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RRB Q&A: Deemed service month credits

Railroad Retirement benefits are based on months of service and earnings credits. Earnings are creditable, up to certain annual maximums, on the amount of compensation subject to Railroad Retirement taxes.

Credit for a month of railroad service is earned for every month in which an employee had some compensated service covered by the Railroad Retirement Act. (Local lodge compensation is disregarded for any calendar month in which it is less than $25. However, work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums, regardless of the amount of salary, is creditable railroad work.) Also, under certain circumstances, additional service months may be deemed in some cases where an employee does not actually work in every month of the year.

The following questions and answers describe the conditions under which an employee may receive additional Railroad Retirement service month credits under the deeming provisions of the Railroad Retirement Act.

1. What requirements must be met before additional service months can be deemed?

A service month can be deemed if an employee has less than 12 service months reported in the year, has sufficient compensation reported and is in an “employment relation” with a covered railroad employer, or is an employee representative, during that month. (An employee representative is a labor official of a non-covered labor organization who represents employees covered under the acts administered by the Railroad Retirement Board.)

For this purpose, an “employment relation” generally exists for an employee on an approved leave of absence (for example, furlough, sick leave, suspension, etc.). An “employment relation” is severed by retirement, resignation, relinquishing job rights in order to receive a separation allowance or termination.

2. How is credit for additional service months computed?

For additional service months to be deemed, the employee’s compensation for the year, up to the annual Tier II maximum, must exceed an amount equal to 1/12 of the Tier II maximum multiplied by the number of service months actually worked. The excess amount is then divided by 1/12 of the Tier II maximum; the result, rounded up to the next whole number, equals the maximum number of months that may be deemed as service months for that year. Fewer months may be deemed, if an employment relation, as defined in Question 1, does not exist.

3. An employee works seven months in 2021 before being furloughed, but earns compensation of $108,000. How many deemed service months could be credited to the employee?

The employee could be credited with five additional service months. One-twelfth of the 2021 $106,200 Tier II maximum ($8,850) times the employee’s actual service months (seven) equals $61,950. The employee’s compensation in excess of $61,950 up to the $106,200 maximum is $44,250, which divided by $8,850 equals five. Therefore, five deemed service months could be added to the seven months actually worked and the employee would receive credit for 12 service months in 2021.

4. Another employee works for seven months in 2021 and earns compensation of $85,200. How many deemed service months could be credited to this employee?

In this case, the excess amount ($85,200 minus $61,950) is $23,250, which divided by $8,850 equals 2.627. After rounding, this employee could receive credit for three deemed service months and be credited with a total of 10 months of service in 2021.

5. Another employee works for eight months in 2021 before resigning on August 15, but earns compensation of $91,000. How many deemed service months could be credited to this employee?

None. Since the employee resigned in August, there is no employment relationship for the remaining months and no additional service months may be deemed and credited.

6. Should an employee preparing to retire take deemed service months into account when designating the date his or her Railroad Retirement annuity begins?

An employee may wish to consider credit for deemed service months in selecting an annuity beginning date. For instance, in some cases, a designated annuity beginning date that considers deemed service months could be used to establish basic eligibility for certain benefits, increase an annuity’s Tier II amount, or establish a current connection, as illustrated in Questions 7, 8 and 9, respectively. It should be noted that service months cannot be deemed after the annuity beginning date.

7. What would be an example of using deemed service months to establish benefit eligibility?

An example would be an employee between the ages of 60 and 62 who might be able to use deemed service months to establish the 360 months of service needed to qualify for an unreduced age annuity prior to full retirement age.

For instance, a 60-year-old employee last performed service on May 15, 2021, and received $61,800 in compensation in 2021. She is credited with 358 months of creditable railroad service through May 2021. If the employee wishes to retire on age, she must wait until she is full retirement age, which ranges between 66 and 67 depending upon the employee’s year of birth, or age 62 if she is willing to accept an age-reduced annuity. She needs at least two additional months of service to establish eligibility for an unreduced annuity prior to full retirement age.

The employee’s excess amount ($61,800 minus $44,250) is $17,550, which divided by $8,850 equals 1.983. Therefore, two deemed service months could be added to the five months actually worked and the employee would receive credit for seven service months in 2021 for a total of 360 service months, allowing her to receive an unreduced annuity beginning July 2, 2021.

8. How could deemed service months be used to increase an employee’s Tier II amount?

An employee worked in the first five months of 2021 and received compensation of $59,500. He does not relinquish his rights until July 2, 2021, and applies for an annuity to begin on that date.

The excess amount ($59,500 minus $44,250) is $15,250, which divided by $8,850 equals 1.723, which yields two deemed service months for a total of seven service months in 2021. Had the employee relinquished his rights and applied for an annuity to begin on July 1, he would have been given credit for only six service months.

The employee received the maximum compensation in all of the last five years and had 360 months of service through 2020. The additional service and compensation increases his Tier II from $1,726.75 to $1,746.92. However, delaying the annuity beginning date past the second day of the month after the date last worked solely to increase the Tier II amount would not generally be to the employee’s advantage.

9. Can deemed service months help an employee establish a current connection?

Yes. For example, an employee left the railroad industry in 2002 and engaged in employment covered by the Social Security Act. In August 2020, she returned to railroad employment and worked through June 28, 2021. She received compensation of $53,650 in 2021. She does not relinquish her rights until July 2, 2021, and applies for an annuity to begin on July 2, 2021.

In this case, the excess amount ($53,650 minus $53,100) is $550, which divided by $8,850 equals 0.0621, which yields one deemed service month. Consequently, the employee is given credit for seven service months in 2021. With five months of service in 2020 and seven months in 2021, the employee establishes a current connection. Had she designated the earliest annuity beginning date permitted by law, she would not have met the 12-in-30-month requirement for a current connection. (An employee who worked for a railroad in at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the month his or her Railroad Retirement annuity begins will meet the current connection requirement for a supplemental annuity, occupational disability annuity or survivor benefits.)

10. Can an employee ever receive credit for more than 12 service months in any calendar year?

No. Twelve service months are the maximum that can be credited for any calendar year.

11. Where can an employee get more information on how deemed service months could affect his or her annuity?

Employees with questions about deemed service months 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 employee, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772). 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.

Grand opening of Pullman National Monument and Pullman State Historic Site this weekend

The Pullman neighborhood in Chicago will be abuzz on Labor Day weekend 2021 for the grand opening of the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory Grounds. Pullman has been preparing for this moment for decades, and in earnest since President Barack Obama designated the Pullman National Monument in February 2015.

The public is welcome for a weekend of family friendly events on Saturday, Sept. 4, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., including:

  • tours of the new visitor center (free)
  • tours of the first floor of historic Hotel Florence (free)
  • programs under the tent at the factory site (free)
  • walking tours and self-guided tours of the historic community (free)
  • tours of historic Pullman-built rail cars, sponsored by Amtrak, Metra and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners
  • car caravan, live music and more (free)

The Pullman National Monument and State Historic site is at 11001 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago, IL 60628, the site of the former Pullman company town. The town was the vision of George M. Pullman, who founded it May 26, 1880. Pullman hoped that by building the town, he would attract skilled workers to build his luxury rail cars – known as the Pullman Sleeping Car, they were the first railcars in existence designed to accommodate overnight travelers.

Guests of the Pullman historic sites will find an exhibit chronicling the rise of the town and its role in labor history and the 1894 Pullman strike endorsed by labor leader Eugene Debs, a former secretary of one of SMART-TD’s predecessor unions, as well as the struggles of the black Pullman porters who formed the nation’s first black labor union – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Visit this link to learn more about the Historic Pullman Foundation and the weekend’s planned activities. Follow this link to follow the foundation on Facebook.

The events this weekend are being managed by the Historic Pullman Foundation, which is led by former Federal Railroad Administration Administrator and retired UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, the president of the foundation.

“Historic Pullman Foundation is thrilled to help welcome the public to Pullman National Monument and Pullman State Historic Site, an incredible new cultural attraction in Chicago,” said Szabo. “On Labor Day weekend and through ongoing programming and exhibits at the Monument and its partner sites, visitors to Pullman have many opportunities to learn about the continuing American story that is Pullman.”

Class I carriers report 2nd quarter earnings

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Increased 34% to $1.52 billion from $1.13 billion
Earnings Per Share: n/a – not publicly traded
Revenue: Increased 26% to $5.81 billion from $4.60 billion
Operating Income: Increased 28% to $2.22 billion from $1.73 billion
Operating Expenses: Increased 25% to $3.6 billion from $2.9 billion
Operating Ratio: Improved 0.7% to 60.4% from 61.1% 

Click here to read BNSF’s full earnings report.

 

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Increased 90% to C$1.034 million from C$545 million
Diluted Earnings Per Share: Increased 90% to C1.46 from C$0.77
Revenue: Increased 12% to C$3.598 million from C$3.209 million
Operating Income: Increased 76% to C$1.382 million from C$785 million
Operating Expenses: Decreased 9% to C$2.216 million from C$2.424 million
Operating Ratio: Improved 13.9 points to 61.6% from 75.5% 

Click here to read CN’s full earnings report.

 

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Increased 96% to C$1.25 billion from C$635 million
Diluted Earnings Per Share: Increased 100% to a record $1.86 per share from $0.93 per share
Revenue: Increased 15% to a record C$2.05 billion from C$1.79 billion
Operating Income: Increased 6% to C$820 million from C$770 million
Operating Expenses: Increased 21% to C$1.23 billion from C$1.02 billion
Operating Ratio: Improved 170 basis points to a record 55.3% from 57% 

Click here to read CP’s full earnings report.

 

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Increased 135% to $1.17 billion from $499 million
Earnings Per Share: Increased 136% to $0.52 per share from $0.22 per share
Revenue: Increased 33% to $2.99 billion from $2.26 billion
Operating Income: Increased 104% to $1.70 billion from $828 million
Operating Expenses: Decreased 9% to $1.30 billion from $1.43 billion
Operating Ratio: Improved to 43.4% from 63.3% 

Click here to read CSX’s full earnings report.

 

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Reported a loss of ($378.0 million) from $110.3 million* 
Diluted Earnings Per Share: Increased 79% to $2.06 per share from $1.16 per share
Revenue: Increased 37% to $749.5 million from $547.9 million
Operating Income: Reported a loss of ($431.7 million) from $180.4 million* 
Operating Expenses: Increased to $460.4 million from $357.0 million
Operating Ratio: Improved 3.8 basis points to 61.4% from 65.2% 

Click here to read KCS’s full earnings report.

*losses due to CP-KCS & CN-KCS merger deals 

 

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Increased 109% to a second-quarter record of $819 million from $392 million
Diluted Earnings Per Share: Increased 114% to a second-quarter record of $3.28 per share from $1.53 per share
Revenue: Increased 34% to $2.8 billion from $2.1 billion
Operating Income: Increased 91% to an all-time quarterly record of $1.2 billion from $610 million
Operating Expenses: Increased 11% to $1.6 billion from $1.5 billion
Operating Ratio: Improved 18% to an all-time quarterly record of 58.3% from 70.7% 

Click here to read NS’s full earnings report.

 

2nd Quarter 2021

Net Earnings: Increased 59% to $1.8 billion from $1.1 billion
Earnings Per Share: Increased to $2.72 per share from $1.67 per share
Revenue: Increased 30% to $5.5 billion from $4.2 billion
Operating Income: Increased 50% to $2.5 billion from $1.7 billion
Operating Expenses: Increased 17% to $3.0 billion from $$2.6 billion
Operating Ratio: Improved 590 basis points to 55.1% from 61.0% 

Click here to read UP’s full earnings report.

 


Notes: 

  • Operating ratio is a railroad’s operating expenses expressed as a percentage of operating revenue, and is considered by economists to be the basic measure of carrier profitability. The lower the operating ratio, the more efficient the railroad.
  • All comparisons are made to 2020’s second-quarter results for each railroad.
  • All figures for CN & CP are in Canadian currency, except for earnings per share for CP

Arbitrator finds that Section 6 bargaining regarding crew consist can begin

On July 28, 2021, a Neutral appointed by the National Mediation Board issued his ruling finding that on certain railroad properties, the current moratoria in those crew consist agreements do not prohibit the railroads from serving a Section 6 Notice regarding crew size. The properties affected or having no current moratorium include certain properties at BNSF, UP, NS and CN Railroads. Other properties not currently affected or involved may also be included in the future as moratoriums naturally expire. Please contact your local chairperson or general chairperson for specific details regarding your terminal or district.

The ruling comes after a nearly two-year battle between SMART-TD and the National Railway Labor Conference over the moratoria provisions and their effect. The arbitration was one of the largest conducted by SMART-TD and its predecessor union, UTU, in decades.

The ruling does not eliminate any current crew consist provision or requirement. The only thing it does is to open the door for bargaining to occur. The moratoria that previously prevented any mandatory bargaining on crew consist were predicated on the last remaining employees having hired on the railroad previous to the 1980’s. Today, less than 100 of these employees remain nationwide, and most are at, or near retirement age. 

Once a Section 6 is served, the Railway Labor Act requires both parties to engage in mandatory bargaining. The Act, however, does not mandate any particular outcome in such negotiations, it merely provides a process. In the event parties reach an impasse, the Act contains methods to avoid disruption to commerce through mandatory mediation and possibly intervention from the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress.

SMART-TD remains committed to protecting the jobs of today, as well as securing the jobs of the future. While only some General Committees will be involved in bargaining, the full support and effort of the International in assisting those Committees will continue.

General Chairperson Anthony Simon co-chairs golf outing event with SM business managers

Simon

GCA-505 Long Island Rail Road General Chairperson Anthony Simon has teamed up with SMART Sheet Metal Business Managers Dante Dano (SM Local 137) and Eric Meslin (SM Local 28) to plan an annual golf outing in Bronx, N.Y. to benefit LaborPress.

LaborPress is one of the largest labor news organizations in the nation. They were founded in August 2009 by LaborPress President Neal Tepel to provide a media outlet for unions and workers. Their articles regularly appear in the New York Daily News and on their website. iHeart radio’s WOR radio station features their daily reports.

LaborPress.org regularly has features on the transportation and building trades industries, which is why our union is happy to help them out with their golf outing. Most notably, LaborPress recently posted spotlight features on Simon, Dano, Meslin and General President Joe Sellers.

According to Simon, GCA-505 and SMART Locals 137 and 28 regularly work together on joint efforts and this event is no different. The keynote speaker for the event is none other than SMART General President Sellers. During his lunchtime speech, Sellers plans to discuss infrastructure issues important to both the transportation and sheet metal sides of the union, as well as the need for more unionized workers in the workforce. Also speaking during the event are representatives from the AFL-CIO and the North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU). Legislators are expected to attend as well.

“We are honored to have our general president attend this event as the keynote speaker. This event takes place in New York, where many labor leaders throughout the state will join us to hear Joe’s opinions on the labor movement and the infrastructure bills that we are fighting for in Washington,” Simon said. “This event shows that when we all stand together with both transportation and building trades, our voices and actions are stronger than ever.”

The golf outing is being held Sept. 10, at the Pelham Bay Golf Course, 870 Shore Rd., Bronx, NY 10464.

Click here for a flyer with more information on costs and contacts.

T&I Chair DeFazio challenges proposed CN and KCS merger trust

Rep. DeFazio

WASHINGTON – Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) opposing the approval of a trust for the proposed merger of the Canadian National (CN) and Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroads. In his letter, DeFazio stated that approving the trust is not in the public interest and would reduce competition.

“A single holding company responsible for this traffic would likely change rail traffic patterns in the significant areas of parallel service overlap and that would reduce the rail service options these 300 customers currently enjoy,” Chair DeFazio wrote in his letter. “I am also troubled that this combination of Class I railroads serving all three nations in North America will exacerbate U.S. job losses from cross-border trade agreements that prioritize profits over people and inflict harm on worker’s rights, consumer safety, and the environment.”

In April 2021, Chair DeFazio issued a statement after Canadian Pacific (CP) and CN each made separate multi-billion dollar offers to buy KCS, warning that the bidding war that ensued for the railroad threatened to usher in a new round of consolidations in the rail sector, ultimately threatening jobs and affecting shipping in the U.S.

DeFazio’s full letter to STB can be found below and here.

 


 

July 26, 2021

Ms. Cynthia Brown
Chief, Section of Administration
Office of Proceedings
Surface Transportation Board
395 E Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20423

Re: Finance Docket No. 36514, Canadian National Railway Company, et al. – Control – Kansas City  Southern Railway Company, et al.

Dear Ms. Brown:

I am writing to express opposition to the voting trust proposed by Canadian National Railway Company (CN) in its proposed merger with Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCS). I am concerned that this proposed trust is not in the public interest. The trust would reduce competition and prejudice the outcome of the Surface Transportation Board’s merger proceeding.

In its May 14, 2021, submission to this docket, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice explained how voting trusts reduce competition both in general for railroad mergers and in particular to the consideration of a voting trust for CN and KCS. In general, putting two formerly competitive businesses under a single holding company immediately reduces the parties’ incentives to engage in competition. While the Surface Transportation Board regularly allowed railroad trusts throughout the many railroad consolidations of the 1980s and 1990s, the board has made the requirements to approve a voting trust more stringent since 2001 as part of an overall reform of merger rules. Now, according to 49 CFR 1180.4(b)(4)(iv), applicants must demonstrate that trusts would be in the public interest. Approving a CN-KCS trust would signal to the rest of the rail industry that the STB is engaging in business as usual, despite the requirement to consider the public interest, and could launch a new round of mergers.

Specifically with regard to the potential for a CN-KCS trust, I am concerned that approximately 300 current customers overlap on the CN and KCS networks. A single holding company responsible for this traffic would likely change rail traffic patterns in the significant areas of parallel service overlap and that would reduce the rail service options these 300 customers currently enjoy. I am also troubled that this combination of Class I railroads serving all three nations in North America will exacerbate U.S. job losses from cross-border trade agreements that prioritize profits over people and inflict harm on worker’s rights, consumer safety, and the environment.

I trust that the Surface Transportation Board will look at the specific facts of this action and conclude that approving a trust is too much, too soon. Too much authority in one company to somehow keep two companies competing against each other that have significant service overlap and too soon because allowing the trust creates a new floor purchase price for any other potential competitive bidders for KCS railroad. 

Sincerely,
Peter A. DeFazio

Palmetto GBA: Let’s talk about mental health during the pandemic

Mental health is one of those things that we don’t want to talk about too much. With so much still unknown about the coronavirus, many people are still depressed, anxious, scared and stressed. We’ve watched how the world has changed during the pandemic, with millions of people losing their lives, and there is still a stigma related to the virus. Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. In the beginning, the coronavirus was thought to only affect the elderly population, but now, a year later, we know that to be untrue. Isolation, food and supply shortages were all things we dealt with during the pandemic.

Now the world is starting to open back up after more than a year of being isolated from families and friends. Many people are asking, “How do we ever get back to being normal?” One thing we can do is get vaccinated. Vaccines are now available to all people over the age of 12, and they are reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths and severe illnesses. In fact, 79.5% of those fully vaccinated are people 65 years or older. The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all Medicare beneficiaries.

Even though the pandemic is not over, (with the Delta variant a new concern) it is under better control. Americans are starting to travel again, see family and attend events with larger crowds. While these are good things, some of this news can cause many people to feel overwhelmed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Below are ways that you can help yourself, others and your community manage stress:

  • Turn the TV off. Reduce exposure to news stories, which can trigger stress.
  • Eat healthy, go for a walk and get plenty of sleep.
  • Find a new hobby or make time to do an old one.
  • Connect with others either in person or by phone.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. (CDC, 2021)

While we all wait for the World Health Organization to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over, we must still take proper precautions to ensure safety. If you are unvaccinated, according the CDC, you will still need to wear your mask. Seeing others not wearing a mask may also be stressful because you can’t be sure they are vaccinated.

If you are having trouble managing your feelings or not feeling like yourself, see your doctor or other approved healthcare provider and tell them how you are feeling. Don’t wait until your next annual wellness visit. Even if you don’t feel up to (or ready to face) getting out for a visit, many doctors today are offering telehealth visits. Some Medicare benefits you may not know of include:

  • Yearly depression screening
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Family counseling
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Individual and group psychotherapy
  • Medication management
  • Annual wellness visit
  • Caregiver-focused behavioral health risk assessment of their own behavior and health risks, which benefits the patient
  • Cognitive assessment and care planning
  • Drug therapy
  • Drug withdrawal treatment and other substance use disorder treatments
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Initial Preventive Physical Examination (IPPE) to review medical and social health history and provide preventive services education

For more information about your Medicare benefits and how they can help you get help when you’re feeling down, please call Palmetto GBA’s beneficiary contact center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are also encouraged to sign up for Palmetto’s email updates. To do so, click “Email Updates” on the top banner on the Palmetto GBA website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me to start the process.

If you’d like to read more about the CDC and its information on coping with stress related to the coronavirus, please visit their website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html


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.

FTA launches Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative

Transit worker and rider safety is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Public transit is a safe form of transportation. Transit workers should expect a safe workplace and riders should expect a safe trip.

To help ensure the continued safety of our nation’s public transit systems, the Federal Transit Administration launched the Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative to provide information and resources to help transit agencies address and prevent crime on their systems and protect transit workers and riders.

FTA resources can be used by transit agencies to prevent and address crime in their systems and protect transit workers and riders. These resources also can be used for overtime pay for enhanced security personnel presence, mental health and crisis intervention specialists.

FTA has partnered with the National Transit Institute (NTI) to provide training for transit and bus operators on assault awareness and prevention. The

Click here for a list of courses from the NTI.

Click here for more information about the Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative.

Biden-Harris administration offers two paths to the Rule of 2


The paths to the Rule of 2 are open.
Path 1: The INVEST ACT (H.R. 3684, the House Infrastructure Bill) and Path 2: a regulatory priority of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to revisit freight crew size.

U.S House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) of Oregon and Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D) of New Jersey, both allies to the cause of safe rail operations, said this about the intention of the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize freight-crew size:

“This announcement by the Biden administration is welcome news for both the safety of railroad workers and the public,” DeFazio said. “I encourage the administration to align their proposals with the INVEST in America Act, which requires the risks be fully understood before allowing LNG to be transported by rail tank car and sets reasonable crew size requirements.”

“The two-crew rule will prevent accidents from occurring and save lives,” Donald M. Payne Jr. said. “The airline industry has required two pilots per flight for years and it has helped protect millions of passengers from harm. Two-person crews in the freight rail industry will protect freight trains and communities from a dangerous derailment. I applaud the Biden administration for continuing the great work of the Obama administration and supporting this policy nationwide.”

SMART-TD asks members to remain informed of the progress of the INVEST Act with its two-person crew requirement in the coming weeks and to be ready to get the word to their senators and to FRA about how both the conductor and the engineer are essential in safe rail operations in our country when the time comes.

RRB: Unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), which provides two kinds of benefits for qualified railroaders: unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed but are ready, willing and able to work; and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to female rail workers for periods of time when they are unable to work because of health conditions related to pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth. A new benefit year begins each July 1.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements and how to claim them. At the time this news release was issued, unemployment and sickness benefit flexibilities were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because these flexibilities are temporary and may change, they are not covered in this release. Visit RRB.gov/coronavirus for up-to-date information.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2021?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $4,137.50 in calendar year 2020, counting no more than $1,655 for any one month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2020 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2020.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2020 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2021, may be eligible for extended benefits. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have railroad earnings of at least $4,275 in 2021, not counting earnings of more than $1,710 in any one month.

In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.

To be eligible for accelerated benefits, a claimant must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and, when claiming sickness benefits, be under age 65.

2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2021?

Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $82. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $820 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to Tier I Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.

Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 5.7% through September 30, 2021. Consequently, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $773.26. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to Tier I payroll taxes of 7.65% will be $714.11 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.

(The temporary benefits created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Continued Assistance to Rail Workers Act of 2020 (CARWA), and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are not subject to sequestration. Under CARWA, beginning January 3, 2021, all benefits under the RUIA (including normal unemployment and sickness benefits as well as normal extended unemployment and sickness benefits) will be exempt from sequestration until 30 days after the Presidential declaration of a national emergency concerning COVID-19 terminates. The RRB will publish updated information regarding the status of the sequestration of RUIA benefits when the end date of the Presidential declaration of a national emergency is known.)

3. How long are these benefits payable?

Normal unemployment or sickness benefits are each payable for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the new benefit year cannot exceed the employee’s railroad earnings in calendar year 2020, counting earnings up to $2,138 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during seven consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).

4. What is the waiting period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?

There is a seven-day waiting period requirement, prior to any benefits becoming payable under the RUIA. During the first 14-day claim period, benefits are payable for every day claimed in excess of seven days. Subsequent claims are paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in each 14-day registration period. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. If an employee has at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits in order to satisfy the waiting period for the current benefit year. Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.

5. Are there special waiting period requirements if unemployment is due to a strike?

If a worker is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.

If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.

While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.

6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?

No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.

7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?

Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.

8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?

If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and non-railroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2021, earnings of $1,655 or more in a claim period will disqualify a claim for unemployment benefits, even if there are more than 4 days of unemployment claimed. This amount corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.

Earnings of $15 or less per day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine if the work affects benefits.

9. How does a person apply for and claim unemployment benefits?

Employees can apply for and claim unemployment benefits online or by mail. Individuals who have established an account through myRRB at RRB.gov can log in and file their applications and their biweekly claims online. Employees who need to create an account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov. Employees are encouraged to establish their accounts while still working to expedite the filing process for future unemployment benefits, and for access to other online services.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an Application for Unemployment Benefits (Form UI-1) from RRB.gov, their labor organization or railroad employer. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and must be filed within 30 days from the date the claimant became unemployed, or the first day for which he or she wishes to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if the application is filed late. Claimants filing a late unemployment application or claim should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving his or her area by visiting RRB.gov and clicking on Field Office Locator, or by calling the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 and selecting the appropriate option from the automated menu.

The local RRB field office reviews the completed application, whether it was submitted online or by mail, and notifies the claimant’s current railroad employer, and base-year employer, if different. The employer has the right to provide information about the benefit application.

After processing the application, biweekly claim forms are provided to the claimant for as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. If a claimant filed an online application, his or her claim forms are only made available online. If a claimant filed a paper application, his or her first claim form is both available online and mailed to him or her. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s). Claim forms should be signed and sent (online or by mail) on or after the last day of the claim. The completed claim must be received by the RRB within 15 days of the end of the claim period, or within 15 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later.

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, in the case of multiple claim periods, a claimant must request a claim form from the RRB within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claim forms may then be filed online or by mail.

10.  How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?

An Application for Sickness Benefits (Form SI-1a) can be obtained from RRB.gov, a railroad labor organization, or a railroad employer. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail. However, subsequent claims may be mailed, or completed online by employees who have established a myRRB account at RRB.gov.

An application including a doctor’s Statement of Sickness (Form SI-1b – included with form SI-1a) is required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Claimants should make a special effort to have the doctor’s statement of sickness completed promptly since claims cannot be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application for sickness benefits on hand, and that family members know where the form is kept and how to use it. If an employee becomes unable to work because of sickness or injury, the employee should complete the application and have his or her doctor complete the attached statement of sickness. If a claimant receives sickness benefits for an injury or illness for which he or she is paid damages, it is important to be aware that the RRB is entitled to reimbursement of either the amount of the benefits paid for the injury or illness or the net amount of the settlement, after deducting the claimant’s gross medical, hospital and legal expenses, whichever is less.

If the employee is too sick to complete the application, someone else may complete it for him or her. In such cases, a family member should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (Form SI-10 included with form SI-1a), which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago within 10 days from when the employee became sick or injured. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which an employee wishes to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there is a good reason for the delay. (Employees cannot currently file their sickness applications online.) Upon receipt, the RRB will process the application and determine if the employee is eligible for sickness benefits.

After processing the application and statement of sickness, the RRB makes the first biweekly claim form available online (for employees with myRRB accounts) and mails a paper form to the employee as long as he or she is eligible for benefits and remains unable to work due to illness or injury. Those choosing to file the paper claim received by mail should return the completed form to RRB headquarters for processing. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both online and paper claim forms for the same claim period(s). Employees who need to create a myRRB account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov.

Completed claim forms must be received at the RRB within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim form is filed late. Claimants filing a late sickness application or claim form should include a signed statement explaining why they were unable to meet the required time frame.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications for sickness benefits must be mailed to the RRB. Statements of sickness may be mailed with the sickness application or faxed directly from the doctor’s office to the RRB at 312-751-7185. Faxes must include a cover sheet from the doctor’s office. Also, in order to prevent a delay in processing applications or claims, employees are advised against sending any sickness benefit forms to the RRB in Chicago via certified mail.

11. Is a claimant’s employer notified each time a biweekly claim for unemployment or sickness benefits is filed?

The RUIA requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. Benefits may not be paid at this time but the employee will receive a notice and have the right to appeal. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

The RRB also conducts checks with other Ffederal agencies and all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to detect fraudulent benefit claims, and it checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.

12. How long does it take to receive payment?

Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if a claimant files an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, his or her benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

If a claimant does not receive a decision notice or payment within the specified time period, he or she may expect an explanation for the delay and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others, especially if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations, or under special circumstances such as the current pandemic.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for review and to appeal. They will be notified of these rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on their claims.

13. How are payments made?

Railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits are paid by direct deposit to an employee’s bank, savings and loan, credit union or other financial institution. New applicants for unemployment and sickness benefits will be asked to provide information needed for direct deposit enrollment.

14. How can claimants get more information on their railroad unemployment or sickness claims?

Claimants with myRRB accounts can view their individual railroad unemployment and sickness insurance account statement by using the View RUIA Account service. This statement displays the type and amount of the claimant’s last five benefit payments, the claim period for which the payments were made, and the dates that the payments were approved. Individuals can also confirm the RRB’s receipt of applications and claims.

In addition, claimants can call the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 to access information about the status of unemployment and sickness claims or payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Individuals with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who need information about their specific claims and benefit payments, can send a secure e-mail to their local office by accessing the 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 employee, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772). 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.

Palmetto GBA: Performing a cognitive assessment

Do you or a loved one have any of the following symptoms?

It’s easy to forget where you put your car keys once in a while. But if you or a loved one have any of the following problems, please read further:

  • Trouble remembering
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Feeling overwhelmed making decisions
  • Getting confused easily or frequently
  • Becoming very impulsive or showing poor judgment

You might think your memory has “slipped,” but it might be more than that. Medicare offers a service to test your cognitive functioning. It’s called a cognitive assessment, and it can be performed when you see your provider for a visit. Many times, it is performed when you do your yearly wellness visit, but it can be performed at any time you have a concern.

It’s really helpful if you bring someone with you to that visit, such as a friend, spouse or caregiver, so that they can provide answers to questions you might not know the answers to. During the visit, your doctor will do the following:

  1. Perform a cognitive exam.
  2. Review your medical history and your medication. Sometimes medications can have side effects that may make you appear to have a cognitive impairment.
  3. Develop a plan of care, if one is needed.
  4. Make a referral to a specialist, if one is needed.
  5. Talk to you about community resources (these can include adult daycare, rehabilitation services, and more).

When this service is performed, the Part B deductible and coinsurance apply.

Cognitive impairment doesn’t always present in the ways noted above. It can also show up as depression, anxiety, apathy or irritation/aggression. If you see these in yourself or others, please make an appointment with your doctor. Having mild cognitive impairment can increase your risk of developing dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. Per the Mayo Clinic, “some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.” Be the one who gets better. Call your doctor today.

If you need help locating a doctor, you can call our Palmetto GBA’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are invited to use Palmetto’s free internet portal, MyRRMed, to access claim status, historical Medicare Summary Notices, and review any individuals you have authorized to have access to your private medical information. You can visit MyRRMed at www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.

We also encourage you to visit the Mayo Clinic website, which discusses mild cognitive impairment (MCI) here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578.

You can also access the Alzheimer’s Association website, which discusses cognitive assessment services, by visiting here: https://www.alz.org/professionals/health-systems-clinicians/cognitive-assessment.


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.

Sporting clay shoots planned in Colo., N.J.

Members are invited to compete in a pair of team clay shoots this autumn in conjunction with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

The first shoot is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 25 at Colorado Clays, 13600 Lanewood St., Brighton, CO 80603. The second is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 23 at Red Wing Sporting Clays, 317 Sooys Landing Road, Port Republic, NJ 08241.

Click here to register for the Sept. 25th event. Click here to register for the Oct. 23rd event. For both events, in-person registration runs 7:30 to 9 a.m. local time, and the entrance fee includes lunch, beverages, 10- or 20-gauge shells and clay targets. Individual registration for those ages 18 and older is $175, while registration for youths is $125.

Individual shooters will be placed in teams of five when competing or entire teams of five can register as a group either in-person or online. The deadline for advance registration is Sept. 20 for the Colorado event and Oct. 18 for the New Jersey event.

Family members and friends of all SMART members can take part in these team shoots, the proceeds of which go toward the Alliance’s efforts to preserve, restore and conserve natural and outdoor resources in our country. In addition to the competition, awards, door prizes and premium drawings will take place at both events. There also are sponsorship opportunities available.

Additional information will be shared as the shoots approach. Questions about registration and sponsorships can be directed to Chris Piltz of the USA at 203-767-0745 or chris@unionsportsmen.org.