Archive for the ‘Alumni Association News’ Category

Application deadline extended for pair of FRA vacancies

The deadline has been extended for interested applicants to submit materials to fill two open high-level Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety positions: Director, Office of Safety Analysis and Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety.

With the addition of a two-week extension, the application deadline is now Aug. 26.

The Director, Office of Safety Analysis serves as primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and assists the Associate Administrator and the Deputy Associate Administrator within the Office of Railroad Safety in formulating program and technical policies, monitoring integrated programs, establishing goals for organizational components and tracking the progress of projects and programs. The incumbent serves as the primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and works closely with executives in the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office and in various other executive agencies to ensure effective and consistent coordination on rail-safety regulatory development and evaluation efforts.

This position is located in Washington, D.C. The vacancy announcement details and instructions on how to apply can be found at the following USAJOBS link: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/538902000.

The Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety supports the Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer in advancing the mission of FRA with regard to railroad safety. As a senior member of the FRA leadership team, the Deputy Associate Administrator is a primary source of executive advice and leadership for Office of Railroad Safety operations and safety standards as well as policy development. The Deputy Associate Administrator is responsible for planning and ensuring the execution of FRA safety policies, programs and activities and advancing overall organizational excellence within the Office of Railroad Safety.

This position is located in Washington, D.C. The vacancy announcement details and instructions on how to apply to this position can be found at the following USAJOBS link: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/538901700.

RRB: unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, 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.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2019?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,900 in the calendar year 2018, counting no more than $1,560 for any month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2018 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2018.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2018 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, 2019, may be eligible for extended benefits, and employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have rail earnings of at least $4,012.50 in 2019, not counting earnings of more than $1,605 a 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, 2019?

Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $78. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $780 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 6.2 percent through September 30, 2019. As a result, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $731.64. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to tier I payroll taxes of 7.65 percent will be $675.67 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.)

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 2018, counting earnings up to $2,015 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?

Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day registration periods. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. However, during the first 14-day claim period in a benefit year, benefits are only payable for each day of unemployment or sickness in excess of seven which, in effect, provides a one-week waiting period. (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.) 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 nonrailroad 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 2019, the amount is $1,560, which 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.

On the other hand, earnings of no more than $15 a 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 be sure to 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 at RRB.gov can log in to conveniently file their applications and their biweekly claims online. 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, any RRB field office, their labor organization or employer. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and, in any case, 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 who know in advance that they will be filing an unemployment application or claim late should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

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 made available on the RRB’s website and are mailed to the claimant, as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. Claim forms should be signed and sent on or after the last day of the claim. This can be done online or by mail. 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. Claimants must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s). Once an individual submits a claim online, all subsequent claim forms will be made available online only, and will no longer be mailed.

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, a claimant must, in such a case, 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 claims may then be filed online or by mail.

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

An Application for Sickness Benefits (SI-1a) can be obtained from RRB.gov, any RRB field office, railroad labor organizations or railroad employers. An application including a doctor’s statement of sickness 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 then have his or her doctor complete the Statement of Sickness (SI-1b). 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 do so. In such cases, a family member should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (Form SI-10), 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. Upon receipt, the RRB will process the application and determine if the employee is eligible for sickness benefits.

After processing the application, the RRB provides biweekly claims to the qualified employee as long as he or she is eligible for benefits and remains unable to work due to illness or injury. Biweekly claims are made available for completion online (by those with an account at RRB.gov) and mailed to the claimant. 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 is filed late. Claimants who know in advance that they will be filing a sickness application or claim late should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

As with claims for unemployment benefits, once a claim for sickness benefits is submitted online, all subsequent claims will be made available online only, and will no longer be mailed.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications 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.

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

The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act 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. 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 Federal 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.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations. 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.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for a 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. With direct deposit, benefit payments are made electronically 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 online accounts at RRB.gov can log in to view their individual railroad unemployment insurance account statement. 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 the RRB’s automated HelpLine service which provides 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 also contact an RRB office by calling the toll-free number.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving their area by visiting RRB.gov and clicking on Field Office Locator, or by calling the RRB’s HelpLine service and selecting the appropriate option from the automated menu. Most RRB offices are open to the public on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when offices are open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. All RRB offices are closed on Federal holidays.

RR Medicare: the transition to new numbers ends December 31

Last July, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) mailed approximately 450,000 new Railroad Medicare cards with new Medicare Numbers. The new Medicare Numbers, which are unique to each person with Railroad Medicare and do not contain Social Security Number (SSNs), replace the former Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICNs). Providers can bill claims to Medicare with either a HICN or a new Medicare Number through December 31, 2019.

At this time, approximately 70% of the Railroad Medicare claims received are submitted with Medicare Numbers. Beginning January 1, 2020, all providers will be required to file claims with Medicare Numbers only.

When it’s time for a doctor’s appointment or other Medicare service, be sure to take your new card with you. Your provider’s office knows everyone should have a new Medicare Number, and they will need to keep a record of your Medicare Number so they can bill Railroad Medicare correctly.

If your provider does not have a copy of your card, they may be able to look up your information with their local Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) or with Palmetto GBA Railroad Medicare through our online provider portals. These portals give authorized providers access to claims history, eligibility and more. The portals also contain a tool that allows providers to look up a Medicare Number with the following patient information:

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number

Please note that in order to use the tool to look up your Medicare Number, a provider must have your Social Security Number. If you do not want to give a provider your SSN, allow them to have a copy of your card or verbally give them your Medicare Number. If you have not used your card yet, you are making it much more difficult for your providers to file claims timely. One of the reasons for having the new cards was to give protection from identity theft. One way to do that is to be very selective when giving your personal information to a trusted entity (your doctor, insurers, etc.).

When verbally giving your Medicare Number to a provider, or to a Customer Service Advocate when you call Railroad Medicare, make sure to read it correctly. Medicare Numbers have 11 characters and contain numbers and uppercase letters only. They do not contain the letters S, L, O, I, B or Z. Characters one, four, seven, 10 and 11 will always be a number. The second, fifth, eighth and ninth characters will always be a letter. The third and sixth characters will be a letter or a number.

Sample RRB Medicare Card:

If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, your new Medicare card does not replace your plan’s identification card. You will continue to use your plan’s ID card to receive your Medicare benefits.

If you did not receive your new Medicare Card with your new Medicare Number, you can call Palmetto’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455 or the Railroad Retirement Board at 877-772-5772.

Have questions?

If you have questions about new Medicare cards or Medicare Numbers, 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 encouraged to sign up for email updates. To do so, click ‘Listservs’ on the top banner on the Palmetto website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me. You are also encouraged to use the beneficiary portal, MyRRMed, which is located at www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.

Ohio SLB gives update on rail safety legislation

SMART TD’s Ohio State Legislative Board has given an update on H.B. 186 — a comprehensive rail safety bill that addresses two-person crews, safe walkways, rail yard lighting and blocked crossings — that was introduced to the Ohio House Transportation Committee on June 18.

Ohio State Legislative Director Stu Gardner reports that the bill will be held over from the summer session to this fall where it will be given priority. Although the bill is static for now, Gardner asks Ohio members to offer proponent testimony as to why you believe the bill should be approved by the committee in preparation for this fall.

“Your testimony is what is needed to convince these committee members that this bill is what we have said all along it is – a common-sense approach to railroad safety,” Gardner said in an email to Ohio members.

Gardner suggests members write up testimony on all four segments of the bill or just on a specific segment. The four segments of the bill are:

  1. Two-person freight train crews;
  2. Common-sense safe walkways within rail yards;
  3. Common-sense illumination of rail yards;
  4. Blocked crossings that obstruct and delay emergency vehicles

According to Gardner, there are two ways you can provide testimony to the committee. You may either do a written-only testimony or you may submit electronic written testimony prior to testifying before the committee at the next hearing. The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. in House Hearing Room 114 in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus unless otherwise notified. Below are instructions from Gardner for submitting your testimony in either fashion.

Instructions for those wishing to testify before the committee:

Prior to committee:

  • The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. in House Hearing Room 114 in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
    • The committee notice typically goes out on Friday afternoon. The notice will confirm that H.B. 186 is up for a hearing and when and where the committee will convene.
    • The Ohio SLB will work with the chairman’s office and our policy team to get as much of an advanced notice as possible
  • Testimony is to be electronically submitted to the chairman’s office by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
  • A witness slip (fillable PDF) is to be completed prior to the committee meeting and should also be submitted electronically to the chairman’s office.
  • Testimony and the witness slip can be submitted at the same time and there is no need to send multiple emails.
  • Materials may be submitted to Matthew Taylor in Chairman Doug Green’s Office at Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.

Day of committee:

  • When the committee notice is distributed, SLD Gardner will make sure to relay the information and will draw attention to any changes that have been made to the committee’s location and start time.
  • Folks may arrive any time before the committee hearing begins.
  • There is no need to check in with staff so long as testimony was submitted properly.
  • Attendees may take a seat in the audience.
  • As committee begins, the chairman will announce the hearing of bills. As testimony begins on H.B. 186, the chairman will call each individual up by the name submitted on the witness slip.
  • After testimony has been given, the individual may remain in the committee room for the duration of the hearing.

Instructions for those wishing to submit written-only testimony:

  • Written-only testimony is for those who may not be able to attend the committee hearing to testify in person, or for those who may want to attend committee but do not wish to verbally testify.

Written-only testimony:

  • Testimony is to be electronically submitted to the Chairman’s Office by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, the day before the scheduled hearing.
  • The witness slip is to be completed prior to the committee hearing and should also be submitted electronically to the Chairman’s Office.
  • Testimony and the witness slip can be submitted at the same time, and there is no need to send multiple emails.
  • Materials may be submitted to Matthew Taylor in Chairman Doug Green’s Office at Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.

SMART TD Regional Meeting: President Previsich says FRA action will not go unchallenged

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — In closing remarks to the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting July 3, TD President John Previsich said that recent actions of government agencies under the umbrella of the federal Department of Transportation will not go unchallenged.

Actions by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding safety issues have shown that those agencies have stepped away from their duties of overseeing the safety of communities and of the nation’s transportation workers, he said.

SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich addresses the closing session of the San Diego Regional Meeting at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel on July 3.

The FRA’s withdrawal of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in May plus a similar action within days by the FMCSA that withdrew a notice regarding bus operator safety is a starting point to what will be a challenging period for our union, Previsich said.

All options, including litigation, are being explored to challenge what Previsich had described in testimony before a U.S. House Subcommittee as FRA’s abdication of its safety oversight responsibilities by withdrawing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding minimum crew size. Attorneys general from every state that have implemented legislation requiring two-person freight crews are being invited to join with labor to protect the state laws.

The effort will address FRA’s abuse of authority by withdrawing the NPR, ignoring the comments that were overwhelmingly in favor of a two-person crew rule and the agency’s attempt to pre-empt state laws. It will be a “concerted” effort with other labor organizations.

Previsich said that the union is planning on a multi-faceted approach to take on FRA while also challenging Congress to pursue legislation to correct FRA’s refusal to oversee safety on the nation’s railroads.

Attendees at the July 3 closing session of the San Diego Regional Meeting listen to TD President John Previsich’s remarks at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel.

State legislative action surrounding two-person rail crews also will be ongoing, he said, and more details of our efforts as well as additional actions for members to take will be communicated in the near future.

“There is going to be a big push coming,” Previsich said. “We are going to reach out to you when the proper time comes and ask for your assistance. I think your members will be proud of their union and where we’re going with this.”

To do something immediately, members should take the time to watch the video of the House subcommittee hearing. There they will see who supports our efforts, and what opponents are saying.

All brothers and sisters should then contact their legislators directly to explain our issues to their U.S. House and Senate representatives, and why the current bills regarding transportation safety are important. An in-person visit, an option advocated by National Legislative Director John Risch during the Regional Meeting’s opening session, helps to personalize and drive these issues home no matter what political party the public official identifies with.

The TD Legislative Action Center is a one-stop repository that has information on federal bills advocating bus and transit operator safety, freight rail crew size and yardmaster safety.

Our brothers and sisters also should donate to the SMART TD PAC.

“There’s nothing more important in this environment today — in this political climate that we’re in — that we get access, and we get access through PAC,” Previsich said.

On the second day of the meeting, SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. addressed the new leaders in attendance and encouraged them to take advantage of all resources available to them in both the Washington, D.C., and in the Cleveland offices.

The TD Regional Meeting theme — “Your Union Leading the Way” — was particularly appropriate this year — members “need to understand that ‘Your union’ is our union … 200,000 members are part of our union,” Sellers said. “And ‘leading the way’ means you leading the way, meaning us leading the way meaning leaders and members leading the way.”

In a time of upheaval in the industries that SMART members are employed in, efforts to grow the organization will continue to be a priority, and officers will take an important role in those efforts.

“We must continue to grow. We must organize, organize, organize — internal organizing, external organizing, making sure every worker is a SMART member,” Sellers said.

SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr., delivers opening remarks on Tuesday, July 2, the second day of the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

From all levels of the union, it is up to everyone to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and build and maintain a strong foundation and maintain a powerful and nimble network that can take collective action to protect ourselves and the legacy our union represents, Sellers said.

“I want to make sure that we continue to build that foundation, that we continue to form this union so that future generations will have the same opportunity, enjoy that same representation, enjoy the same benefits of a collective bargaining agreement and enjoy a retirement particularly at a time when many people won’t have a retirement or work pension.”

Support from the SMART Army has brought results — members’ efforts beat back Right to Work For Less legislation in Washington one day after a call for mobilization at the state’s Capitol, and helped to get two-person crew legislation passed in Colorado and Nevada this year. They’ve also mobilized to defend proposed pension changes in Congress.

“As we build that, we will do better,” he said.

To join, text SMART Army to 21333.

In closing the meeting, Previsich announced that the 2020 TD Regional Meeting will be held in its home base of Cleveland, Ohio, at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from Aug. 24 to 26.

The three-day San Diego meeting at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel featured more than 30 educational workshops intended to assist officers and strengthen our union at every level.

President Previsich testifies before House subcommittee

    SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich testifies Thursday afternoon before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich appeared before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials to testify on the state of the railroad workforce.

Rather than use his prepared written testimony, he delivered a statement in response to the testimony given earlier in the hearing by Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ron Batory. In his statement, President Previsich told the representatives about issues crucial to the rail labor workforce, including what he described as FRA’s “abdication” of its safety oversight duties in the wake of its withdrawal last month of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding a minimum train crew size.

He also addressed questions posed by subcommittee members on subjects including Congress’s role in helping to ensure a safe working environment for rail workers, the national Safe Freight Act two-person crew legislation and the role of technology, including automation, and its effects on the rail labor workforce.

A video of President Previsich’s testimony and responses is embedded below.

Video of the full hearing containing President Previsich’s testimony as well as that of other railroad labor leadership in attendance is available here on YouTube.

Reporting events that can affect Railroad Retirement benefits

Rights to benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act also carry responsibilities for reporting events that may affect the payment of these benefits to the employee or to members of the employee’s family. If these events are not reported, benefit overpayments can occur that have to be repaid, sometimes with interest and penalties.

Events that can affect the payment of a Railroad Retirement annuity and result in overpayments if not promptly reported include:

  • entitlement to Social Security or certain other benefits, and changes in the amount of such benefit payments;
  • post-retirement work activity and the receipt of earnings by age and service annuitants;
  • post-retirement work activity, whether earnings are received or not, by disability annuitants;
  • the death of an annuitant;
  • a change in marital status;
  • a child leaving the care of a spouse or widow(er);
  • a student ceasing full-time school attendance.

The following questions and answers describe how these events affect Railroad Retirement benefits and what should be done to prevent overpayments.

  1. How can the awarding of Social Security benefits result in a Railroad Retirement annuity overpayment?

The Tier I portion of a Railroad Retirement annuity is based on both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits acquired by an employee and figured under Social Security formulas. It approximates what Social Security would pay if railroad work were covered by Social Security. Tier I benefits are, therefore, reduced by the amount of any actual Social Security benefit paid on the basis of non-railroad employment, in order to prevent a duplication of benefits based on the same earnings.

The Tier I dual benefit reduction also applies to the annuity of an employee qualified for Social Security benefits on the earnings record of another person, such as a spouse. And, the Tier I portion of a spouse, divorced spouse or survivor annuity is reduced for any Social Security entitlement, even if the Social Security benefit is based on the spouse’s, divorced spouse’s or survivor’s own earnings. These reductions follow principles of Social Security law which limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.

If a Railroad Retirement annuitant is also awarded a Social Security benefit, in most cases a combined monthly dual benefit payment will be issued by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The Social Security Administration determines the amount of the Social Security benefit due, and the RRB determines the amount of the Railroad Retirement annuity due. (As stated above, the Tier I portion of a Railroad Eetirement annuity is reduced by the amount of the Social Security benefit due.)

A person should notify the RRB when he or she files for Social Security benefits. If the Social Security Administration begins paying benefits directly to a Railroad Retirement annuitant without the RRB’s knowledge, a Tier I overpayment will occur. This frequently happens when a railroad employee’s spouse or widow(er) is awarded Social Security benefits not based on the employee’s earnings.

Also, annuitants who are receiving their Social Security benefits directly from the Social Security Administration must notify the RRB if their Social Security benefits are subsequently increased for any reason other than annual cost-of-living increases, such as a recomputation to reflect post-retirement earnings. As such recomputations are usually retroactive, they can result in substantial Tier I overpayments.

While Social Security benefit information is provided to the RRB as a result of routine information exchanges between the RRB and the Social Security Administration, it will generally not be provided in time to avoid such a benefit overpayment.

  1. What other types of benefit payments, besides Social Security benefits, require dual benefit reductions in a Railroad Retirement annuity?

For employees first eligible for a Railroad Retirement annuity and a federal, state or local government pension after 1985, there may be a reduction in Tier I for receipt of a public pension based, in part or in whole, on employment not covered by Social Security or Railroad Retirement after 1956. This may also apply to certain other payments not covered by Social Security, such as payments from a non-profit organization or from a foreign government or a foreign employer. However, it does not include military service pensions, payments by the Department of Veterans Affairs or certain benefits payable by a foreign government as a result of a totalization agreement between that government and the United States.

The Tier I portion of a spouse or widow(er)’s annuity may also be reduced for receipt of any federal, state or local government pension separately payable to the spouse or widow(er) based on her or his own earnings. The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the public pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment. In addition, 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 also not cause a reduction.

If an employee is receiving a disability annuity, Tier I benefits for the employee and spouse may, under certain circumstances, be reduced for receipt of workers’ compensation or public disability benefits.

If annuitants become entitled to any of the above payments, they should promptly notify the RRB. If there is any question as to whether a payment requires a reduction in an annuity, an RRB field office should be contacted.

  1. Can post-retirement work activity and earnings cause Railroad Retirement overpayments?

Unreported post-retirement work activity and earnings in non-railroad employment (including self-employment) are a major cause of overpayments in Railroad Retirement annuities. Like Social Security benefits, Railroad Retirement Tier I benefits paid to employees and spouses, plus Tier I and Tier II benefits paid to survivors, are subject to deductions if post-retirement earnings exceed certain exempt amounts, which increase annually. (For information on how post-retirement work activity and earnings affect disability annuitants, please see Question 4.)

These earnings deductions do not apply to those who have attained full Social Security retirement age. Under the Social Security Act, full retirement age for employees and spouses is age 66 for those born from 1943 through 1954 and gradually increases to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. Full retirement age for survivor annuitants ranges from age 66 for those born from 1945 through 1956 to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later.

For those under full retirement age throughout 2019, the exempt earnings amount is $17,640. For beneficiaries attaining full retirement age in 2019, the exempt earnings amount is $46,920 for the months before the month full retirement age is attained. Prior to the calendar year in which full retirement age is attained, the earnings deduction is $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings over the exempt amount. For those attaining full retirement age during a calendar year, the deduction is $1 for every $3 of earnings over the exempt amount in the months before the month full retirement age is attained.

Annuitants who work after retirement and expect that their earnings for a year will be more than the annual exempt amount must promptly notify the nearest RRB field office and furnish an estimate of their expected earnings. This way their annuities can be adjusted to take the excess earnings into consideration and prevent an overpayment. Annuitants whose original estimate changes significantly during the year, either upwards or downwards, should also notify the RRB.

Retired employees and spouses, regardless of age, who work for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer are also subject to an earnings deduction in their Tier II and Railroad Retirement supplemental annuity benefits, if applicable, of $1 for every $2 in earnings up to a maximum reduction of the lesser of 50 percent of the earnings or Tier II and supplemental benefits combined. This earnings restriction does not change from year to year and does not allow for an exempt amount. Retired employees and spouses should therefore promptly notify the RRB if they return to employment for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer or if the amount of their earnings from such employment changes.

A spouse benefit is subject to reductions not only for the spouse’s earnings, but also for the earnings of the employee, regardless of whether the earnings are from service for the last pre-retirement non-railroad employer or any other post-retirement employment. An annuity paid to a divorced spouse may continue despite the employee’s work activity. However, the employee’s non-railroad earnings over the annual earnings exempt amount may reduce a divorced spouse benefit.

  1. How do post-retirement work activity and earnings affect disability annuities?

Any work performed by a disabled annuitant — whether for payment or not — may be considered an indication of recovery from disability and therefore must be reported promptly to avoid potential overpayments.

In addition, special restrictions limiting earnings to $950 per month in 2019, exclusive of disability-related work expenses, apply to disabled Railroad Retirement employee annuitants. These disability work restrictions apply until the disabled employee annuitant attains full retirement age which, as stated earlier, ranges from age 66 to age 67, depending on the year of birth. These work restrictions apply even if the annuitant has 30 years of railroad service. Also, a disabled employee annuitant who works for his or her last pre-retirement non-railroad employer would be subject to the additional earnings deduction that applies in these cases.

  1. What effect does railroad work have on an annuity?

No Railroad Retirement annuity is payable for any month in which an employee, spouse or survivor annuitant performs compensated service for a railroad or railroad union. This includes local lodge compensation for more than $24.99 in a calendar month, and work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums, regardless of the amount of salary.

  1. What should be done when a Railroad Retirement annuitant dies?

The RRB should be notified immediately upon the death of any retirement or survivor annuitant. Payment of a Railroad Retirement annuity stops upon an annuitant’s death and the annuity is not payable for any day in the month of death. This is true regardless of how late in the month death occurs and there is no provision for prorating such a payment. Any payments received after the annuitant’s death must be returned. The sooner the RRB is notified, the less chance there is of payments continuing and an overpayment accruing. The RRB would also determine whether any survivor benefits due are payable by the RRB or the Social Security Administration.

  1. What are some other events that can affect payments to auxiliary beneficiaries, such as spouses, divorced spouses and widow(er)s?

A spouse or divorced spouse must immediately notify the RRB if the railroad employee upon whose service the annuity is based dies. A spouse must notify the RRB if her or his marriage to the railroad employee ends in divorce or annulment and a widow(er) or divorced spouse must notify the RRB if she or he remarries.

Also, benefits paid to spouses, widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses that are based on the beneficiary caring for the employee’s unmarried child are normally terminated by the RRB when the child attains age 18 (age 16 for a surviving divorced spouse) or if a disabled child over age 18 (age 16 for a surviving divorced spouse) recovers from the disability. Therefore, the RRB must be notified if the child leaves the beneficiary’s care or marries.

Benefits are also payable to an unmarried child age 18 in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school or in approved home schooling until the student attains age 19 or the end of the school term in progress when the student attains age 19. (In most cases where a student attains age 19 during the school term, benefits are limited to the two months following the month age 19 is attained.) These benefits will be terminated earlier if the student marries, graduates or ceases full-time attendance. Therefore, the RRB must be notified promptly to prevent an overpayment.

  1. Can an annuitant contest a decision that he or she has been overpaid?

Annuitants who believe a decision regarding a benefit overpayment is incorrect may ask for reconsideration and/or waiver of the overpayment. If not satisfied with the result of the initial review, the annuitant may appeal to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. Further appeals can be carried to the three-member board itself and beyond the board to federal courts.

Annuitants are told about these appeal rights any time a decision is made regarding a benefit overpayment.

  1. How can an annuitant find out if an event might affect his or her Railroad Retirement benefit payments?

Individuals should contact an RRB field office to determine if an event will affect their benefit payments. In any situation, the best rule is “If in doubt, report.” A Field Office Locator at RRB.gov provides easy access to every field office webpage where the street address and other service information is posted, as well as the option to email an office directly using the feature labeled Send a Secure Message. The agency’s toll-free number, 1-877-772-5772, is equipped with an automated menu offering a variety of service options, including being transferred to an office to speak with a representative, leave a message or find the address of a local field office. The agency also maintains a TTY number, 312-751-4701, to accommodate those with hearing or speech impairments. Most RRB offices are open to the public on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when offices are open from 9 a.m. to noon. RRB offices are closed on federal holidays.

Call to Action: Ohio House committee to hold first hearing on rail safety bill

Ohio State Legislative Director Stu Gardner requests that members from his state show their support for H.B. 186, a comprehensive rail safety bill that is receiving its first hearing in the Ohio Legislature on Tuesday, June 18.

Ohio Reps. Brent Hillyer and Michael Sheehy, who is a retired SMART TD member and a member of the TD Alumni Association, will introduce the bill at 11 a.m. to the House Transportation Committee in Room 114 at the statehouse in Columbus.

The bill covers:

  1. Two-person freight train crews
  2. Common-sense safe walkways within rail yards
  3. Common-sense illumination of rail yards
  4. Blocked crossings that obstruct and delays emergency vehicles

“An overwhelming show of support is our goal,” Gardner said. “Show those members of the Transportation Committee that we care and are serious about our safety, and the safety of the communities the we work in and pass through.”

Legislative update: Where national bills of importance stand

Here’s a quick update on where legislation important to SMART Transportation Division members stands on a national level:

The Safe Freight Act in the U.S. House (H.R. 1748), national two-person crew legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young in March, has 60 co-sponsors consisting of 56 Democrats and 4 Republicans. It has been referred to the House’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

The Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act has versions in both the U.S. House (H.R. 1139) and in the U.S. Senate (S. 436). It is intended to protect bus and transit operators from assault through various strategies and requires that both rail and bus transit agencies (those not covered by the FRA) create risk-reduction plans to protect operators and that the agencies submit those plans to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval. The Senate version has 13 co-sponsors since its introduction in February, while the House version has 145 co-sponsors since its February introduction. The Senate version has been referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, while the House version has been referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

The Railroad Yardmaster Protection Act of 2019 (H.R. 2449), which covers yardmaster hours of service, was introduced in early May and has two co-sponsors. It has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

Remember that your elected officials need to hear from you about these issues that matter to your safety in the workplace. An easy way to do this is by emailing your legislators through the SMART TD Legislative Action Center, but phone calls and face-to-face meetings help drive the point home even more.

Regional meeting hotel discount deadline extended until June 11

Due to increased demand, additional discounted rooms have been secured at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel for SMART Transportation Division’s Regional Meeting from June 30 to July 3, 2019, in San Diego.

Members now can reserve rooms at a discounted rate until June 11.

At the meeting in San Diego — home to a world-renowned zoo and spectacular ocean views -— members can expect informative workshops and many chances to build camaraderie with your fellow union brothers and sisters.

See details of the two tours and the Tuesday night ballpark event to watch the San Diego Padres play the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park (shown at right) planned for registered guests. Space to both the tours and to the baseball game is limited.

As a reminder, the deadline for SMART TD members to receive a discounted meeting registration for themselves and guests is June 17. After that deadline, on-site registration is available during the meeting and costs $200.

More information, including updates about workshops, discount information for flights, rental cars and the Hilton Bayfront, the event’s host hotel, is available at this link.

SMART TD hopes that you’ll attend what will prove to be both an informative and enjoyable regional meeting this summer!

TD members’ photo submissions needed to be featured at General Convention

We’re looking for photo submissions featuring SMART TD members on the job or in uniform to be displayed this summer at the SMART General Convention in Las Vegas. The submission deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, June 7.

High-resolution digital photographs should be emailed to: “news_TD@smart-union.org.”

In addition to the convention displays, submissions also will be considered for the TD newspaper’s Photo of the Month and for the annual TD Alumni calendar.

Be sure to include the photographer’s name and local number, the name(s) of the person(s) in the photograph (left to right) and their local number and any other pertinent information, such as the date and location where the photograph was taken.

Due to federal or state regulations and company restrictions on employees’ use of personal electronic devices, including cameras, on company property or while on duty, all members are advised to never take photos while on duty and to only take photos from a clear point of safety and in compliance with all applicable company rules.

All photographs submitted become property of SMART Transportation Division.

Please be sure to follow all rules regarding photography on your respective properties. Once again, the deadline for convention submissions is June 7.

The history of Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo, N.Y., was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively Memorial Day’s origins.

Regardless of the exact date or location of its beginning, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

On the first Decoration Day, Gen. James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890, it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). This helped ensure a three-day weekend for federal holidays, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Red Poppies

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war.

She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom. When she returned to France, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war-orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization for help.

Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later, their “Buddy Poppy” program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the U.S. Post Office honored Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3-cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

National Moment of Remembrance

The “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”


Information obtained from www.usmemorialday.org.