Archive for the ‘Amtrak/Commuter News’ Category

NJ SLB member introduces President Biden at NJT facility

As President Joe Biden appeared Oct. 25 at the New Jersey Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, N.J., it was SMART Transportation Division New Jersey State Legislative Board Vice Chairperson Joseph Williams (GCA-770), a New Jersey Transit engineer, who set the stage for the president’s speech.

SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Board Vice Chairperson Joseph Williams introduces President Joe Biden at the NJT Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny on Oct. 25.

Williams, the legislative representative of Local 800, a member of our union since February 2017 and a fourth-generation railroader, is a native of New Jersey with three children. His 25-year rail career began as a diesel mechanic in the 1990s, and he became an engineer in 1999. He’s also risen to become vice chairperson of his GCA.

In his introduction of Biden, Williams thanked N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy and N.J. Transit’s Kevin Corbett for their work in helping NJT improve service as well as U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski for his work on Congressional infrastructure efforts in the U.S. House.

“I personally believe that the current infrastructure bill is important to New Jersey Transit rail operations, the residents of New Jersey and our neighboring states,” Williams said. “The funding would rebuild and modernize our aging transportation network. The rehabilitation of our system will help to preserve and create new railroad jobs.”

Improvements to stations funded by the infrastructure effort also would remove impediments to access for N.J. Transit users, while the Gateway Project expansion would smooth out regional network challenges, Williams said.

“Our bridge and tunnel system into and out of New York is antiquated and unreliable,” Williams said. “Our general riding public that depends on this system to get to and from work deserves better.”

In his remarks, Biden, touring New Jersey as the bipartisan infrastructure bill and his Build Back Better agenda work through Congress, paid particular attention to the middle-class jobs created and the need for improvement in the nation’s roads, rails and bridges.

“We invested in ourselves and in our people, our families,” President Biden said. “Somewhere along the way, we took our eyes off the ball. Our infrastructure used to be the best in the world.”

Now, he said, 12 other nations are considered to have better infrastructure thanks to years of implementation of failed “trickle-down” strategies and at least a decade without a transformative bill to address deterioration has not helped.

One example familiar to the president’s audience at the speech is the New Jersey Portal Bridge, which is being targeted for replacement. Once considered “state of the art,” Biden said it’s an impediment, even as it continues to be what he described as “the busiest rail span in the Western Hemisphere.” It’s also prone to having the tracks misaligned with a sledgehammer needing to be used to set things to rights, he said.

The Portal project is just one item in an agenda that Biden promised would reinvigorate the nation’s railroad system and create 8,000 union jobs.

“I’m a train guy,” Biden said. “Because it’s also the single most significant way we can deal with air pollution and the single most significant way we can deal with global warming.

“With my infrastructure bill, we are going to make sure that projects like this are only the beginning … We are going to make the largest investment in public transportation in the history of America, replacing transit vehicles that are past their useful life and make the most-significant investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago.

“We need to get this done,” Biden said.

Bose’s FRA nomination advances; he also meets with TD SLDs

From left, SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich, Michigan SLD Don Roach, Amtrak employee Stefan Schweitzer, FRA Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, TD Local 168 (Chicago, Ill.) member Keisha Hamb-Grover and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy stand at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 13.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Deputy Administrator Amit Bose’s nomination by President Joe Biden to become administrator of FRA was advanced Oct. 20 by the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Along with Bose, the nomination of Meera Joshi to be administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also was advanced to the full U.S. Senate by a 22-6 committee vote. A timetable for the full Senate to consider Bose’s and Joshi’s nominations has not yet been set.

In related news, Bose was a passenger Oct. 13 aboard the Amtrak Wolverine route from Chicago to Detroit with three SMART Transportation Division state legislative directors and also appeared at a news conference at Chicago’s Union Station as the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) unveiled its 40-year Midwest Regional Rail plan.

“Looking all the way through 2055, the plan addresses key corridor and investment priorities, potential funding strategies, and necessary governance structures identified by the states working with MIPRC,” Bose said. “While America’s interstate highway system and commercial aviation industry are vital and indispensable, rail can and does play a key role in our multi-modal transportation system,” Bose said. “Nowhere is that more evident than Chicago, the nation’s rail hub.”

SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, chairman of the commission, as well as Michigan SLD Donald Roach and Minnesota SLD Nick Katich, all spent time with Bose during the trip before MIPRC began its three-day-long meeting.

“It was wonderful to be able to spend time with Deputy Administrator Amit Bose while he was in Chicago and on the train to Detroit as part of the MIPRC annual meeting,” Guy said. “It’s clear that he is very aware of our serious concerns and frustrations with the previous FRA hierarchy, but his openness, communication and availability to our members and our leadership are a testament to his priorities and provides a glimpse into how he values SMART-TD’s input on issues affecting our members.”

Bose also was a guest on the SMART-TD National Legislative Office’s monthly Zoom call Oct. 11 where he discussed concerns brought up by both national and state officers.

A full recap of the wide-ranging discussion that Deputy Administrator Bose had with SMART-TD officers will be published in the next edition of the SMART-TD News.

RRB: Railroad Retirement spouse benefits Q&A

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

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

1. How are Railroad Retirement spouse annuities computed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passengers, crew safe after fatal shootout aboard Amtrak’s Sunset Limited

In this photo posted to Twitter by Evan Courtney, Local 84 member Terrence Dicks, in blue, the Amtrak conductor who was aboard the Sunset Limited during a fatal gun battle Oct. 4, comforts a Tucson police officer at the scene.

A DEA officer was killed, as was a suspect, and two other law enforcement officers were wounded when gunfire erupted inside Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train the morning of Oct. 4 while it was stopped at the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum in Tucson.

One suspect was in custody, according to media reports, and none of the 137 passengers or 11 crew members aboard the train were injured in the incident, which authorities said was precipitated by a routine search for illegal contraband and drugs aboard the train.

Video of the incident as it happened was captured by a live railfan cam at the museum station.

Terrence Dicks, a 20-year member of our union and a member of Local 84 (Los Angeles, Calif.) who was the conductor on the train when the gun battle happened, can be seen in a photo provided to The Associated Press and other media outlets on Twitter by passenger Evan Courtney providing comfort to a Tucson police officer who had responded to the scene.

The identities of the slain DEA agent, the injured officers nor the suspects were not released at the time of this article’s publication.

“We express our most heartfelt sorrow to the law enforcement brothers and sisters of the DEA agent who was killed in this senseless act of violence, and we wish for rapid recoveries for the two wounded officers,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We also express relief that the incident in Tucson did not result in additional casualties among the passengers and crew who were aboard the train.

“But that such an incident happened during a routine stop and search exposes a great flaw in the security measures currently used on our nation’s passenger rail system. We again call upon Congress to enact measures that bring the level of security screenings aboard the nation’s passenger trains to where they are in the nation’s airports.”

SMART-TD initially called for such measures by federal agencies soon after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the nation’s capital.

Carrier groups’ waiver extension request denied by FRA

The Federal Railroad Administration on Sept. 21 sided with a SMART Transportation Division request to reject the extension of COVID-related regulatory waiver requests by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The waivers, initially granted in March 2020 by the Trump administration in response to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, were roundly criticized by the SMART Transportation Division at their inception. They had been extended on multiple occasions since then and covered regulations governing:

  • Training
  • Locomotive engineer skills examinations
  • Locomotive and conductor certification
  • Territorial qualifications

On Sept. 13, the SMART-TD National Legislative Department filed public comments in objection to the latest extension request, saying the following:

“It is hard for this Organization to grasp that the railroads are seriously concerned about the pandemic when they are doing little to nothing to prevent its spread. In fact, it seems they only want the CDC guidelines to apply where they might be most able to cut an operational corner, rather than provide a safe and sterile work environment,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes wrote. “According to our applicable members: locomotive, crew room, and transport vehicle cleaning and sanitation has all but stopped (and has been for quite some time). Clearly, prevention of the spread of the virus has taken a back seat to waivers and relief from rules. Safety is either important or it isn’t. It doesn’t just apply here and there.”

FRA concurred with many of the points referred to by SMART-TD in its response, especially regarding training of new rail employees. The agency noted that carriers appeared to use the waivers of at least two rules for an intent outside the purpose originally sought. “FRA’s investigation of these concerns revealed that in numerous instances the railroads were utilizing this relief not to facilitate social distancing, but instead, out of administrative convenience,” FRA’s Karl Alexy wrote.

The SMART-TD National Legislative Office noted that the agency appears to be more responsive to safety concerns expressed by labor and commented on the renewed receptiveness the agency has displayed since the administration of President Joe Biden took charge at the beginning of the year.

“A change in leadership at FRA has made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We thank Deputy Administrator Amit Bose for his agency’s thoughtful consideration of our input as they made a decision on the extensions.”

In the same response to AAR, FRA granted two other extensions to which the SMART-TD National Legislative Department did not object that covered quick tie-ups and locomotive engineer and conductor recertification timelines.

Last week, Bose appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding his nomination to become administrator of FRA. His nomination remains before the committee as additional written questions were posed by committee members and submitted to nominees after the Sept. 22 hearing.

FTA publishes bus and rail safety reports

Last last week, FTA published new bus and rail safety data reports to provide a snapshot of transit industry safety performance from 2007–2018 for rail and 2008–2018 for bus, and focus on patterns and trends in events, fatalities and injuries. Report summaries and full reports are accessible on the FTA website with a list of detailed links below.

FTA will host a webinar from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, to provide an overview of the new reports. Registration is available on the FTA website.

Statement from President Ferguson on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks

A statement from TD President Jeremy Ferguson:

Twenty years after the shocking and devastating terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we pause to remember the lives that were lost and irreversibly changed on that day.

Members of our union, as many other people did in Pennsylvania, New York City and Washington, D.C., performed great acts of heroism. Lives were saved when the doors were held open by conductors as the last PATH trains evacuated people from the World Trade Center site before the collapse of the Twin Towers. Bus operators in the area allowed people aboard for shelter and transported them away as they fled from harm. Their unselfish actions, along with those of many other responders who stepped up in a great time of need should be upheld and honored as true American heroes.

Like many of you, I can still vividly remember where I was that day as the tragic events took place in real time. I equally remember the feeling of immense pride shortly thereafter as Americans from all walks of life came together in solidarity during this unprecedented national emergency.

While these images remain seared into our memories, it is important that we take time on this 20th anniversary to honor those involved. We will never forget, and may God bless those lost and the families left behind.

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.

N.J. SLD Sabol meets with DOT Secretary Buttigieg

 
New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol met with federal Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Westfield, N.J., an encounter that was later featured in a video produced by the DOT and then shared on Buttigieg’s official Twitter account in conjunction with Labor Day on Sept. 6.

Sabol, of Local 1447 (Newark, N.J.), met Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 9 and discussed his career as a freight rail conductor, remote-control operator and as a SMART-TD union officer.

“I got involved in my union right away, and that’s because of safety,” Sabol told Buttigieg. “Railroading is the most dangerous job in the country.”

A member of the SMART-TD National Safety Team, N.J. SLD since December 2016, and also his local’s president, Sabol reminded the Transportation Secretary of something that sometimes is lost among the public.

“Our railroads and bus operators, which we represent as well, they’re first responders,” he said.

Sabol recalled the efforts made by TD members to help evacuate people in tunnels during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City.

“They’re heroes.”

Sabol also said that the passage of infrastructure legislation will improve with an expansion of service, better accessibility to riders and improved safety for a number of TD members.

“The best part of my job is being able to help people,” Sabol said. “As you the mayor were able to help all those people, I do it at a different level with a different group of people.”

Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be increasingly important as regulatory efforts develop to make the Rule of 2 — a certified conductor and certified engineer — enforced on freight trains throughout the United States.

The Biden administration announced earlier in the year that FRA is revisiting the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding freight train crew size and would be prioritized at some point in the autumn.

SMART-TD joins #EssentialAlways campaign to honor transportation workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This Labor Day, the SMART Transportation Division is proudly joining the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, (TTD), to recognize and thank frontline transportation workers for their service and sacrifice, and remind Americans that our transportation workers are #EssentialAlways.

During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, SMART-TD members were instrumental in keeping the American economy open and functioning by working throughout the pandemic delivering goods and materials and transporting essential workers to where they needed to be. While their heroic efforts during the pandemic undoubtedly saved lives, transportation labor unions want to remind America that their members, and the duties they perform, are essential always.

“I have the highest admiration for the dedication, courage, and drive all of our members displayed as they remained steadfast, working through the initial stages of the pandemic, doing the work that is often overlooked but essential in keeping our country on its feet. They did this during the uncertain initial stages of the pandemic, through lockdowns and beyond,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “The word ‘essential’ is the perfect description of all SMART-TD members and other transportation workers who keep our nation functioning and on the move. This campaign and the recognition we hope it brings is well-deserved and overdue.”

The #EssentialAlways campaign comes at a historic crossroads for this dedicated workforce. As the United States continues to grapple with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — which millions of frontline transportation workers have disproportionately shouldered — Congress and the Biden administration are pursuing transformational investments in infrastructure as part of the president’s build back better agenda. Highly skilled transportation workers, including SMART-TD members will be vital in achieving these goals and rebuilding our country.

“Frontline transportation workers power the most advanced economy in the world by operating, maintaining, and building the most complex transportation network on earth,” said TTD President Greg Regan. “Whether they’re helping people get to home, work, or school, moving the goods and raw materials we all rely on, delivering our mail, seeing us through a crisis, or building transportation projects of the future, these dedicated professionals have always been essential to the fabric of America, and they always will be.”

Transportation unions are encouraging the general public, elected leaders, and members of transportation and infrastructure community to join the campaign by following and engaging with the hashtag #EssentialAlways on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and to watch and share this video explaining the important role transportation workers played before and during the pandemic, and the role they will play for years to come.

TD Disaster Relief Fund activated to assist in wake of Ida

The SMART Transportation Division is primed to assist members in their time of need when disaster strikes.

Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29 and tore a path through an area stretching from the Gulf Coast to the New York-New Jersey region, dropping torrential rain and affecting members’ lives with its massive flooding and wind damage.

Our members in the impacted area, both active and retired, face a long recovery and the painful task of rebuilding their homes and carrying on with their lives.

Furthermore, not only are they coping with the aftermath of a storm, they are doing so against the backdrop of the continuing COVID pandemic.

We are asking the SMART-TD family to heed the call and give what you can so that the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding can begin for any TD members who have been affected by Ida.

Any donations will help lessen the struggle and bring real hope and relief to our members who are suffering after this great loss. SMART-TD will administer donations sent to the SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund.

Contributions may be sent and made payable to:

SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund
24950 Country Club Blvd.
Suite 340
North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333

TD Members who have suffered damage or loss due to this storm can contact the SMART-TD office for an application for assistance by calling 216-227-5237.

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.”