Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Buddy Strieker, S&T of Local 219, dies in at-work accident

Buddy L. Strieker, an officer of Local 219 (Hannibal, Mo.) for the vast majority of his 24-plus years with our union, died as a result of a switching accident on April 7 in Louisiana, Mo. He was 56 years old.

Brother Strieker was vice local chairperson of LCA-001A and the secretary/treasurer of his local for more than two decades. A trainman/brakeman for BNSF, he also served as an LCA secretary and as a delegate for his local at the Second SMART Transportation Division Convention in 2019.

An investigation has been launched by the National Transportation Safety Board into Brother Strieker’s death with a member of the TD National Safety Team participating.

The SMART Transportation Division offers its deep condolences to Brother Strieker’s family, friends and to his Local 219 brothers and sisters for the loss of this stalwart and dedicated member of our union.

This article will be updated with additional information as it is provided.

Key bills introduced that intend to boost transportation safety in North Carolina

Legislators in both the North Carolina state House and Senate have introduced bills to keep freight rail operations on the state’s more than 3,300 miles of track running safely and efficiently. A bus safety bill is also in the works in the state.

H.B. 408 and S. 348 require a crew of at least two qualified people in the operating locomotive of trains transporting cargo and hazardous materials in the state for public safety. H.B. 408 has four bipartisan primary sponsors including Rep. Wayne Sasser (R – Dist. 67), Rep. Carolyn Logan (D – Dist. 101), Rep. Charles Graham (D – Dist. 47) and Rep. Verla Insko (D – Dist. 56), and 30 co-sponsors. The Senate version of the bill got a late start due to the Ninth Circuit court ruling and so S. 348 only has two Democratic primary sponsors including Sen. Sarah Crawford (D – Dist. 18) and Sen. Julie Mayfield (D – Dist. 49), and three co-sponsors. Both bills have had their first reading and have been referred to the Transportation Committee and Rules Committee, respectively.

Ron Ingerick, SMART-TD North Carolina state legislative director

“It is vitally important to maintain the presence of two crew members in the locomotive,” said Ron Ingerick, North Carolina state legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division. “Despite any advances in technology, there is a safety factor called ‘the Rule of 2’ in having the engineer and the conductor in the cab, just like how airplanes have pilots and co-pilots. With the size and complexity of the modern freight train, each crew member has responsibilities, and simultaneously performs duties in providing safe and efficient operation. These crew members are the first responders to a grade crossing collision, derailment or other emergency situation.

“The public safety of our communities is non-negotiable, and H.B. 408 and S. 348 will help prevent potential accidents or derailments. The citizens of North Carolina deserve to feel safer with two crew members in the cab in the trains that roll through their communities, day and night.”

Another bill filed in the House looks to curtail railroads’ use of giant trains that block crossings. H.B. 438, filed March 29, has three Republican representatives as primary sponsors: Rep. Howard Penny (R – Dist. 53), Rep. Jerry Carter (R – Dist. 65) and Rep. Mike Clampitt (R – Dist. 119). The bi-partisan bill currently has 21 co-sponsors — two of which are the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Transportation Committee — and is still accepting more. H.B. 438 intends to place a limitation on train length, which has been growing from an average length of a mile and a half five years ago to now sometimes exceeding four miles. The main culprit is an operating strategy initiated in 2017 by the nation’s biggest railroads called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).

“Since the evolution of PSR, trains in this state have increased in length and weight, with haphazard train builds, fewer safety-critical inspections, and maintenance being deferred —increasing the risk of derailments,” said Ingerick, who is an active railroader, as well as our N.C. state legislative director who brings awareness to legislators in Raleigh. “A train that is longer is harder to operate. Also, concerns have risen from local communities and emergency responders as these longer trains have increased instances of blocked crossings.”

Blocked rail crossings cause an inconvenience for motorists, who must find alternate routes, especially in rural areas. They also pose a safety risk to pedestrians who may attempt to go under or climb over rail cars to continue their travels. A blocked crossing can play a part in delaying or detouring emergency responses when seconds or minutes count, sending responders out of their way when their aid is needed.

“Railroads are looking at returns and how their stocks are doing on Wall Street,” Ingerick said. “PSR puts safety last and profit first and makes a dangerous business even riskier.”

Lastly, Ingerick reports that the Bus Safety Risk Reduction Act has been released from bill drafting and will be filed in the coming week. The bill will include risk analysis, barriers, de-escalation training and data collection.

“Overall, I feel that we’re in a good position right now concerning these bills, but we need continued involvement from the membership in order to get these bills passed,” Ingerick said.

RRB: Comparison of benefits under Railroad Retirement and Social Security

Employers and employees covered by the Railroad Retirement Act pay higher retirement taxes than those covered by the Social Security Act. As a result, Railroad Retirement benefits are higher than Social Security benefits, especially for “career” employees (those employees who have 30 or more years of service).

The following questions and answers show the differences in Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits payable at the close of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020. They also show the differences in age requirements and payroll taxes under the two systems.

1. How do the average monthly Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits paid to retired employees and spouses compare?

The average age annuity being paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) at the end of fiscal year 2020 to career rail employees was $3,735 a month, and for all retired rail employees the average was $2,985. The average age retirement benefit being paid under Social Security was approximately $1,505 a month. Spouse benefits averaged $1,090 a month under Railroad Retirement compared to $765 under Social Security.

The Railroad Retirement Act also provides supplemental Railroad Retirement annuities of between $23 and $43 a month, which are payable to employees with railroad service prior to October 1981 who retire directly from the rail industry with 25 or more years of service.

2. Are the benefits awarded to recent retirees generally greater than the benefits payable to those who retired years ago?

Yes, because recent awards are based on higher average earnings. Age annuities awarded to career railroad employees retiring in fiscal year 2020 averaged about $4,370 a month while monthly benefits awarded to workers retiring at full retirement age under Social Security averaged nearly $2,070. If spouse benefits are added, the combined benefits for the employee and spouse would total $6,115 under Railroad Retirement coverage, compared to $3,105 under Social Security. Adding a supplemental annuity to the railroad family’s benefit increases average total benefits for current career rail retirees to about $6,135 a month.

3. How much are the disability benefits currently awarded?

Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry in fiscal year 2020 were awarded $3,160 a month on average while awards for disabled workers under Social Security averaged $1,415.

While both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security Acts provide benefits to workers who are totally disabled for any regular work, the Railroad Retirement Act also provides disability benefits specifically for employees who are disabled for work in their regular railroad occupation. Employees may be eligible for such an occupational disability annuity at age 60 with 10 years of service, or at any age with 20 years of service.

4. Can railroaders receive benefits at earlier ages than workers under Social Security?

Railroad employees with 30 or more years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 60, and rail employees with less than 30 years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 62.

No early retirement reduction applies if a rail employee retires at age 60 or older with 30 years of service and his or her retirement is after 2001, or if the employee retired before 2002 at age 62 or older with 30 years of service.

Early retirement reductions are otherwise applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age (the age at which an employee can receive full benefits with no reduction for early retirement). Full retirement age is age 66 for those born 1943 through 1954 and is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under Social Security.

Under Social Security, a worker cannot begin receiving retirement benefits based on age until age 62, regardless of how long he or she worked, and Social Security retirement benefits are reduced for retirement prior to full retirement age regardless of years of coverage.

5. Can the spouse of a railroader receive a benefit at an earlier age than the spouse of a worker under Social Security?

If a retired railroad employee with 30 or more years of service is age 60, the employee’s spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60. The spouse of a worker under Social Security is not eligible for a spouse benefit based on age until both the worker and the spouse are at least age 62. Regardless of age, the spouses of workers under both retirement systems are eligible if the worker is retired and the spouse is caring for a qualifying child.

6. Does Social Security offer any benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement?

Social Security does pay certain types of benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement. For example, Social Security provides children’s benefits when an employee is disabled, retired or deceased, whereas the RRB only pays children’s benefits if the employee is deceased.

However, the Railroad Retirement Act includes a special minimum guaranty provision, which ensures that railroad families will not receive less in monthly benefits than they would have if railroad earnings were covered by Social Security rather than Railroad Retirement laws. This guaranty is intended to cover situations in which one or more members of a family would otherwise be eligible for a type of Social Security benefit that is not provided under the Railroad Retirement Act. Therefore, if a retired rail employee has children who would otherwise be eligible for a benefit under Social Security, the employee’s annuity can be increased to reflect what Social Security would pay the family.

7. How much are monthly benefits for survivors under Railroad Retirement and Social Security?

Survivor benefits are generally higher if payable by the RRB rather than Social Security. At the end of fiscal year 2020, the average annuity being paid to all aged and disabled widow(er)s was $1,825 a month, compared to $1,380 under Social Security.

Benefits awarded by the RRB in fiscal year 2020 to aged and disabled widow(er)s of railroaders averaged about $2,340 a month, compared to approximately $1,355 under Social Security.

The annuities being paid at the end of fiscal year 2020 to widowed mothers/fathers averaged $1,990 a month and children’s annuities averaged $1,195, compared to $1,030 and $900 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security.

Those awarded in fiscal year 2020 averaged $1,780 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and $1,545 a month for children under Railroad Retirement, compared to $1,015 and $905 for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security.

8. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security lump-sum death benefit provisions differ?

Both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security systems provide a lump-sum death benefit. The Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit is generally payable only if survivor annuities are not immediately due upon an employee’s death. The Social Security lump-sum benefit may be payable regardless of whether monthly benefits are also due. Both Railroad Retirement and Social Security provide a lump-sum benefit of $255. However, if a railroad employee completed 10 years of creditable railroad service before 1975, the average Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit payable is $1,030. Also, if an employee had less than 10 years of service, but had at least 5 years of such service after 1995, he or she would have to have had an insured status under Social Security law (counting both Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits) in order for the $255 lump-sum benefit to be payable.

The Social Security lump sum is generally only payable to the widow(er) living with the employee at the time of death. Under Railroad Retirement, if the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, and was not survived by a living-with widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses.

9. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security payroll taxes compare?

Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, like Railroad Retirement benefits, are calculated on a two-tier basis. Rail employees and employers pay Tier I taxes at the same rate as Social Security taxes, 7.65%, consisting of 6.20% for retirement on earnings up to $142,800 in 2021, and 1.45% for Medicare hospital insurance on all earnings. An additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes (2.35% in total) will be withheld from employees on earnings above $200,000.

In addition, rail employees and employers both pay Tier II taxes, which are used to finance Railroad Retirement benefit payments over and above Social Security levels. In 2021, the Tier II tax rate on earnings up to $106,200 is 4.9% for employees and 13.1% for employers.

10. How much are regular Railroad Retirement taxes for an employee earning $142,800 in 2021 compared to Social Security taxes?

The maximum amount of regular Railroad Retirement taxes that an employee earning $142,800 can pay in 2021 is $16,128, compared to $10,924.20 under Social Security. For railroad employers, the maximum annual regular retirement taxes on an employee earning $142,800 are $24,836.40, compared to $10,924.20 under Social Security. Employees earning over $142,800 and their employers will pay more in retirement taxes than the above amounts because the Medicare hospital insurance tax is applied to all earnings.

Notice from Labor Member of the RRB: Update on American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

John Bragg, Labor Member of the RRB

Brothers and Sisters,

As you may have heard, Congress recently enacted legislation to provide some financial relief to railroaders. In the legislation entitled the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), Congress essentially extended the benefits originally created by the CARES Act. This legislation provides for the following benefits:

  • A recovery benefit of $600 per two-week unemployment registration period. This extends the benefit that was established through legislation at the end of December and was due to expire March 14, 2021.  As a result, employees receiving unemployment benefits will continue to receive an additional $600 per registration period. This benefit ends with registration periods that begin after September 6, 2021.
  • Extended unemployment benefits for employees who have otherwise exhausted benefits. Now, in combination with previous legislation, an additional 200 days within 20 additional consecutive two-week registration periods are payable. These extended benefits are available for days of unemployment on or after December 28, 2020. No additional days are available for registration periods beginning after September 6, 2021.
  • Waiver of the seven-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits. This was also extended to September 6, 2021.

In addition, ARPA provides that up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits may be exempt from income tax. This provision is administered by the IRS and they have more information here: New exclusion of up to $10,200 for unemployment benefits.

Finally, as you know, the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB)’s budget has remained flat for several years now and as a result, agency resources have been limited. ARPA provided a much-needed supplemental appropriation for the agency’s administrative budget. ARPA appropriated the remaining amount needed for the RRB’s multi-year IT modernization plan which will eventually provide more online services to railroaders and their families. In addition, it appropriated $6.8M for agency hiring related to the pandemic for the next two years. The RRB intends to hire staff in field service as well as in the unit at headquarters that handles sickness and unemployment applications. We hope that these additional hires will improve customer service.

As with previous legislation, the RRB has updated the information on its website with the details regarding these benefits. You can find the FAQs here: Coronavirus FAQs. Also, with most RRB field offices still closed to the public because of the pandemic, the agency is again reminding customers of the self-service options available to them to help avoid lengthy wait times. I encourage all railroaders to set up a myRRB.gov account on the RRB.gov website to help avoid any possible delays. To establish an account, employees should go to RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled SIGN IN WITH LOGIN.GOV at the top of the page. This directs them to login.gov where they will be guided through the process of creating an account and verifying their identity — which takes about 20 minutes to complete. Once an employee’s identity is verified, they will be prompted to sign in to their account and then return to myRRB.

VICE article explains the dangers of PSR

Members and leaders of the SMART Transportation Division as well as the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, spelled out why U.S. freight railroads’ obsession with Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) increases the danger to the public and railroad workers alike.

Journalist Aaron Gordon spoke with TD President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan about degradation in the safety culture of freight railroads because of PSR in an in-depth article published on March 22. “It’s going to end up like Boeing,” President Ferguson warned.

Gordon’s article touched upon many topics that our members are unfortunately already well aware of, including: the severe reduction of rail employees which has greatly impacted safe operations, the increase of fatigue associated with the same demanding work but with a reduced work force, the practice of railroads to have inspectors spend less time inspecting cars, the deferral of needed maintenance and potential safety issues being glossed over so that dwell time is not increased. It paints a very realistic and clear picture of how the railroads’ operating ratios and profits have been placed well ahead of safety and all in the name of PSR.

But by questing for those increased returns on Wall Street, the lessons learned from past operational mistakes could conceivably end up costing railroads in the long run, subjects interviewed in the article say.

This article is essential reading, and it can be found on the VICE website.

Hazardous Materials Training Program to offer online courses in April

In April, the Hazardous Materials Training Program is planning to host three courses virtually:

  1. Disaster Recovery/Response Course (2 hours)
  2. COVID-19 and Infectious Disease Response Awareness Training Course (90 minutes)
  3. DOT Hazardous Materials Awareness Course (8 hours over two days)

The Disaster Response Recovery course is training for workers and community members who live and work in areas that are likely to be impacted by a hurricane. The course satisfies the requirements to assist workers and communities in recovery from natural and man-made disasters. The class will be conducted April 7, 2021, and April 9, 2021, at noon ET on both days.

The COVID-19 and Infectious Disease Response Awareness Training course is designed to increase workers’ knowledge of hazards they may encounter on a job site related to potential occupational exposures to SARS CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. During this 90-minute course, attendees will learn what SARS-CoV-2 is, how it is spread, symptoms, how to protect workers, how to properly clean and disinfect your work area and about vaccinations for COVID-19. The online virtual training will include breakout groups, exercises and demonstrations. This course will be April 16 and April 23, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET on both days.

The DOT Hazardous Materials Awareness course, also called the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety and Security Course, provides safety and security awareness training that is required by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for hazmat transportation workers. This course also provides OSHA first responder – awareness-level training. The course is intended for railroad workers who are involved in the transportation of hazmat and who may be the first on the scene or the first to witness a release of hazardous materials or be aware of a security threat. Various topics will be addressed during the 8-hour (4 hours per day) course held over two days such as the role of the first responder, federal regulatory agencies, DOT’s regulations on hazmat, recognizing and identifying hazmat in transportation and more (see flyer). The class is being offered April 19 – 20, 2021, and April 28 – 29, 2021, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET. An incentive of $175 is available to participants who complete this course.

Contact the Rail Workers Hazmat Training Program by calling 202-624-6963 (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET Monday – Friday).

Click here for a flyer to hang at your workplace.

Click here to register.


The Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program is funded by a federal grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to provide hazmat training to rail workers.

The goal of this training initiative is to provide rail workers with the skills and knowledge necessary to protect themselves, the community, and the environment in a hazardous materials transportation emergency. To achieve this goal, the Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program provides rail workers, through quality hazardous materials training courses, the confidence in their knowledge and problem-solving skills to enable them to make change for safer work conditions.

Much of the training is provided by peer instructors who are full-time rail workers — members and/or local officers of affiliated rail unions.

William Doak, an officer of predecessor union BRT, served as U.S. labor secretary

The confirmation by the U.S. Senate of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a member of the Laborers’ Union, to be President Joe Biden’s labor secretary ends a nearly 45-year absence of having a union member serve as the head of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The last unionist to serve as U.S. labor secretary was W.J. Usery Jr., an appointee of President Gerald Ford who was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. He led Ford’s DOL for about a year starting in 1976.

There had been a time when a nearly five-decade gap of having a union member be the top labor official in a president’s Cabinet would have been unusual.

When the DOL was established in the early 20th century, it was normal practice that an organized labor leader would be tapped to lead the agency overseeing labor relations. The first two U.S. secretaries of labor were union members, and in 1930, one of SMART-Transportation Division’s predecessor unions saw one of its leaders ascend to the top of the DOL during one of the darkest economic times our nation has known. As the third secretary of labor, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen’s William N. Doak helped establish a lasting legacy.

W.H. Doak

Doak was born Dec. 12, 1882, in Wythe County, Va., and began a railroad career as a switchman with Norfolk and Western near the turn of the century. According to a biography published on the Library of Virginia’s website, he joined BRT in 1904 and was elected a general chairperson in 1908.

In 1916, Doak was elected BRT vice president and became the organization’s national legislative representative in Washington, D.C. He continued to work on railroad labor relations matters including serving on adjustment boards, arguing before congressional committees and adjusting how rail negotiations were handled on a regional level. The National Mediation Board (NMB) was established in the 1920s while Doak had an active presence on Capitol Hill for the BRT, and he no doubt had a hand in establishing how the NMB operated.

In 1922, he was elected first vice president and was elected assistant to BRT President William Granville Lee in 1927. Doak served as acting BRT president for a time while Lee traveled abroad and also unsuccessfully ran for political office on three occasions, including for Virginia State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

In 1928, Doak was elected to a combined post of national legislative representative and editor of the Brotherhood of Trainmen’s publication, The Railroad Trainman. A personal friend of Herbert Hoover, Doak worked on Hoover’s successful presidential campaign and served as a labor committee advisor for the Republican National Committee. Upon taking office in 1929, President Hoover eyed Doak as a possible labor secretary nominee, but opposition rose from the American Federation of Labor that scuttled that nomination.

However, after the Great Depression struck, Hoover changed course and nominated Doak to lead the DOL in 1930. In collaboration with his immediate predecessor, James J. Davis, who became a U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania after leaving as labor secretary, Doak’s crowning achievement was helping the Davis-Bacon Act — legislation that established prevailing wage laws that benefit our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and other union laborers — to become federal law in 1931. That law remains in effect 90 years later.

“Doak was sensitive to unemployment matters and supported studies of public works programs and unemployment insurance to offset the effects of the Great Depression,” historian Jonathan Grossman wrote in an article marking the 75th anniversary of the Department of Labor that was published in the February 1988 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. “But economic conditions worsened during his relatively brief tenure, and he was overwhelmed by the worldwide economic disaster.”

After serving as DOL head for the majority of Hoover’s Depression-ravaged term, Doak left the post in March 1933 after Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office and returned from a leave he had taken from his BRT leadership position as national legislative representative.

Just months later, on Oct. 23, 1933, Doak passed away at age 50 from cardiovascular disease. However, the work that he did as a labor leader continues to reverberate through our organization to this day.

Local 934 mourns as member dies in accident involving crew transport vehicle

SMART Transportation Division Local 934 member Curtis A. Deines, 52, a member of our union for more than 20 years, died before dawn on the morning of March 19 after the SUV he was being transported in was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle on U.S. Highway 2 near Ravenna, Neb.

The driver and three other rail workers in the SUV that Deines was riding in were transported for treatment, as was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, according to the Star-Herald of Scottsbluff, Neb. Deines passed away at the scene of the accident, the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department stated in an accident report.

Deines

“He will be greatly missed here in Alliance,” said Local Chairperson Wendie Henderson of the Nebraska local.

Born in Torrington, Wyo., Brother Deines was a hall-of-fame athlete from his time as a center on the Chadron State College football team. He graduated college in 1996 with a degree in education.

He then entered into service with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in the maintenance of way department and then transferred into train service as a conductor.

Great sources of pride and joy for him were watching his son, Colin, and daughter, KayLeah, succeed in life and becoming a grandpa, his family wrote in his obituary.

“Curt was loved by all and will be greatly missed for his big heart and infectious laugh,” his family wrote. “The role Curt played in each of our lives will never be forgotten.”

Brother Deines is survived by his wife, Sonya; his son, Colin Deines, and Colin’s girlfriend, Catie Williams; daughter, KayLeah King, and her husband, Robert; two grandchildren; his parents; his sister, Staci John, and her husband; two nieces; and a number of in-laws and other relatives.

A private memorial service is scheduled for March 27.

Click here to view Brother Deines’ full obituary and to leave condolences for the family.

The funeral home is accepting memorial donations in lieu of flowers. Checks can be made out to Sonya Deines and mailed to Chamberlain Chapel, 1700 Hwy. 20, Chadron, NE 69337. Online donations are also being accepted through a Go-fund-me page that has been set up to help out the family financially. 

SMART Transportation Division joins in mourning Brother Deines and offers its sincere condolences to his family and friends, his union brothers and sisters in Local 934, and to all who knew him.

Local 1361’s Carol Jones featured in video as part of SMART Women’s Week

Longtime Amtrak conductor Carol Jones, a local chairperson with SMART-TD Local 1361 out of New Haven, Conn., and a member of our union for 23 years, was featured in a “Sister Stories” video during SMART Women’s Week in early March. See the embedded video above to watch her story of coming up in the transportation industry and working as a pioneering woman in the passenger rail sector.

Local 759 president steers bus to transport troops during inauguration

SMART Transportation Division Local 759 President Rafael Becerra and about seven of his local brothers and sisters departed their Coach USA garage in Paramus, N.J., on Jan. 10, and traveled to Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Md., to transport our nation’s troops and national guardsmen to protect Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony.

Becerra stayed in the nation’s capital for two weeks, returning home Jan. 24, while others from his garage stayed an extra week before returning Jan. 31.

Dillon’s Bus Service of Hanover, Md., – an affiliate of Coach USA – was in charge of coordinating with different bus companies that sent their buses and operators to help transport the 26,000 troops (according to militarytimes.com) deployed to D.C.

Employees of Rockland Coaches of Bergenfield, N.J., represented by TD Local 1558, also were called upon to transport troops. Coach bus companies from as far away as Pittsburgh also arrived to help.

National Guard soldiers disembark from a bus in January in this photo courtesy of Local 759 President Rafael Becerra and New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol.

According to Becerra, he picked up troops at Andrews and then brought them over to the armory. He then moved them to different hotels and assignments in the D.C. area.

“I also picked up troops from the Reagan airport. The ones I picked up came in from Alaska. I picked up around 29 people,” Becerra said. “I also picked up people from the Florida National Guard from their hotel, and I dropped them off where they were stationed at the African American Museum (National Museum of African American History and Culture).”

Becerra said the first week there was the roughest because he was required to keep making runs from place-to-place and was on call a lot of the time. The troops were constantly coming in during the first week for their assignments, but then there wasn’t a lot of transporting that needed to be done during his second week.

“We waited around a lot at the Andrews base parking lot, waiting to be called upon,” Becerra said.

New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol had nothing but praise for the members who stepped up to assist.

“Brother Becerra and his fellow members took time away from their families during a pandemic to serve a greater cause than themselves — the protection and safe transition required by our nation’s democratic process,” Sabol said. “This assignment had health and safety risks involved — just days before our bus operators arrived, armed insurrectionists had threatened members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol itself. Our members had no guarantee that they wouldn’t be attacked by domestic terrorists or be exposed to COVID while assisting those troops at our nation’s capital — yet they did it without complaint.

“I thank them for their exemplary display of duty.”

Although he was in the city during the inauguration, Becerra said he did not get to see the ceremony up close.

“I was watching it on my phone, sitting in the parking lot. I was kinda afraid to take pictures,” he said. “You don’t just go wandering around. You go from check point to check point to check point.”

When asked if he had any concerns about contracting COVID-19 while there, Becerra said that he thought things were pretty safe with almost everyone wearing a mask, but he was still a little concerned.

“I would say that 99% of the guys, the troops, they all had masks on. I was tested before I went there, and I was tested when I came back. Thank God I came back in one piece. But it’s all part of the job,” he said.

Becerra said that by the time that he left, a lot of troops were already clearing out.

When asked what the most memorable thing about the trip was, Becerra replied, “I was amazed that I had never seen D.C. so empty. There was nothing. There was no traffic, there were no people walking. You could walk on the other side of the fence, but that was the closest you got. They kept closing down areas, so you didn’t know what was going to be closed.”

SMART-TD thanks Brother Becerra and the other troop transporters for their dedication and congratulates them on a job well done.

Palmetto GBA: A reminder on annual wellness visits for retirees

Medicare pays for an Annual Wellness Visit (AWV). It’s an awesome free preventive service that so many Medicare patients have not been taking advantage of. Since the onset of COVID-19, the number of AWVs being performed has fallen drastically, as many people have chosen to put off elective services. However, it’s important for you to do what is best for your health. That also means it may be best to take the time to have this service. If you talk to your healthcare provider and they say that it’s safe for you to have an AWV, then it makes sense to consider doing so.

First off, what is an AWV?

An Annual Wellness Visit is a visit to develop or update a preventive services plan that is personalized to your needs and to perform a Health Risk Assessment (HRA). An AWV comes in two sizes: your initial AWV and your follow-up AWV. Your initial AWV sets the baseline for future visits. Before or during this visit, you will complete a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) questionnaire, which will collect at a minimum:

  1. Your demographic data and a health status self-assessment
  2. Your assessment of depression/life satisfaction, stress, anger, pain, fatigue, isolation or loneliness
  3. Information on behavioral risks, including, but not limited to, if you smoke or use tobacco products, drink alcohol or use drugs, your physical activity and your nutrition
  4. Information on your ability to do general activities of daily living, such as washing clothes, bathing, walking, ability to stand for periods of time, etc.

During an initial AWV, your provider will create a baseline of your medical and family history, capture information about your current list of doctors and medications that you take, and gather measurements of your height, weight, blood pressure and other routine measurements as they apply based on your medical and family history. Your provider may also perform a cognitive impairment assessment to check for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and for depression and other mood disorders.

Your healthcare provider will review all of the information you provided to them, along with what they have observed focusing on your ability to do general activities of daily living, your risk of falling, plus any hearing impairments or potential home safety issues that may come up during the visit.

From all of this, your provider will create a written schedule/checklist, for the next five to 10 years for future screening visits and preventive services. Your provider will also give you personalized referrals for health education, preventive programs or counseling services based on what the AWV data has shown them.

These recommended services or programs can help you reduce risk factors or promote wellness, such as increasing weight loss and physical activity, as well as preventing falls and improving your nutrition. Referrals can be made for programs to help you quit smoking. You can also work with your provider to produce Advanced Care Planning documents such as living wills, advanced directives and other documents that instruct others about your healthcare wishes in the event you are unable to do so due to injury or illness.

That’s the first AWV. The second type of AWV is considered a follow-up AWV, or just a plain AWV.

At this AWV visit, you will review and update your HRA and your provider will update your medical/family history, the list of your current providers and medications and your measurements – including weight and blood pressure. Your provider will then make any needed changes to your screening schedule and your personalized health plan, and make new referrals, if necessary, to keep current with your needs. It is important to have this service every year. Your body is constantly changing – every day, every week, every month, every year. You take care of your plants, your car, your family, and you need to remember to take care of yourself as well.

How often can you get an AWV?

You can receive an AWV if:

  • It has been more than 12 months since the effective date of your first Medicare Part B coverage period, and
  • You have not received an Initial Preventive Physical Examination (IPPE, or “Welcome to Medicare” exam ) or an AWV within the past 12 months.

Where can I get an AWV?

Many healthcare providers are authorized to perform AWV services. They include:

  • Doctors of Medicine (MD) or Osteopathy (MO)
  • Physician’s assistant (PA), nurse practitioner (NP), or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • A medical professional (including a health educator, registered dietitian, nutrition professional or other licensed practitioners) or a team of medical professionals working under the direct supervision of a physician.
  • Teaching physicians in graduate medical education programs can perform these services in certain specific circumstances.

If you have a question about the AWV, please call Palmetto GBA’s toll-free Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. They offer a TTY/TDD line at 877-566-3572. This line is for the hearing impaired with the appropriate dial-up service and is available during the same hours as customer service representatives are available. Palmetto’s website is www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me, and offers access to a free self-service internet portal, MyRRMed. MyRRMed offers you access to your healthcare data.

At this time, you can use the portal to access:

  • Status and details of your Railroad Medicare Part B claims;
  • Historical Medicare Summary Notices (MSNs) for your Railroad Medicare Part B claims;
  • A listing of individuals you have authorized to have access to your private health information; and
  • You can also submit a request to add an authorized representative or to edit or remove an existing authorized representative.

To sign up for MyRRMed, visit www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.

VSTD waiver of elimination period extended through June 2021

Dear Member:

As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020. Further announcements to you advised that the Plan would be extending the waiver through February 2021.

We are pleased to announce that the waiver of the elimination period is extended through June 30, 2021. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning
in the months of March 2020 through June 2021, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and
increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after July 1, 2021.

We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.

Sincerely,
Board of Trustees
Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr.,
General President SMART

Mr. Jeremy Ferguson,
President-SMART Transportation Division

Mr. Joseph Powell,
General Secretary-Treasurer SMART

The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201

View this announcement in PDF form.