As more people are being diagnosed with COVID-19 or coronavirus, it is important to know who you have come into contact with on a daily basis. State health departments, employers and the infected themselves have been having a difficult time in determining and/or remembering who the infected person may have come into contact with in trying to trace possible infection vectors.
The Bailey Yard in Nebraska was one of the first railroad yards hit with the virus. As the first patient was identified and put into isolation along with other railroad employees who had come into contact with the patient, one thing became clear: not everyone who had come into contact with the infected person had been identified. As a second person was identified as having the virus, the same problem occurred.
“As vice local chairperson, I was getting calls from employees wondering why they weren’t notified as they had been in contact with one or the other of the positive people. I didn’t have an answer, and we discovered that the positive person bears the burden of knowing who they had been around and are asked this days after they’d been in isolation,” said Amanda Snide of SMART Transportation Division Local 200 in North Platte, Neb.
“We potentially come in contact with so many people during our shifts that it can be hard to keep track of who you were with on what days,” she said. “I have been sharing that I am personally keeping track of whom I’ve been in contact with during my shift. During interactions with other employees I explain why I’m writing their names down and encouraging others to do so.
“Whenever someone new calls to be assisted in the process of being taken out of service as they aren’t feeling well, I tell them to start making a list of who they have been around both at work and outside of work. For someone to have been in contact with a sick person, only to find out days after everyone else is pulled from service, would be a sickening feeling that you potentially spread this unknowingly.”
By taking Snide’s advice in writing down names and contact information, we can be sure that we know exactly whom we’ve been in contact with should the worst occur and then can more easily identify others who have come into contact with the virus.
Snide says that in addition to writing down names and contact information, she also takes steps to keep her family safe. Her work boots stay outside, and she doesn’t touch anything in her home until her work clothes are in the washing machine and she’s showered.
As COVID-19 has infiltrated the bus and rail industries, it’s important that members do their best to try to mitigate its spread. As Snide has suggested, we are recommending that all of our members write down who they have come into contact with each day and keep that list for at least a month. Doing so will help identify who may have been exposed if you come down with the virus.
COVID-19 has hit the transit industry hard with hundreds of cases among passengers and workers alike reported through the media. Only a few cases have been reported on freight carriers thus far, but knowing the conditions that have been reported to the union and the delay by federal agencies to take action, the freight industry could be harder hit. The bus industry has started to report cases as well with Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus just reporting two cases among their bus operators.
Please see this guide produced by OSHA on how to keep yourself and your co-workers safe, and be careful out there!
Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity shared a tip about the type of bleach that should be used for disinfecting work areas while trying to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Be sure to check the label for the sanitization properties of bleach inside. “Splashless” bleach is not useful in creating a disinfecting solution and says so on the bottle.
Bleach water should be created with a tablespoon of bleach per gallon. The bleach used to mix the solution should not have additional scent added to it, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Also, the “splashless” variety of bleach neither sanitizes nor disinfects, Cassity said.
“Be sure to purchase regular bleach,” said Cassity, who verified the information through Clorox representatives.
A bipartisan group of 14 members of Congress — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — pledged support to SMART Transportation Division’s petitions to the administrators of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) seeking protection for railroad and transit workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our transit and rail workers are essential to the health, safety, security and transport of people within and between our communities along with the transport of critical goods and freight across the country,” the legislators wrote. “It is important that steps are taken to mitigate against the spread of the virus within the workforce, minimize exposure while workers are performing their duties, and ensure sufficient staffing.”
U.S. Reps Greg Stanton, a Democrat from Arizona, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, were the lead signatories.
“As you work to identify additional measures to protect these essential transportation workers, we ask that you consider and give full and fair consideration to the recommendations SMART-TD outlined in its petitions for worker protections and sanitation standards to protect against the virus,” the representatives wrote.
The members of Congress who signed the letter also included U.S. Reps Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.); David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.); Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.); Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.); Sharice L. Davids (D-Kan.); Rodney Davis (R.-Ill.); Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.); Fred Upton (R-Mich.); John Garamendi (D-Calif.); Mike Bost (R-Ill.); Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.); and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).
On March 20, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson called on FRA Administrator Ron Batory and FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams to make the carriers regulated by their agency implement sanitation and preventive measures in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“These members of Congress recognize that SMART-TD members and others in transportation labor continue to fill an essential role as the United States copes with the coronavirus pandemic,” SMART-TD National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. “Their continued support is appreciated where others seem not to be interested in protecting these essential workers.”
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. rdinarily, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
In the second episode of Talking SMART, we talk with SMART leadership about the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on our members and their jobs, as well as how SMART is mobilizing across the United States and Canada to help and support members and communities in need.
We first hear from Randy Krocka, the head of SMOHIT – the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust. Randy fills us in on the important work SMOHIT is doing to help members stay informed and be safe at home and on the job during the COVID-19 outbreak.
We also speak with SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, who addresses what SMART is doing to protect rail and transit members at work, what the response to COVID-19 has been from federal transportation agencies and rail carriers, and the critical role all our TD members are playing during this time of crisis.
Finally, we talk with SMART General President Joseph Sellers, for a summary of what SMART is doing to help and support members — both in terms of workplace health and safety, and financially — as business shut-downs, lay-offs and stay-at-home directives ripple across the economy.
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.
CDC guidelines state that employers should do the following to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
reduce transmission among employees,
maintain healthy business operations, and
maintain a healthy work environment.
As transportation workers are considered to be essential workers, even in a time of national emergency, making them exempt from stay-at-home orders issued by local, state and federal officials, it is paramount that these guidelines be followed so that the health of workers, co-workers, their families and the general public is not jeopardized by employers’ failure to follow CDC protocols.
If CDC measures are not being followed, workers are encouraged to report what they consider to be violations of CDC protocols.
Your union needs reports of what is actually happening in the field. If you are aware of an employee who has tested positive with coronavirus, or if a carrier is refusing to provide a clean and sanitized workplace as well as supplies for sanitation, please let us know by using this form.