sides. 

David reports that Michelle’s organs are back in working order and that she is recovering slowly. The strokes have caused left-side paralysis and her motor skills have been affected as well. Her largest hurdle is learning to walk again at the rehab facility. 

“She still is extremely weak and has paralysis on her left side and needs lots of rehab to get all of her motor skills back. And that’s a fight she’s ready to take on headfirst,” David said. 

Alternate Vice President and GCA-927 General Chairperson Scott Chelette, who brought Brother Mitchell’s situation to SMART-TD’s attention, has gotten together with local chairpersons to provide Christmas gifts for David’s children. 

“Brother Mitchell was especially appreciative of the fact that the International and the President’s office cared enough to want to help in any way they could. I explained to him that this is what an organization should do for each other, and he and every other member will see us getting back to that way of thinking,” Chelette said. 

Local 569 Local Chairperson Lawrence Perkins is collecting Christmas gifts for the family. Gifts can be mailed to Perkins at 412 Rocky Creek Drive, Mansfield, Texas, 76063-8800. Brother Mitchell has three boys — ages 6, 9, and 16; and one daughter, age 14. 

During this time, Brother Mitchell has been off work just trying to take care of his family. As a result, finances are tight with him not working, coupled with hospital and rehab bills. A GoFundMe has been set up by David to help the family during this difficult time. Click here to donate. 

RRB: Medicare Part B premiums for 2022

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that the standard monthly Part B premium will be $170.10 in 2022, an increase of $21.60 from $148.50 in 2021. Some Medicare beneficiaries may pay less than this amount because, by law, Part B premiums for current enrollees cannot increase by more than the amount of the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security (Railroad Retirement Tier I) benefits.

Since the cost-of-living adjustment is 5.9% in 2022, some Medicare beneficiaries may see an increase in their Part B premiums but still pay less than $170.10. The standard premium amount will also apply to new enrollees in the program. However, certain beneficiaries will continue to pay higher premiums based on their modified adjusted gross income.

The monthly Part B premiums that include income-related adjustments for 2022 will range from $238.10 to $578.30, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $91,000 (or $182,000 for a married couple). The highest rate applies to beneficiaries whose incomes exceed $500,000 (or $750,000 for a married couple). CMS estimates that about 7% of Medicare beneficiaries pay the income-adjusted premiums.

Beneficiaries in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plans pay premiums that vary from plan to plan. Part D beneficiaries whose modified adjusted gross income exceeds the same income thresholds that apply to Part B premiums also pay a monthly adjustment amount. In 2022, the adjustment amount ranges from $12.40 to $77.90.

The Railroad Retirement Board withholds Part B premiums, Part B income-related adjustments and Part D income-related adjustments from benefit payments it processes. The agency can also withhold Part C and D premiums from benefit payments if an individual submits a request to his or her Part C or D insurance plan.

The following tables show the income-related Part B premium adjustments for 2022. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for all income-related monthly adjustment amount determinations. To make the determinations, SSA uses the most recent tax return information available from the Internal Revenue Service. For 2022, that will usually be the beneficiary’s 2020 tax return information. If that information is not available, SSA will use information from the 2019 tax return.

Railroad Retirement and Social Security Medicare beneficiaries affected by the 2022 Part B and D income-related premiums will receive a notice from SSA by the end of the year. The notice will include an explanation of the circumstances when a beneficiary may request a new determination. Persons who have questions or would like to request a new determination should contact SSA after receiving their notice.

Additional information about Medicare coverage, including specific benefits and deductibles, can be found at www.medicare.gov.


2022 Part B Premiums

Beneficiaries who file an individual tax return with income:Beneficiaries who file a joint tax return with income:Income-related monthly adjustment amountTotal monthly Part B premium amount
Less than or equal to $91,000Less than or equal to $182,000$0.00$170.10
Greater than $91,000 and less than or equal to $114,000Greater than $182,000 and less than or equal to $228,000$68.00$238.10
Greater than $114,000 and less than or equal to $142,000Greater than $228,000 and less than or equal to $284,000$170.10$340.20
Greater than $142,000 and less than or equal to $170,000Greater than $284,000 and less than or equal to $340,000$272.20$442.30
Greater than $170,000 and less than $500,000Greater than $340,000 and less than $750,000$374.20$544.30
$500,000 and above$750,000 and above$408.20$578.30

The monthly premium rates paid by beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate return from their spouses and who lived with their spouses at some time during the taxable year, are different. Those rates are as follows:

Beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate tax return, with income: Income-related monthly adjustment amountTotal monthly Part B premium amount
Less than or equal to $91,000$0.00$170.10
Greater than $91,000 and less than $409,000$374.20$544.30
$409,000 and above$408.20$579.30

ERMA Lifetime Maximum Benefit to increase in 2022

The lifetime maximum benefit for the Railroad Employees National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit (ERMA or GA-46000) Plan will increase from $175,700 to $182,700 beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

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 2021 consumer price index (CPI) data for Hospital and Related Services and Physician Services. The result is a lifetime maximum for 2022 of $182,700.

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 2022, this amount will be $7,000.

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

SMART-TD responds to carrier vaccine mandates

Ferguson

Recently, Amtrak, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern announced that they will require their employees, including those represented by SMART Transportation Division, to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. It is anticipated that many of the remaining, if not all Class I rail carriers, will eventually implement similar policies, citing their status as government contractors and federal mandates as their reasons. In accordance with current guidelines, the deadline for Amtrak employees to be fully vaccinated is November 22, while the deadline for Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern employees is set for December 8. In order to be considered fully vaccinated, a 14-day period must transpire following the administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Under certain circumstances, some carriers are allowing regular testing as an alternative to vaccination, although federal law, guidelines and most collective bargaining agreements do not require them to do so. SMART-TD has taken the position that beyond the applicable deadlines, all carriers should allow unvaccinated employees to provide proof of regular testing as an acceptable alternative.

In every instance to date, the carriers implemented their policies without first meeting with SMART-TD to bargain over the provisions of their mandates. In attempts to correct and address these exclusions, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson advised all SMART-TD general committees of adjustment to schedule meetings with the carriers to discuss the implementation of any new, planned or existing policies. In his letter, he also noted that federal law provides exemptions for certain circumstances where individuals have religious objections or medical conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Based on initial conversations, it was determined that additional methods of appeal would be required.

Due to the unilateral actions of Union Pacific, on October 15, 2021, SMART-TD filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, challenging the carrier’s attempt to avoid its obligation under the Railway Labor Act to bargain over terms and conditions of employment. While this action at Union Pacific is likely to set precedent for other carriers, it does not prevent SMART-TD from taking similar action against other like-minded carriers, including Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. While each policy will have nuances that the affected organizations will have to navigate, respond to, and appeal on an individual basis, SMART-TD has made it clear that any attempt by the carriers to circumvent their obligations under the Railway Labor Act will be met with strong resistance.

“While vaccinations are not a collective bargaining issue, as they have not been negotiated into our agreements, we still believe that the carriers must engage with us about these policies prior to any implementation and we, in an effort of good faith, will continue our attempts to do so. We believe this is the best approach,” said President Ferguson. “We are going to let the outcome of those meetings and the advice of our general chairpersons guide our next steps. However, when these conversations with the carriers prove to be unsuccessful, then we must appeal our issues to the courts.”

President Ferguson also stated “SMART-TD is a very diversified union, encompassing members of different ethnicity, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation and viewpoints. We are proud of that diversity and represent all members regardless of these distinctions. We lead from the front, keeping emotions in check while evaluating every issue and concern along the way. We also must research the potential outcome of these actions prior to making any formal decisions. With that being said, I will continue to encourage our members to get vaccinated, however, I respect those who have pointed out that it is a personal choice. Whatever your beliefs or vaccine status is, I want to make it clear to our members that you will be represented to the fullest extent of our authority.”

As additional information becomes available and this situation continues to evolve, SMART-TD will continue to evaluate and assess its position on these issues. Updates will continue to be posted to the SMART-TD website at www.smart-union.org/td.

GoFundMe set up for members’ devastated family

James “JP” Melton

Local 904 (Evansville, Ind.) S&T Brian Hall reports that the local has opened a GoFundMe page to support CSX yardmaster and Local 1963 (Louisville, Ky.) member Jason P. Melton and his family after his 13-year-old son tragically took his own life on Sunday, Oct. 17.

Melton’s son, James “JP”, was born July 1, 2008, in Madisonville, Ky., to Jason P. and Joy Morgan Melton. He is survived by his parents; sister, Lillie Melton; brother, Matthew Melton; grandparents, Alan and Kathy Morgan, Steve and Susan Melton; along with many uncles, aunts and cousins. He was preceded in death by his great-grandparents and brother, Christopher Melton.

Visitation will be Wednesday, Oct. 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. on Thursday. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21 at Barnett-Strother Funeral Home, with burial to follow.

Click here to donate via the GoFundMe page.

Click here to leave condolences for the family.

Unions join to fight Union Pacific on COVID orders

CLEVELAND, October 15, 2021 — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are jointly taking on Union Pacific Railroad (UP) over a series of unilateral and unlawful actions taken by the carrier recently.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce issued the following joint statement regarding their action:

“Over the past two weeks, the Union Pacific Railroad seems to have forgotten that it is not Walmart. The railroad has unilaterally changed pay provisions for vaccinated employees who experience a breakthrough COVID infection due to workplace exposure. It has ordered all UP employees to report that they are fully vaccinated by December 8th, or risk being medically disqualified from work. And, instead of negotiating with us as the law requires, the Carrier is directly dealing with its employees by offering a ‘financial incentive’ for compliance with its unilateral mandate.

“We generally support our members getting the vaccine. However, we have several objections to UP’s unilateral implementation of their policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees. The members of our Unions — including members who already are vaccinated — are irate over UP’s outrageous conduct.

“We have been in contract negotiations with UP since November of 2019, and federal law absolutely bars railroads from changing rates of pay, rules and working conditions while negotiations are ongoing. Not only is UP in violation of the law, it has explicitly spurned our demands that these matters be bargained. We have filed suit today in the United States District Court for Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in an effort to stop UP’s lawlessness in its tracks.”

 

###

 

The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Medicare’s 2022 open enrollment period: October 15 – December 7, 2021

October marks the beginning of Medicare’s open enrollment period for the 2022 coverage year. If you already have Railroad Medicare and want to make a change to your Part D coverage or plan, you can do so between October 15 and December 7, 2021. Any changes you make during open enrollment will take effect January 1, 2022.

This period is the time to reflect on any changes that may have occurred this year, as well as the time to do a little research. You can do this on your own online, but also with a friend you didn’t know you had.

The most common change people face each year is a change to their prescription medicines, either the medicines themselves or the dosages. Be sure to check your plan’s drug formulary, which you should receive in the mail prior to October 15. You can compare available Part D drug plans using the “Find a Medicare plan” online tool at https://www.medicare.gov/plan-compare.

Other changes can be in the types of services that you need. Some may not be covered or covered by Medicare at the same rate as in 2021. You can research this when you receive your Medicare & You Handbook (by mail for some, online for those who have chosen to go paperless). Read the handbook carefully. There is a section called “What’s new & important” that will tell you the most critical things you need to know. The book also explains the different parts of Medicare, including what each part covers. Railroad Medicare is Part B (Medical Insurance) for persons covered under the railroad retirement system.

If you would like to see the Medicare & You Handbook now, you can do so by following this web address: https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10050-Medicare-and-You.pdf.

As for the “friend you didn’t know you had” … sometimes it’s hard to know what type of coverage you need or where to go to look and see what options you have. If this is you, then look no further than your state’s health insurance program. Every state has one, and they are manned by volunteers who have no affiliation with any health insurance programs (including Medicare). Visit the State Health Insurance Assistance Program website at https://www.shiphelp.org/ to find the phone number and website for your local SHIP.

The Railroad Retirement Board has released 2022 Medicare premium information.

In closing, if you have questions about SHIP or your Part B Railroad Medicare coverage, you can call Palmetto GBA’s toll-free Beneficiary Customer Service Line at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. For the hearing impaired, call TTY/TDD at 877-566-3572. This line is for the hearing impaired with the appropriate dial-up service and is available during the same hours customer service representatives are available.

We encourage you to visit Palmetto’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/myrrmedicare. Palmetto GBA also invites you to join their email updates list. Just select the ‘Email Update’ link at the top of their main webpage at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me.


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 (RRB), which administers comprehensive retirement-survivor and unemployment-sickness benefit programs for railroad workers and their families under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts.

RRB: Railroad Retirement spouse benefits Q&A

In addition to the retirement annuities payable to railroad employees, the Railroad Retirement Act, like the Social Security Act, also provides annuities for some spouses of retired employees. Payment of a spouse annuity is made directly to the wife or husband of the employee. Divorced spouses may also qualify for benefits.

The following questions and answers describe the benefits payable to spouses and the eligibility requirements. Information regarding divorced spouses begins with question eight.

1. How are Railroad Retirement spouse annuities computed?

Regular Railroad Retirement annuities are computed under a two-tier formula.

The Tier I portion of an employee’s annuity is based on both Railroad Retirement credits and any Social Security credits that the employee earned. Computed using Social Security benefit formulas, an employee’s Tier I benefit approximates the Social Security benefit that would be payable if all of the employee’s work were performed under the Social Security Act.

The Tier II portion of the employee’s annuity is based on Railroad Retirement credits only, and may be compared to the retirement benefits paid over and above Social Security benefits to workers in other industries.

The spouse annuity formula is based on percentages of the employee’s Tier I and Tier II amounts. The first tier of a spouse annuity, before any applicable reductions, is 50% of the railroad employee’s unreduced Tier I amount. The second tier amount, before any reductions, is 45% of the employee’s unreduced Tier II amount.

2. How does a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity compare to a Social Security spouse benefit? 

The average annuity awarded to spouses in fiscal year 2020, excluding divorced spouses, was $1,130 a month, while the average monthly Social Security spouse benefit was about $744.

Annuities awarded in fiscal year 2020 to the spouses of employees who were of full retirement age or over and who retired directly from the rail industry with at least 25 years of service averaged $1,410 a month, and the average award to the spouses of employees retiring at age 60 or over with at least 30 years of service was $1,602 a month.

3. What are the age requirements for a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity?

The age requirements for a spouse annuity depend on the employee’s age, date of retirement and years of railroad service.

If a retired employee with 30 or more years of service is age 60 or older, the employee’s spouse is eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60. Certain early retirement reductions are applied if the employee first became eligible for an annuity July 1, 1984, or later and retired at ages 60 or 61 before 2002. If the employee was awarded a disability annuity, has attained age 60, and has 30 years of service, the spouse can receive an unreduced annuity the first full month she or he is age 60, regardless of whether the employee annuity began before or after 2002, as long as the spouse’s annuity beginning date is after 2001.

If a retired employee with less than 30 years of service is age 62 or older, the employee’s spouse is eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 62. Early retirement reductions are applied to the spouse annuity if the spouse retires prior to full retirement age. The full retirement age for a spouse is gradually rising to age 67, just as for an employee, depending on the year of birth. Reduced benefits are still payable at age 62, but the maximum reduction will be 35% rather than 25% by the year 2022. However, the Tier II portion of a spouse annuity will not be reduced beyond 25% if the employee had any creditable railroad service before August 12, 1983.

4. What if the spouse is caring for a child of the retired employee?

A spouse of an employee who is receiving an age and service annuity (or a spouse of a disability annuitant who is otherwise eligible for an age and service annuity) is eligible for a spouse annuity at any age if caring for the employee’s unmarried child, and the child is under age 18 or a disabled child of any age who became disabled before age 22.

5. What are some of the other general eligibility requirements for a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity?

The employee must have been married to the spouse for at least one year, unless the spouse is the natural parent of their child, or the spouse was eligible or potentially eligible for a Railroad Retirement widow(er)’s, parent’s or disabled child’s annuity in the month before marrying the employee or the spouse was previously married to the employee and received a spouse annuity.

6. Can the same-sex spouse of a railroad employee file for a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity? 

Yes, if the same-sex spouse meets current spouse annuity eligibility requirements and follows current application procedures.

7. Are spouse annuities subject to offset for the receipt of other benefits?

Yes. The Tier I portion of a spouse annuity is reduced for any Social Security entitlement, regardless of whether the Social Security benefit is based on the spouse’s own earnings, the employee’s earnings or the earnings of another person. This reduction follows principles of Social Security law which, in effect, limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.

The Tier I portion of a spouse annuity may also be reduced for receipt of any federal, state or local government pension separately payable to the spouse based on the spouse’s own earnings. The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the public service pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment. Most military service pensions and payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs will not cause a reduction. Pensions paid by a foreign government or interstate instrumentality will not cause a reduction. For spouses subject to a public service pension reduction, the Tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the public service pension.

In addition, there may be a reduction in the employee’s Tier I amount for receipt of a public pension based, in part or in whole, on employment not covered by Social Security or Railroad Retirement after 1956. If the employee’s Tier I benefit is offset for a non-covered service pension, the spouse Tier I amount is 50% of the employee’s Tier I amount after the offset.

The spouse Tier I portion may also be reduced if the employee is under age 65 and is receiving a disability annuity as well as worker’s compensation or public disability benefits.

While these offsets can reduce or even completely wipe out the Tier I benefit otherwise payable to a spouse, they do not affect the Tier II benefit potentially payable to that spouse.

8. How do the eligibility requirements and benefits differ for a divorced spouse?

A divorced spouse annuity may be payable to the divorced wife or husband of a retired employee if their marriage lasted for at least 10 consecutive years, both have attained age 62 for a full month, and the divorced spouse is not currently married. A divorced spouse can receive an annuity even if the employee has not retired, provided they have been divorced for a period of not less than two years, the employee and former spouse are at least age 62, and the employee is fully insured under the Social Security Act using combined railroad and Social Security earnings. Early retirement reductions are applied to the divorced spouse annuity if the divorced spouse retires prior to full retirement age. Full retirement age for a divorced spouse is gradually rising to age 67, depending on the year of birth.

A divorced spouse is also eligible for an annuity at any age if caring for the employee’s unmarried child, and the child is under age 18, or a disabled child of any age who became disabled before age 22, if the employee is deceased.

Unlike a regular spouse annuity, the divorced spouse annuity is computed under the single-Tier I formula. The amount of a divorced spouse’s annuity is, in effect, equal to what Social Security would pay in the same situation (Tier I only) and therefore less than the amount of the spouse annuity otherwise payable (Tier I and Tier II). The average divorced spouse annuity awarded in fiscal year 2020 was $768.

9. Would the award of an annuity to a divorced spouse affect the monthly annuity rate payable to a retired employee and/or the current spouse?

No. If a divorced spouse becomes entitled to an annuity based on the employee’s railroad service, the award of the divorced spouse’s benefit would not affect the amount of the employee’s annuity, nor would it affect the amount of the Railroad Retirement annuity that may be payable to the current spouse.

10. What if an employee and spouse/divorced spouse are both railroad employees?

If both started railroad employment after 1974, the amount of any spouse or divorced spouse annuity is reduced by the amount of the employee annuity to which the spouse is also entitled. If both the employee and spouse are qualified railroad employees and either had some railroad service before 1975, both can receive separate Railroad Retirement employee and spouse annuities, without a full dual benefit reduction.

11. Are Railroad Retirement annuities subject to garnishment or property settlements?

Yes. Certain percentages of any Railroad Retirement annuity (employee, spouse, divorced spouse or survivor) may be subject to legal process (i.e., garnishment) to enforce an obligation for child support and/or alimony payments.

Employee Tier II benefits and supplemental annuities are subject to court-ordered property divisions in proceedings related to divorce, annulment or legal separation. (Tier I benefits are not subject to property division.) A court-ordered property division payment may be paid even if the employee is not entitled to an annuity provided that the employee has 10 years of railroad service or five years after 1995 and both the employee and former spouse are at least age 62.

12. How can a person get more information about Railroad Retirement spouse and divorced spouse annuities?

Individuals with questions about Railroad Retirement spouse and divorced spouse annuities can send a secure message to their local RRB office by accessing Field Office Locator at RRB.gov and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. If a customer needs to talk to an RRB representative, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772) between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each weekday, except Federal holidays. However, customers are asked to be patient because of the increase in call volume due to the closure to the public of RRB offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.