Archive for the ‘Alumni Association News’ Category

RRB update from the labor member: 2021 Covid and budget notice

John Bragg, Labor Member, Railroad Retirement Board

Brothers and Sisters,

It has been one challenging year for us all and many of you have been hit extremely hard by COVID-19 – if not by the virus itself, by the impact it has had on the railroad industry. As you may have heard, Congress recently enacted legislation to provide some financial relief.

In the legislation entitled the Continued Assistance to Rail Workers Act of 2020, as outlined below, Congress essentially extended the benefits created by the CARES Act. In addition, Congress has finally granted some relief from sequestration – though not permanent. The legislation grants temporary relief from sequestration beginning 10 days from enactment through 30 days after the date on which the Presidential declaration of emergency for COVID terminates. This means that railroad employees will no longer have their regular unemployment and sickness benefits reduced for sequestration during the specified time period. In addition, the temporary relief is not retroactive to any earlier period of time.

Similar to the CARES Act, this legislation provides for the following benefits:

  • A recovery benefit of $600 per two-week unemployment registration period. The duration is for registration periods from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021. This amount is down from $1,200 per registration period in the CARES Act.
  • Extended unemployment benefits for employees who have otherwise exhausted benefits. These are payable for claims starting after enactment and on or before March 14, 2021. No extended benefits are payable after April 5, 2021.
  • Waiver of the seven-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits. This was also extended to March 14, 2021.

As with previous legislation, the RRB will update the information on its website with the details regarding these benefits.

In addition, the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB)’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021 has been finalized. In the annual funding legislation, Congress provided for $123.5 million in appropriations for the RRB, which includes $9M for IT investment initiatives. Unfortunately, the total amount provided remains the same as FY 2020, but there was a change of allocation. The amount allocated for IT investment initiatives was decreased from $10M for FY 2020 to $9M for FY 2021, which translates to an increase in the agency’s general administrative budget from $113.5M for FY 2020 to $114.5M for FY 2021. This $1M increase in the general administrative budget will help cover some of the annual cost increases that the agency anticipates.

As a reminder, the agency is still facing pressure from short-staffing in field service offices and at RRB headquarters. RRB is still experiencing high call volume due to COVID-19 related issues, and anticipates the annual spike in calls that generates through January of each year. Those calling the agency’s toll-free number in January commonly ask about income tax statements, which will be mailed out by January 19, 2021. The RRB will not accept requests for duplicate tax statements until February 1, 2021.

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. Customers can request the following documents online by visiting RRB.gov/myRRB:

  • Letters verifying income and monthly benefit rates
  • Service and compensation statement
  • Replacement Medicare card
  • Duplicate tax statement (CY 2021 available after January 31, 2021)

In addition, railroad employees who have established myRRB accounts can log in and:

  • Apply for and claim unemployment benefits
  • Claim sickness benefits
  • Check the status of their unemployment or sickness benefit claims
  • View their railroad service and compensation history
  • Get an estimate of retirement benefits

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.

In closing, I would like to wish everyone in the rail community a healthy and happy 2021!

A holiday message from TD President Jeremy Ferguson

Brothers and sisters,

The losses and challenges of 2020 have tested us — yet, in the very definition of unity, we’ve stuck together.

I could not be prouder of our organization as we look ahead to a new year. We never shied away from anything the past year threw at us. We stood up to carriers’ disregard to safety in pandemic and non-pandemic-related matters, fought to get labor-friendly candidates elected to office and, above all, looked out for our fellow union brothers and sisters and our families, friends and neighbors when our lives and livelihoods were threatened by COVID-19.

We’ve accomplished these things despite many of us facing hardship this year — furloughs, seeing a loved one or friend deal with COVID and the overall risk of living through a pandemic. Our solidarity and determination have uplifted us and carried us beyond the challenges of 2020. As essential workers, you have been undaunted. Through the many waves of the pandemic, you’ve transported the vital goods and people needed for this country to survive. This makes you true heroes in my eyes.

In 2021, we will hopefully see the risks that the pandemic poses become less prevalent. We will look to continue to build a stronger, better and more unified organization. With the support of members across all crafts, our union will lead and build strength. We will not turn away from any fight. We will persevere, and our efforts will help our nation to recover from the harm the pandemic has caused.

Please be safe, and take all of the recommended health and safety precautions regarding COVID to heart. We have lost too many members already. I would also be remiss if I did not remind everyone that, even in a non-pandemic year, historically from the week before Thanksgiving to the week after New Year’s Day is the most-dangerous time of the year regarding transportation accidents, injuries and fatalities. Please stay focused and stay vigilant at work, and most importantly let’s take care of each other!

As always, the best gift we can give our loved ones during this holiday season is to return home safe, sound and healthy.

God bless all of you, and I wish you and your families a happy holiday season.

Fraternally,

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

ERMA lifetime maximum benefit to increase in 2021

The lifetime maximum benefit for the Railroad Employees National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit (ERMA or GA-46000) Plan will increase from $171,100 to $175,700 beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

At the end of 2001, labor and management had agreed on various procedures to administer the annual changes in the amount of the lifetime maximum benefit under the ERMA Plan.

In conjunction with the formula established in 2001, a new lifetime maximum was calculated by utilizing the October 2020 consumer price index (CPI) data for Hospital and Related Services and Physician Services. The result is a lifetime maximum for 2021 of $175,700.

For individuals who have reached the lifetime maximum, the incremental maximum available is applied to eligible expenses submitted for dates of service on or after the effective date of the new maximum. For 2021, this amount will be $4,600.

This change will apply to all railroads and crafts participating in ERMA.

Releases from RRB: Q&A about the effect of private rail pensions; Medicare Part B premiums for 2021

Private rail pensions may reduce supplemental annuities

Railroad Retirement beneficiaries are reminded that receipt of a private railroad pension may reduce the amount of a supplemental annuity payable by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The following questions and answers provide information on this subject and how 401(k) plans are affected by the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA).

1. What are the eligibility requirements for a supplemental annuity?

Monthly supplemental annuities are payable to employee annuitants with 25 or more years of rail service, a “current connection” with the railroad industry, and at least one month of creditable rail service before October 1981. Individuals with 30 years or more of rail service may begin receiving a supplemental annuity at age 60, whereas individuals with 25-29 years of service may do so at age 65. (Disabled annuitants under full retirement age, which is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, must relinquish employment rights in order for a supplemental annuity to be paid by the RRB.) Monthly supplemental annuity rates vary based on an annuitant’s years of rail service. The maximum monthly supplemental annuity rate is $43.

2. How does the receipt of a private railroad pension affect payment of a supplemental annuity?

If a retired employee also receives a private pension funded entirely, or in part, by a railroad employer, the supplemental annuity is permanently reduced by the amount of the monthly pension that is based on the railroad employer’s contributions. However, if the employer reduces the pension for the employee’s entitlement to a supplemental annuity, the amount by which the pension is reduced is restored to the supplemental annuity (but does not raise it over the $43 maximum). There is no reduction for a pension paid by a railroad labor organization.

3. What if an employee elects to receive the pension in a lump-sum payment instead of as a monthly benefit?

If a retired employee elects to receive his or her pension in a lump-sum payment instead of as a monthly benefit, the supplemental annuity is reduced in the same way as it would be if the employee was receiving the monthly benefit. (If the lump sum is paid in installments, the installment payments are not considered monthly benefit payments, but part of the single lump-sum payment.)

4. Does the receipt of a 401(k) plan distribution reduce the amount of a supplemental annuity?

No. In Legal Opinion L-2014-2, issued January 13, 2014, the RRB’s general counsel determined that 401(k) plans should not be considered supplemental pension plans as defined by the Railroad Retirement Act and, therefore, employee supplemental annuities should not be reduced due to the receipt of 401(k) distributions.

5. Are employee contributions to a 401(k) plan subject to Railroad Retirement Tier I and Tier II payroll taxes?

Yes. Federal budget legislation enacted in 1989 and effective January 1, 1990, provided that employee contributions to 401(k) plans are subject to Railroad Retirement payroll taxes and brought the treatment of 401(k) plans under Railroad Retirement law into conformity with the treatment of such plans under Social Security law. Consequently, employee contributions to a 401(k) plan are also treated as creditable compensation for Railroad Retirement benefit purposes. (For example, an employee earning $40,000 a year, but who has 10% of his earnings deferred under a 401(k) plan, would have only $36,000 reported to the IRS as earnings subject to federal income tax. However, the entire $40,000 would be subject to Railroad Retirement payroll taxes and therefore creditable as compensation under the Railroad Retirement Act.)

6. How can a person get more information about how private rail pensions and 401(k) plan payments affect supplemental annuities?

More information is available on RRB.gov or by contacting an RRB field office. It is important to know that while nearly all of the RRB’s 53 field offices are physically closed to the public until further notice because of the COVID-19 outbreak, they remain accessible by email and phone. Customers are encouraged to send a secure email to their local office by accessing the Field Office Locator and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. Customers who prefer talking to an RRB employee can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772); however, they may experience lengthy wait times due to increased call volume caused by COVID-19 related issues.


Medicare Part B premiums for 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that the standard monthly Part B premium will be $148.50 in 2021, an increase of $3.90 from $144.60 in 2020. Some Medicare beneficiaries will pay less than this amount because, by law, Part B premiums for current enrollees cannot increase by more than the amount of the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security (Railroad Retirement Tier I) benefits.

Since the cost-of-living adjustment is 1.3% in 2021, some Medicare beneficiaries will see an increase in their Part B premiums but still pay less than $148.50. The standard premium amount will also apply to new enrollees in the program. However, certain beneficiaries will continue to pay higher premiums based on their modified adjusted gross income.

The monthly Part B premiums that include income-related adjustments for 2021 will range from $207.90 to $504.90, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $88,000 (or $176,000 for a married couple). The highest rate applies to beneficiaries whose incomes exceed $500,000 (or $750,000 for a married couple). CMS estimates that about 7% of Medicare beneficiaries pay the larger income-adjusted premiums.

Beneficiaries in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plans pay premiums that vary from plan to plan. Part D beneficiaries whose modified adjusted gross income exceeds the same income thresholds that apply to Part B premiums also pay a monthly adjustment amount. In 2021, the adjustment amount ranges from $12.30 to $77.10.

The Railroad Retirement Board withholds Part B premiums, Part B income-related adjustments and Part D income-related adjustments from benefit payments it processes. The agency can also withhold Part C and D premiums from benefit payments if an individual submits a request to his or her Part C or D insurance plan.

The following tables show the income-related Part B premium adjustments for 2021. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for all income-related monthly adjustment amount determinations. To make the determinations, SSA uses the most recent tax return information available from the Internal Revenue Service. For 2021, that will usually be the beneficiary’s 2019 tax return information. If that information is not available, SSA will use information from the 2018 tax return.

Railroad Retirement and Social Security Medicare beneficiaries affected by the 2021 Part B and D income-related premiums will receive a notice from SSA by the end of the year. The notice will include an explanation of the circumstances when a beneficiary may request a new determination. Persons who have questions or would like to request a new determination should contact SSA after receiving their notice.

Additional information about Medicare coverage, including specific benefits and deductibles, can be found at www.medicare.gov.

# # #

2021 PART B PREMIUMS

Beneficiaries who file an individual tax return with income:Beneficiaries who file a joint tax return with income:Income-related monthly adjustment amountTotal monthly Part B premium amount
Less than or equal to $88,000Less than or equal to $176,000$0.00$148.50
Greater than $88,000 and less than or equal to $111,000Greater than $176,000 and less than or equal to $222,000$59.40$207.90
Greater than $111,000 and less than or equal to $138,000Greater than $222,000 and less than or equal to $276,000$148.50$297.00
Greater than $138,000 and less than or equal to $165,000Greater than $276,000 and less than or equal to $330,000$237.60$386.10
Greater than $165,000 and less than or equal to $500,000Greater than $330,000 and less than or equal to $750,000$326.70$475.20
$500,000 and above$750,000 and above$356.40$504.90

The monthly premium rates paid by beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate return from their spouses and who lived with their spouses at some time during the taxable year, are different. Those rates are as follows:

Beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate tax return, with income:Income-related monthly adjustment amountTotal monthly Part B premium amount
Less than or equal to $88,000$0.00$148.50
Greater than $88,000 and less than or equal to $412,000$326.70$475.20
$412,000 and above$356.40$504.90

Former GC Hiatt passes away

David Eldon Hiatt, a retired general chairperson of GO 377 (Canadian National/Grand Trunk Western), passed away November 11, 2020. He was 73 years old.

Hiatt

“I looked up to Brother Hiatt, he was what I strived to be like once I became a union officer,” said current GO 377 General Chairperson Bill Miller. “Brother Hiatt bled union and the SMART-TD.”

Brother Hiatt hired out on the GTW in 1969 in Battle Creek, Mich., and was a lifelong SMART-TD/UTU member. He was the local chairperson for Local 72 (Battle Creek, Mich.) for a number of years, then served as general chairperson for GO 377 from 2003 until his retirement in 2012.

“One of his big accomplishments was being able to get an hourly agreement approved on the GTW, which gave a better quality of life for the conductors with scheduled off days, five-day work week and great wages,” Miller said. “Brother Hiatt was a mentor to many officers on the GTW, especially me.”

Brother Hiatt was an Army veteran, serving in South Korea along the demilitarized zone in 1968 and ’69, and was a VFW and American Legion member.

He is survived by his wife, Kathryn and children Tracy Hiatt, Larry Hiatt, Jeffrey (Shawn) Bowdidge, Owen (Ellie) Bowdidge; and his brother, Thomas (Sheila) Hiatt.

SMART Transportation Division offers its sincere condolences to Brother Hiatt’s family, friends and to his Local 72 brothers and sisters.

His full obituary may be read here.

Let us all keep our veterans in mind

Veterans Day marks the end of World War I — that fierce global conflict that cost millions of lives – and while the memory of that conflict fades further into history, the need for the heroism and sacrifice on the part of our military personnel endures more than a century later.

Our military members uplift and shield us, and our veterans are a source of patriotism and pride for what they have done and what they contribute to our organization. They deserve our thanks and recognition as SMART-TD members and as American heroes.

I myself am an U.S. Army veteran who served for three years during the Gulf War era. One of the key goals of my administration is to give those members who are military veterans the recognition that they deserve for answering the high call of serving our country and to defend the freedoms that we enjoy.

To that end, we continue to urge those who served to let us know the details of their military careers via the SMART-TD Member Info Update form on our website. We are working to highlight our continuing work to recognize and amplify the importance of veterans to our union in our organizing efforts. We also are moving quickly with special plans to pay tribute and highlight members’ military service and continue to update our Veteran Services page with resources that could help our American heroes.

Each and every veteran deserves to feel a sense of appreciation today on this Veterans Day.

On behalf of SMART-Transportation Division, to all U.S. military veterans, we thank you once again for your service.

Fraternally,

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division
U.S. Army, 1988-1991


Services and discounts

As an annual tradition, many businesses provide free services or discounts to veterans. Here are some of those available today.

https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/80496/organizations-offer-national-level-veterans-day-virtual-events/

https://www.va.gov/outreach-and-events/events/

https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/80347/veterans-day-2020-discounts/

SMART-TD mourns the passing of Edward J. Carney

Edward J. Carney, 87, of Ft. Wadsworth, Staten Island, N.Y., died suddenly Saturday, Nov. 7.

Carney began his railroading career on the Staten Island Railroad, a subsidiary of the B&O Railroad, in June 1955. Over the course of his 40 years of railroad employment, he worked as a conductor in freight, passenger, yard and road service.

Brother Carney took an interest in union affairs and became the local chairperson of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Lodge 560, representing conductors and trainmen on the Staten Island Railroad, in October 1963. After numerous representation elections on the property, he eventually came to represent conductors, trainmen, engineers, signalmen, maintenance-of-way employees, electricians, boilermakers, machinists, car inspectors and car cleaners. Brother Carney held the position of local chairperson for over 30 years, during which time he became the local chairperson of Local 1440 in Staten Island, N.Y. Carney also served as a local delegate for more than 30 years and attended seven United Transportation Union (UTU) quadrennial conventions.

He also served on the UTU Board of Appeals for two terms from 1992 through 1999. Carney was a member of the union for more than 40 years. Many will remember Brother Carney as the master of ceremonies at numerous UTU regional meetings and conventions. He always had a joke or two prepared at the events and always graced us with his voice to sing both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. A U.S. Army veteran, Carney always paused at each event he emceed to recognize his fellow brothers and sisters in arms. He retired from his position of master of ceremonies at the close of the 2013 regional meetings in Boston and Anaheim.

Visitation for Brother Carney was Monday, November 9 from 4 – 9 p.m., Tuesday November 10 from 2 – 4 p.m. and 7 – 9 p.m. at the Martin Hughes Funeral Home, 530 Narrows Rd. S., Staten Island, NY 10304. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held Wednesday, November 11 at 10:15 a.m. at St. Charles Roman Catholic Church, 200 Penn Ave., Staten Island, NY 10306, interment will follow at 12:15 p.m. at St. Mary’s Cemetery, 155 Parkinson Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305.

Click here to read Brother Carney’s official obituary.


Bipartisan bill introduced to end sequestration cuts to railroad unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced S. 4860, the Railroad Employee Equality and Fairness Act or the REEF Act, which would end the sequester on the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) Unemployment Insurance Account. Due to the Budget Control Act of 2011, and a subsequent sequestration order to implement mandated spending cuts, railroad unemployment benefits have been reduced by a set percentage that is subject to revision at the beginning of each fiscal year. Currently, the sequester, as it relates to the RRB, continues until fiscal year 2030. Without this legislation, it is expected that the sequestration will result in a 5.7 percent reduction in railroad unemployment benefits through fiscal year 2030.

Since most interstate railroad workers’ payroll taxes are diverted to the RRB, unemployed railroad workers are not eligible for federal unemployment insurance benefits, which was not subject to the sequester. This resulted in railroad workers taking a cut in expected benefits that the general public was not subject to. This is particularly concerning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the RRB received 35,030 unemployment claims. As of September 2020, it has received 133,899 claims, nearly a fourfold increase.

“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure that unemployed railroad workers receive fair and equal unemployment benefits. This legislation would remove the harmful sequester that largely singled out railroad workers’ unemployment benefits during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the sequester has meant these railroad workers have not received the full unemployment insurance benefits that are due to them. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nearly five times as many Ohio railroad workers to lose their jobs through no fault of their own and I urge my colleagues to join me in ensuring they are eligible for the same full unemployment benefits as all Americans,” said Portman.

“Our workers are facing enormous challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic and railroad workers have been hit particularly hard,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation ensures railroad employees are eligible for the same benefits as other workers and will help them get through these trying times.”

S. 4860 was read twice before the Senate Oct. 26 and referred to the Committee on the Budget. No other actions have taken place.

RRB: Retirement seminar now available to view online

The Office of the Labor Member is pleased to announce that our Pre-Retirement Seminar presentation is now available to view online. We designed this program to help educate those nearing retirement about the benefits available to them, and what they can expect during the application process.

This popular program has become a valuable resource to RRB customers and employees alike. It helps promote a better understanding of our benefit programs among the railroad community, and in turn, improves the effectiveness of our benefit program operations.

While we typically conduct several seminars across the country annually, we were forced to cancel all in-person events this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This provided us with the unique opportunity to reimagine our platform capabilities and prioritize creating a web version of the seminar.

To access the video online, visit RRB.gov/PRS and click on View Pre-Retirement Seminar Presentation. Because we cover several aspects of railroad retirement benefits in great detail, the entire presentation is over an hour long. View shorter segments of the program by selecting a seminar topic on the same web page. Available topics include: Retired Employee and Spouse Benefits, Spouse Annuities, Working After Retirement, Survivor Benefits, and Items Affecting All Retirement and Survivor Benefits.

At this time, unemployment and sickness benefits are not covered in the program because of the ongoing uncertainty of additional COVID-19 relief legislation. We recommend visiting RRB.gov/coronavirus for the most up-to-date information.

SMART out at Biden rally in Pennsylvania

SMART-TD retiree Gregg Weaver, left, and his wife Carol wear SMART “Blue Collar Biden” shirts as they watch Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speak Saturday, Oct. 24, in Bristol, Pa.

SMART representatives had a front-row seat as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Oct. 24 at Bristol Community College in Bristol, Pa.

SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and Gregg Weaver, a retired TD Local 838 member and former Local 1390 officer who served as a conductor for many Amtrak rides taken by Biden, were in the front row at the “drive-in” rally that was broadcast live on CNN from the town outside Philadelphia.

“What we heard from Joe Biden today was a concrete plan,” Sabol said. “He has a strategy to address the virus. He has a plan to repair the economy. He has ideas and has a strategy to make things better going forward with a focus on transportation and infrastructure.”

Weaver, who worked the rails on both the passenger and freight side with Conrail for 42 years, said Biden has proven his concern for the working people. Weaver’s son, Blake, a Local 838 member, followed in his father’s path and has been an Amtrak conductor for more than 16 years.

Gregg Weaver, a retiree from TD Local 838, and his son Blake, a member of TD Local 838 and an Amtrak conductor, attend Joe Biden’s rally on Saturday, Oct. 24.

“Everybody wants to talk to him (Joe Biden) after the speech – there were politicians, the big-money donors who have millions,” Weaver said. “He didn’t go after the big donors. He picked a blue-collar working man to come talk to him. He has time for us.”

Biden addressed the COVID pandemic at the outset, mentioning that the country had set a record for daily cases with more than 80,000. The Biden campaign has observed social-distancing and mask protocols at its rallies to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Most of the attendees participated in the rally from their cars, honking their horns in unison to show appreciation during the speech.

“I will shut down the virus, not the economy,” Biden said. “We can build back better.”

With just days until Election Day, Biden’s speech touched upon a number of union-related issues, such as infrastructure, the gigantic $1.5 trillion corporate tax cuts in late 2017 that remain the signature legislative accomplishment of the current administration and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

“This guy’s not on the level. He thinks Wall Street built thus country,” Biden said. “You and I know who built this country … working people built it — the middle class, and unions built the middle class.”

In the April 2018 SMART Transportation Division News reported how Class I rail carriers reaped great benefits from those Republican tax cuts.

Union Pacific (UP) received a $5.8 billion boost. CSX saved $3.6 billion, Norfolk Southern (NS) about $3.48 billion and Kansas City Southern (KCS) $488 million. BNSF, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, reported in its Form 10-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it received a tax benefit of $7.4 billion. Savings for the two Canadian-based Class I railroads also increased, reported at $1.4 billion (U.S.) for Canadian National (CN) and about $406 million (U.S.) for Canadian Pacific.

“Vice President Biden understands where working people are coming from. He’s been there. He knows what kind of struggle the working people of country are going through,” Sabol said. “With Biden, SMART members, labor and the middle class will absolutely have a seat at the table.”

Today, thousands of SMART members and other unionized essential frontline employees still are waiting for additional assistance and protections that are being blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. For others, enhanced unemployment and sickness benefits that were in effect and a lifeline early in the pandemic have expired.

“How many [parents] a day can look at their kids and say with confidence, ‘everything’s going to be OK’ and mean it?” Biden asked. “Times are hard. Unemployment is way up. Folks are worried about making their next rent or mortgage payment, whether their health care will be ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Worried about sending their kids to school … worried about not sending them to school.

“They see folks at the top doing much better while the rest are wondering who’s looking out for me. That’s Donald Trump’s presidency.”

Legislation to help union workers such as the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act has been stopped by Trump and his Republican allies, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

Attendees of the Joe Biden rally in Bristol take a group photo before the former vice president’s speech. From left are Mary Kate Weaver; Carol Weaver; TD Local 838 retiree Gregg Weaver; Tyler Hutchinson; SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and TD Local 838 member Blake Weaver.

Weaver reminds his SMART-TD brothers and sisters that railroaders especially need to keep in mind that their benefits are vulnerable to the whims of Capitol Hill.

A vote for Trump and for his Republican allies is opening the door for workers’ health care, jobs and pensions to be targeted, he said. Children would be off their parents’ health coverage at age 18 instead of being covered until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.

Weaver said a vote for Democrats would protect union jobs and railroaders. Biden would not be hostile to Amtrak, whereas Trump and Republicans have habitually tried to cut funding for the national passenger rail network.

“Joe Biden has got their backs. He’s not going to make things worse for them,” Weaver said. “There will be a lot less fighting with the Democrats than with the Republicans.”

Biden gave a brief outline of his economic recovery plan — taxes would not be raised on any family making less than $400,000, while making corporations pay their fair share.

“It’s time for working people and the middle class to get tax relief,” Biden said.

He also said his administration would focused on job creation and education.

“We’re going to create millions of union jobs modifying the infrastructure to modernize it, “ he said.

Biden also emphasized in the speech that he is not banning fracking, an accusation leveled by Trump lately on the campaign trail.

Showing their pride as election approaches

SMART members are sending in their photos showing their support for Joe Biden, the presidential candidate who has been endorsed by your union. To submit your photos in support of candidates endorsed by SMART, email news_TD@smart-union.org.

To get involved, text SMART Army to 21333 and for voting information, text SMART vote to 21333.

From left, local chairperson Edgar Menendez; vice local chairperson Herminio Hernandez; member Emmerett Watson; member Silvena Cazares; and Legislative Representative Latonia Martinez of TD Local 1608 show their support. Photo submitted by SMART-TD California State Legislative Director Louis Costa.

Front row, from left: Rosana Santana, executive secretary; Maria Magallon, operations manager; and Iveth Lopez, administrative assistant. Back row, from left: Local 1608 Chairperson Edgar Menendez; Local 1563 Chairperson Robert Gonzalez; Local 1565 Chairperson Quintin Wormley; Local 1564 Chairperson Andy Carter; GO-875 General Chairperson John M. Ellis; Local 1563 Vice Local Chairperson Jaime Delgadillo; and Local 1564 Vice Local Chairperson Greg Smith. Photo submitted by TD GC Ellis.

Local 72 (Battle Creek, Mich.) Alternate Legislative Representative Ray Sones shows his support for SMART-endorsed presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Retirement benefits will see COLA increase in 2021

Most railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, will increase in January 2021 due to a rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2019 to the corresponding period of the current year.

Cost-of-living increases are calculated in both the tier I and tier II benefits included in a railroad retirement annuity. Tier I benefits, like social security benefits, will increase by 1.3 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will go up by 0.4 percent, which is 32.5 percent of the CPI increase. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) are not adjusted for the CPI change.

In January 2021, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $30 a month to $2,936 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $42 a month to $4,263. For those aged widow(er)s eligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $16 a month to $1,453. However, widow(er)s whose annuities are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 will not receive annual cost-of-living adjustments until their annuity amount is exceeded by the amount that would have been paid under prior law, counting all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable. About 54 percent of the widow(er)s on the RRB’s rolls are being paid under the 2001 law.

If a railroad retirement or survivor annuitant also receives a social security or other government benefit, such as a public service pension, any cost-of-living increase in that benefit will offset the increased tier I benefit. However, tier II cost-of-living increases are not reduced by increases in other government benefits. If a widow(er) whose annuity is being paid under the 2001 law is also entitled to an increased government benefit, her or his railroad retirement survivor annuity may decrease.

However, the total amount of the combined railroad retirement widow(er)’s annuity and other government benefits will not be less than the total payable before the cost-of-living increase and any increase in Medicare premium deductions.

The cost-of-living increase follows a tier I increase of 1.6 percent in January 2020 and 2.8 percent in January 2019, the latter of which had been the largest in 7 years. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will announce Medicare Part B premiums for 2021 later this year, and this information will be available then at www.medicare.gov.

In late December the RRB will mail notices to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2021.