The purpose of this notice is to bring to your attention two changes which have been made to that guidance.
The first change relates to the instructions on filing applications and claims — specifically, the instructions related to the filing for sickness benefits. It is not a significant change, but I still wanted to bring it to your attention. Ordinarily, an applicant for sickness benefits must submit an application form and must also submit Form SI-1b, Statement of Sickness. Because the Form SI-1b requires a doctor’s signature and it was recognized that it may be difficult to get a physician to sign a statement during these unique circumstances, the RRB issued guidance indicating that, in lieu of Form SI-1b, a written statement could be submitted for the first claim. Because of the Paperwork Reduction Act and the manner in which federal agencies may collect information, that statement should now be submitted through an RRB Form G-93, Statement of Claimant or Other Person. You can find that form here: RRB Form-G-93. See also Questions 5-7 of the FAQs. A side benefit is that we believe this will simplify the process for those unable to obtain a Form SI-1b, as it is a fillable form.
The second change relates to the Q&As themselves. We have received numerous inquiries regarding the one-time-only economic relief payment provided by the CARES Act. The RRB is not responsible for these payments. Therefore, we have added the following as Q&A No. 16:
Q: Is the RRB going to pay the one-time-only economic relief payment available to individuals with income of $99,000 or less and couples with income of $198,000 or less?
I want to assure you that, while the worksite environment has changed considerably for RRB employees, the longstanding tradition of commitment to assuring that railroad workers receive the benefits that they have earned remains as strong as ever. These are unprecedented times and I will do my best to keep you informed. As we make changes accordingly, the agency will keep updating the website as well as the FAQs. Meanwhile, if you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Labor Member, Railroad Retirement Board
The same cannot be said for front-line SMART Transportation Division members who have sprung into action to help their communities and fellow members cope with the effects of the coronavirus.
General Chairperson Justin Wolters has been providing cleaning supplies to members to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
General Chairperson Justin Wolters (GCA-449) was able to engineer an agreement with a local distillery that provided alcohol-based hand sanitizer to members free of charge.
“I explained our travel ban exemption and our lack of access to running water,” Wolters said. “They seemed more than happy to help our union.
“I decided I can’t rely on the carrier to protect the members, so our officers are donating cleaning materials daily and cleaning when they can.”
Attention to sanitation of work areas also has been a challenge that General Chairperson Larry Miller (GO 386) is doing his best to help meet by providing disinfecting wipes to workers in packages provided by the union.
“I wanted to do all I can on my part to keep our members supplied with whatever I could get at our local stores,” said Miller, who was elected an alternate vice president at last year’s Second SMART-TD Convention. “I know it is not a lot, but it does make a dent. If we all pull together as the SMART-TD team, we will get through this.”
Member Mike Speier of Local 6 (Indianapolis, Ind.) took the initiative of purchasing a number of spray bottles from the dollar store, mixing up a bleach solution with four gallons that he purchased on his own, and then placing the filled spray bottles around the yard office.
“They can put posters up when the cows come home, but that’s not keeping us safe,” Speier said. “It’s cheap to do, I followed the instructions on Google and have been filling them up and giving them to the guys.
Mike Speier of Local 6 in Indianapolis, Ind., poses with his two daughters. Speier has been supplying fellow workers based out of the Avon, Ind., terminal with bleach water to help disinfect their work areas.
“If I keep my brothers and sisters safe and healthy, it ensures that I come home safe and healthy.”
If managers would give workers a bit of extra time to sanitize and disinfect their worksites — about 10 minutes — and allow the people to pull together, it’d help to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading, he said.
“You have a half-dozen guys buy bottles and bleach water, and we can really nip this in the bud,” Speier said.
Some members are doing their best to keep others informed.
On the West Coast, General Chairperson James Sandoval of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District and Local 23 (Santa Cruz, Calif.) alternate legislative representative, has been sharing information with members across TD locals and transit agencies alike to help spread information during the outbreak. In particular he is raising awareness about federal and state benefits that are available especially for those who may find themselves unable to work because they or someone they care for is dealing with COVID-19.
“Since we are in uncharted waters with this pandemic, it is extremely important to support each other and share information that may help because there is no book on this,” he said. “I have been sharing information with all District 3 general chairpersons, our International, our local labor counsel and other unions. We must step up to make sure nobody feels alone right now because things are changing at a rapid pace.”
Sandoval says that a cooperative effort has brought about shift adjustments at both Santa Cruz’s bus and paratransit properties by the carrier, which also has eliminated disciplinary procedures on sick calls, begun a no-question 10-day stay-at-home policy, supplied personal protective equipment and implemented bus sanitation practices.
“I couldn’t have accomplished improving our workplace strategy around COVID-19 to help protect our members without the support of my great team at our local. I have always believed that working together means we can get through anything — we will come out of this stronger than ever!”
Johnny Walker, legislative representative for Local 610 and secretary of the Maryland State Legislative Board, has been using his experience in the military and as a railroader to help pull people in his neighborhood and at his workplace together to cope with the stresses posed by the pandemic.
He praised the efforts of General Chairperson Jerome Johnson (New Jersey Transit conductors) of Local 60 in Newark, as doing an exemplary job in keeping things moving in this time of crisis, as are other NJT members.
“He has been doing everything he possibly can to protect his members and the riding public. After all, NJT operates in and out of New York City,” Sabol said. “Our N.J. bus members as well have been dealing with fuller buses because of route cuts.”
These examples, as well as other members’ efforts that haven’t yet been reported to us at news_TD@smart-union.org, are what’s going to keep the country moving and our fellow brothers and sisters healthy as we all work through the challenge of this pandemic.
Union leadership is reviewing each and every submission and is working to get those problem areas resolved, but keep in mind it is impossible for your general chairperson or state legislative board to adequately respond if the situations are not reported. The more details we receive, the better chance we have of getting them corrected.
“I read each and every one of these reports, and we all discuss it daily to ensure someone is following up with a corrective action plan,” said Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson. “Our general chairpersons are doing a fantastic job, and in many cases they are teamed up with our vice presidents in keeping the pressure on the carriers to get the unsanitary conditions and lack of supplies fixed. Our Legislative/Safety Department is following up on the national, state and local levels where needed to ensure members’ voices and concerns are being addressed.”
Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson of the TD President’s Office encourages members to reach out to him at email@example.com for ideas on how SMART-TD members can help pull together resources to assist each other during the coronavirus outbreak. This includes branding supplies with SMART decals so that people know that the union is helping to provide the materials that otherwise would not be available.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law March 27, boosts unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad workers impacted by the pandemic.
Under the CARES Act, the 1-week waiting period required before railroad workers can receive unemployment or sickness benefits is temporarily eliminated. This applies to an employee’s first two-week registration period for a period of continuing sickness or unemployment beginning after the effective date of the law and ending on or before December 31, 2020.
In addition, the amount of the unemployment benefit is increased by $1,200 per 2-week period. This is in addition to the current biweekly maximum of $733.98 received by most claimants. This increased amount applies to any two-week registration periods beginning on or after April 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020.
The CARES Act includes a separate appropriation of $425 million to pay for this added “recovery benefit,” with an additional $50 million provided to cover the cost of eliminating the waiting period. If these funds are exhausted, the new provisions will no longer apply.
The CARES Act also authorizes payment of extended unemployment benefits to rail workers who received unemployment benefits from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020.
Under the legislation, railroad workers with fewer than 10 years of service may be eligible for up to 65 days of extended benefits within seven consecutive two-week registration periods. Workers with 10 or more years of railroad service who were previously eligible for up to 65 days in extended benefits may now receive benefits for up to 130 days within 13 consecutive two-week registration periods.
Since RRB offices are currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, railroad employees are encouraged to file for unemployment benefits online by establishing an account through myRRB at RRB.gov. Employees are encouraged to use a computer rather than a smartphone or tablet due to RRB IT system limitations. Otherwise, applications and claims for benefits will need to be submitted by regular mail. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail, or by fax at 312-751-7185. Subsequent claims may be completed online by those with myRRB accounts.
The RRB will also pay sickness benefits and, in some cases, unemployment benefits, to rail workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are subject to a quarantine order. Further guidance on these types of situations is available at RRB.gov/Benefits/Coronavirus.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law H.B. 1841, a two-person crew bill that was championed in various forms for seven years by SMART-TD Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn and the other members of the state’s legislative board.
Affectionately known as a “zombie” bill — H.B. 1841 had been buried and put on hold numerous times by legislators but kept coming back in the face of carrier opposition — it became the law of the land March 27.
“We were able to finally prevail by building a cohesive coalition of supporters including police and fire departments, environmental organizations, other labor unions, and interested community organizations to advance this bill across the finish line,” Krohn said. “We not only finally prevailed in our statehouse, we’ve successfully passed the STRONGEST state train crewing law in the entire nation!”
As written, the bill allows the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to “order railroad carriers to increase the number of railroad employees in areas of increased risk to the public, passengers, railroad employees, or the environment, or on specific trains, routes, or to switch assignments on their road with additional numbers of crewmembers, and may direct the placement of additional crewmembers, if it is determined that such an increase in staffing or the placement of additional crewmembers is necessary to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public, passengers, or railroad employees, to prevent harm to the environment or to address site specific safety or security hazards.”
The bill survived a last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler on March 6 to quash it before it passed through the state Senate by a 34-15 vote.
Schoesler, a Republican, attempted to adjourn the legislative session rather than have the bill come up to a vote five minutes before the close of the legislative session, Krohn said.
“Schoesler attempted to shut down the Washington State Senate rather than allow our crewing bill to come to the floor for consideration and a vote,” Krohn said. “It’s an example of just how far the rail carriers and their allies are willing to go to kill off our safe train crewing bill as well as any other railroad safety legislation they oppose!”
That motion to adjourn was defeated by a party-line vote, and the bill subsequently was heard and voted upon.
Five Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted with every Senate Democrat in favor of the bill. The 15 senators who voted against H.B. 1841 were all Republican.
Krohn said the law is scheduled to take effect Thursday, June 11, 2020, and restores minimum freight crew legislation in the state that had been removed from the books in 1966 thanks to carrier lobbying efforts.
At the federal level, Washington state is a party along with three other states and rail labor unions in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) attempt to prevent states from passing laws mandating train crew size.
A hearing in the case is likely to be held in late summer or fall.
On March 27, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act that provides provisions favorable to SMART Transportation Division bus and transportation members as the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides a $2 trillion relief package to the nation as it copes with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has killed thousands of Americans.
“This bill helps to provide some short-term relief to the transportation industry that has been staggered by the coronavirus,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “In the event that public and private entities continue to cut workers or that employees get sick, those workers, including our members, will have extended financial protection.”
This relief bill:
provides $16 billion in emergency assistance to transit agencies to cover operating costs and direct expenses (e.g., cleaning supplies) at a 100 percent federal share, while preventing the Federal Transit Administration from waiving important labor protections.
provides the Los Angeles Urbanized Area with $1,178,517,939 divided up among all the transit systems in the region (Los Angeles, Long Beach and parts of Orange County).
waives the seven-day waiting period for unemployment insurance.
provides an enhanced unemployment benefit of an additional $600 per two-week pay period.
ensures private insurance plans must cover testing for COVID-19 and any future vaccine without cost sharing.
prohibits foreclosures on federally backed mortgage loans for 60 days, and up to 180 days of forbearance for borrowers of a federally backed mortgage loan who has experienced a financial hardship related to COVID-19.
Apple Inc., in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released an app and website that guides Americans through a series of questions about their health and exposure to determine if they should seek care for COVID-19 symptoms.
The tool provides CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to closely monitor symptoms, recommendations on testing, and when to contact a medical provider.
This app is designed to help Americans heed CDC guidelines and self-isolate to limit COVID-19 transmission as the pandemic continues.
On March 27, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that provides provisions favorable to SMART Transportation Division members as the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill provides a $2 trillion relief package to the nation as it copes with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has killed hundreds and infected thousands of Americans.
“This bill helps to provide some short-term relief to the transportation industry that has been staggered by the coronavirus,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “In the event that carriers continue to cut workers or that employees get sick, those workers, including our members, will have extended financial protection. It also gives a financial lifeline to Amtrak as the passenger carrier’s operations have been severely curtailed by the pandemic.”
This relief bill:
waives the seven-day waiting period for benefits provided under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA).
provides an enhanced RUIA benefit of $1,200 per two-week period in addition to regular RUIA benefits.
extends Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) sickness and unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.
provides RRB $5 million in additional grant funds to administer the RUIA.
provides $1 billion in funding to keep Amtrak operational to prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including $492 million to the Northeast Corridor and $508 million to support its long-distance service.
tasks Amtrak with providing congressional reports regarding employee furloughs, if they occur.
The economic uncertainty and long-term health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic present a challenge nationally, and the RRB is advising all railroaders to set up a RRB account. Click here to establish your account.
Additional RRB funding and the removal of RRB benefits from the budget sequester implemented by congressional Republicans during the Obama administration may be considered in subsequent relief packages.
The purpose of this notice is to update you on how COVID-19 is impacting operations at the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Be assured, while it is not business as usual, the agency remains open for business. Listed below are some of the more notable changes. Last week, my office sent a press release to rail labor on some of these topics. Hopefully this message will include more detailed information for you and your members.
Field Service Operations:
Last week, my office sent a press release to rail labor advising that field offices are closed to the public. Whenever possible, agency personnel, including field personnel, are working from home. Unfortunately, we expect delays with processing incoming work because as you know, much of our work is not automated. We receive applications and claims for both unemployment and sickness by mail and by fax. Because of safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, staff is only going into the office or to the post office on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Because of our concern regarding the delay in processing paper applications and claims, we are encouraging railroaders to set up myRRB.gov accounts on the RRB.gov website. I have attached information about all the services available through that account. Please feel free to share with your memberships. With that account, an employee can file for and submit claims for unemployment. A railroader can also submit sickness claims, though not the initial application. Usually, an initial sickness application is either mailed or faxed in from the employee’s doctor’s office to the agency at (312) 751-7185. If an employee is unable to do that or if delays persist, please contact my office at (312) 751-4905 and my staff will assist you in any way they can.
We have received questions regarding the continuation of retirement and disability benefits. Fortunately, that is overall an automated process and we do not expect any delays in paying those already established benefits. In addition, our actuary has assured us that the rail trust funds are well-positioned to pay all retirement, survivor, unemployment and sickness benefits. We are actively addressing questions regarding benefits payable under the RUIA and special circumstances raised by COVID-19.
Related to legislative changes, there have been congressional proposals to remove sequestration from unemployment and sickness benefits; waive the statutory 7-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits; increase the amount of unemployment benefits; and extend the duration of unemployment benefits. There have also been proposals to increase the RRB’s administrative budget in order to account for increased costs related to COVID-19. My staff, along with the agency’s Office of Legislative Affairs and other agency subject matter experts, have worked with congressional staffers as well as your unions to convey the information needed in order for the legislation to move forward.
These are trying times and the agency is doing its best to continue to pay the right people, the right benefits, at the right time. Things are changing quickly and I will update you in the future as the RRB makes adjustments. In the meantime, if you have any questions or problems, I and my staff are always available to assist.
Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and Leader McCarthy:
On behalf of America’s public transportation industry and its frontline employees who operate and maintain public transit and commuter rail systems across the country every day, we urge you to provide $16.0 billion in immediate, desperately needed supplemental funding to keep our transit and commuter rail systems safe and operational in the months to come, and to prioritize that funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Across the country, public transportation systems and their employees are going to extraordinary measures and are placing themselves at great personal risk to protect the health and safety of their riders, while continuing to ensure that the public’s access to jobs, food, and other critical services are not brought to a halt. However, the extraordinary direct costs and revenue losses resulting from the impacts of COVID-19 are placing an incredible strain on our ability to continue providing this critical public service to Americans.
As highlighted by the American Public Transportation Association, these emergency funds are absolutely vital to maintain essential services such as paratransit services for individuals with disabilities; public transportation for health care workers, law enforcement, first responder, and other safety personnel; and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for kidney dialysis, cancer treatments, and other critical care. Without these funds, the overwhelming majority of public transit agencies will be required to suspend or drastically curtail services. They simply cannot wait for a fourth or fifth round of emergency funding.
Please know that labor and management stand together during this difficult time. We respectfully urge you to provide not only the emergency financial assistance that this national crisis demands, but to do it now to ensure that one of the most important lifelines for essential services in our communities is not stripped away in this national crisis.
Thank you for your consideration.
Amalgamated Transit Union
American Public Transportation Association
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Transportation Communications Union (TCU-IAM)
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
Transport Workers Union of America
I would like to begin by recognizing those of you who, in the face of this global COVID-19 pandemic, are continuing to serve the millions of Americans who depend on us and the services we provide every day.
If not for our bus operators, passenger and transit workers, families without alternate means of transportation might not have access to basic necessities such as food, cleaning supplies and medical attention, while essential staff in urban areas might not be able to report to work. If not for our freight rail crews operating around the clock, many of the vital goods and supplies our communities and healthcare professionals so desperately need and depend on would arrive late, or perhaps not at all.
It is impossible to overstate the fact that your dedication, professionalism, and skills support the very backbone of our country during this moment of crisis. Not only do we feel a duty to provide for ourselves and our loved ones through this difficult and uncertain time, but we are bound by our moral obligation to provide essential goods and services that our nation must have to endure, and later recover, from this ordeal.
Unfortunately, we have already received confirmed reports that some of our members have tested positive for COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with those members, and their loved ones, who have either tested positive or are in quarantine. If you or someone you know is having difficulty dealing with the stress or anxiety brought on by this virus, we want you to know that Optum has established a no-cost, 24/7, emotional support help line at 1-866-342-6892. Please share this information accordingly.
It is unconscionable that in the wake of a national emergency, some of our carriers have refused to suspend draconian attendance policies that compel us to report for duty when we, or members of our household, are symptomatic. Many of those same carriers are neglecting to provide the proper cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and workplace sterilization that would undoubtedly save lives. Their actions, or lack thereof, are reminiscent of the railroad companies’ safety policies of more than a century ago, where they viewed such matters as the workers’ responsibility to fend for themselves, and they made the bare minimum effort by issuing stern, authoritarian warnings. We firmly believe history will not look kindly on these carriers. The good news is a few carriers are actually leading the way and setting the bar at “unbelievable levels,” as reported by Long Island Railroad General Chairperson Anthony Simon. We hope others will soon follow.
As a result of the above, and as you can see in links to correspondence provided below, we have turned to our lawmakers and regulatory agencies with authority to mandate the workplace protections we so desperately expect and deserve. In his letter dated March 11, 2020, Ronald Batory, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, claims that, “FRA has been monitoring this issue closely and confers regularly on its impacts with railroad service providers….” [emphasis added]. Further, Mr. Batory advised that… “[t]he Administration has taken a whole-of-government approach which has paved the way for a whole-of-America response….” If you find this response as abhorrent as we do, then perhaps you may join us in seeking further clarification from Mr. Batory by calling his office at (202) 493-6014.
On March 18, 2020, we made similar demands on behalf of our bus members in a letter addressed to Raymond P. Martinez, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. While we have yet to receive a response from Mr. Martinez, it may help if we call his office at (202) 366-4000 and voice our concerns.
Our National Legislative Department, in conjunction with the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO and other rail labor Organizations, have been on Capitol Hill relentlessly demanding many of these same protections. Through this conduit, we are doing everything we can to ensure that Congress will not overlook the rail industry and its employees when legislation is introduced to provide relief to those affected by COVID-19. Likewise, our General Committees of Adjustment and State Legislative Boards have been working tirelessly to apply similar pressure to individual carriers, state and local lawmakers, and regulatory agencies.
To assist our Legislative Department and General Committees in their efforts, we strongly encourage you to reach out to your representatives. It is more important than ever to draw their attention to the fact that our employers and policymakers are relinquishing their duties to act as responsible corporate citizens and government agencies. If you are not already aware, you may find your representatives’ contact information by simply entering your address and zip code in the “Find Your Elected Officials” field at the bottom of the following webpage:
In addition to the above efforts, we have participated in numerous conference calls and meetings to directly address and escalate these matters with members of management, Congress, and regulatory authorities. As you might imagine, the discourse in some of these conversations would not be appropriate for sharing verbatim. Nonetheless, you should rest assured they know exactly where we stand, and what we expect.
Now more than ever, I am honored and humbled to serve as your President. I have an immense sense of pride and respect for all of you who continue to place yourselves in harm’s way, doing what many are not capable of doing. Please accept this letter as my personal commitment that your union will not cease or slow its efforts until we procure the workplace safety and security we deserve.
The economic uncertainty and long-term health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic present a challenge nationally, and the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which administers railroad sickness and unemployment benefits, is advising all railroaders to establish an online login.gov account.
Establishing this account gives workers a head start in the event that RRB unemployment or sick benefits are needed by RR workers in the case of carrier furloughs or illness.
Information needed to create the login.gov account includes:
A current, state-issued ID;
An email address;
Enabling two-step authentication;
Providing basic information such as name, address and phone number;
Social Security number;
Once the info is processed, a personal key will be provided to the worker that will be needed to gain access and make changes to the account. This key should be written down and stored in a safe place.
RRB operations, like those of many other public service agencies, have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The board is following CDC guidelines and has closed its field offices, so services are being provided primarily through the RRB website and its toll-free number (877-772-5772).
A login.gov account permits users to have instant access to:
Apply for unemployment benefits
Claim unemployment benefits
View Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act account info