Archive for the ‘Alumni Association News’ Category

New director of programs at RRB

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) named Arturo Cardenas as the agency’s Director of Programs, the agency announced in a Sept. 24 release.

Cardenas oversees all operations to process and pay benefits administered by the agency. He will also serve on the RRB’s Executive Committee responsible for day-to-day operations of the agency and making policy recommendations to the three-member Board.

A career public servant, Mr. Cardenas worked at the Social Security Administration (SSA) for more than 30 years before joining RRB. During that time, he worked in a variety of positions in SSA field offices, regional offices and headquarters units.

His appointment was effective Aug. 30. He replaces Crystal Coleman, who retired in April 2021 after 29 years of federal service.

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

A statement from TD President Jeremy Ferguson:

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

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

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

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

RRB Q&A: Deemed service month credits

Railroad Retirement benefits are based on months of service and earnings credits. Earnings are creditable, up to certain annual maximums, on the amount of compensation subject to Railroad Retirement taxes.

Credit for a month of railroad service is earned for every month in which an employee had some compensated service covered by the Railroad Retirement Act. (Local lodge compensation is disregarded for any calendar month in which it is less than $25. However, work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums, regardless of the amount of salary, is creditable railroad work.) Also, under certain circumstances, additional service months may be deemed in some cases where an employee does not actually work in every month of the year.

The following questions and answers describe the conditions under which an employee may receive additional Railroad Retirement service month credits under the deeming provisions of the Railroad Retirement Act.

1. What requirements must be met before additional service months can be deemed?

A service month can be deemed if an employee has less than 12 service months reported in the year, has sufficient compensation reported and is in an “employment relation” with a covered railroad employer, or is an employee representative, during that month. (An employee representative is a labor official of a non-covered labor organization who represents employees covered under the acts administered by the Railroad Retirement Board.)

For this purpose, an “employment relation” generally exists for an employee on an approved leave of absence (for example, furlough, sick leave, suspension, etc.). An “employment relation” is severed by retirement, resignation, relinquishing job rights in order to receive a separation allowance or termination.

2. How is credit for additional service months computed?

For additional service months to be deemed, the employee’s compensation for the year, up to the annual Tier II maximum, must exceed an amount equal to 1/12 of the Tier II maximum multiplied by the number of service months actually worked. The excess amount is then divided by 1/12 of the Tier II maximum; the result, rounded up to the next whole number, equals the maximum number of months that may be deemed as service months for that year. Fewer months may be deemed, if an employment relation, as defined in Question 1, does not exist.

3. An employee works seven months in 2021 before being furloughed, but earns compensation of $108,000. How many deemed service months could be credited to the employee?

The employee could be credited with five additional service months. One-twelfth of the 2021 $106,200 Tier II maximum ($8,850) times the employee’s actual service months (seven) equals $61,950. The employee’s compensation in excess of $61,950 up to the $106,200 maximum is $44,250, which divided by $8,850 equals five. Therefore, five deemed service months could be added to the seven months actually worked and the employee would receive credit for 12 service months in 2021.

4. Another employee works for seven months in 2021 and earns compensation of $85,200. How many deemed service months could be credited to this employee?

In this case, the excess amount ($85,200 minus $61,950) is $23,250, which divided by $8,850 equals 2.627. After rounding, this employee could receive credit for three deemed service months and be credited with a total of 10 months of service in 2021.

5. Another employee works for eight months in 2021 before resigning on August 15, but earns compensation of $91,000. How many deemed service months could be credited to this employee?

None. Since the employee resigned in August, there is no employment relationship for the remaining months and no additional service months may be deemed and credited.

6. Should an employee preparing to retire take deemed service months into account when designating the date his or her Railroad Retirement annuity begins?

An employee may wish to consider credit for deemed service months in selecting an annuity beginning date. For instance, in some cases, a designated annuity beginning date that considers deemed service months could be used to establish basic eligibility for certain benefits, increase an annuity’s Tier II amount, or establish a current connection, as illustrated in Questions 7, 8 and 9, respectively. It should be noted that service months cannot be deemed after the annuity beginning date.

7. What would be an example of using deemed service months to establish benefit eligibility?

An example would be an employee between the ages of 60 and 62 who might be able to use deemed service months to establish the 360 months of service needed to qualify for an unreduced age annuity prior to full retirement age.

For instance, a 60-year-old employee last performed service on May 15, 2021, and received $61,800 in compensation in 2021. She is credited with 358 months of creditable railroad service through May 2021. If the employee wishes to retire on age, she must wait until she is full retirement age, which ranges between 66 and 67 depending upon the employee’s year of birth, or age 62 if she is willing to accept an age-reduced annuity. She needs at least two additional months of service to establish eligibility for an unreduced annuity prior to full retirement age.

The employee’s excess amount ($61,800 minus $44,250) is $17,550, which divided by $8,850 equals 1.983. Therefore, two deemed service months could be added to the five months actually worked and the employee would receive credit for seven service months in 2021 for a total of 360 service months, allowing her to receive an unreduced annuity beginning July 2, 2021.

8. How could deemed service months be used to increase an employee’s Tier II amount?

An employee worked in the first five months of 2021 and received compensation of $59,500. He does not relinquish his rights until July 2, 2021, and applies for an annuity to begin on that date.

The excess amount ($59,500 minus $44,250) is $15,250, which divided by $8,850 equals 1.723, which yields two deemed service months for a total of seven service months in 2021. Had the employee relinquished his rights and applied for an annuity to begin on July 1, he would have been given credit for only six service months.

The employee received the maximum compensation in all of the last five years and had 360 months of service through 2020. The additional service and compensation increases his Tier II from $1,726.75 to $1,746.92. However, delaying the annuity beginning date past the second day of the month after the date last worked solely to increase the Tier II amount would not generally be to the employee’s advantage.

9. Can deemed service months help an employee establish a current connection?

Yes. For example, an employee left the railroad industry in 2002 and engaged in employment covered by the Social Security Act. In August 2020, she returned to railroad employment and worked through June 28, 2021. She received compensation of $53,650 in 2021. She does not relinquish her rights until July 2, 2021, and applies for an annuity to begin on July 2, 2021.

In this case, the excess amount ($53,650 minus $53,100) is $550, which divided by $8,850 equals 0.0621, which yields one deemed service month. Consequently, the employee is given credit for seven service months in 2021. With five months of service in 2020 and seven months in 2021, the employee establishes a current connection. Had she designated the earliest annuity beginning date permitted by law, she would not have met the 12-in-30-month requirement for a current connection. (An employee who worked for a railroad in at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the month his or her Railroad Retirement annuity begins will meet the current connection requirement for a supplemental annuity, occupational disability annuity or survivor benefits.)

10. Can an employee ever receive credit for more than 12 service months in any calendar year?

No. Twelve service months are the maximum that can be credited for any calendar year.

11. Where can an employee get more information on how deemed service months could affect his or her annuity?

Employees with questions about deemed service months can send a secure message to their local RRB office by accessing Field Office Locator at RRB.gov and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. If a customer needs to talk to an RRB employee, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772). However, customers are asked to be patient because of the increase in call volume due to the closure to the public of RRB offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SMART-TD joins #EssentialAlways campaign to honor transportation workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palmetto GBA: Let’s talk about mental health during the pandemic

Mental health is one of those things that we don’t want to talk about too much. With so much still unknown about the coronavirus, many people are still depressed, anxious, scared and stressed. We’ve watched how the world has changed during the pandemic, with millions of people losing their lives, and there is still a stigma related to the virus. Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. In the beginning, the coronavirus was thought to only affect the elderly population, but now, a year later, we know that to be untrue. Isolation, food and supply shortages were all things we dealt with during the pandemic.

Now the world is starting to open back up after more than a year of being isolated from families and friends. Many people are asking, “How do we ever get back to being normal?” One thing we can do is get vaccinated. Vaccines are now available to all people over the age of 12, and they are reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths and severe illnesses. In fact, 79.5% of those fully vaccinated are people 65 years or older. The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all Medicare beneficiaries.

Even though the pandemic is not over, (with the Delta variant a new concern) it is under better control. Americans are starting to travel again, see family and attend events with larger crowds. While these are good things, some of this news can cause many people to feel overwhelmed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Below are ways that you can help yourself, others and your community manage stress:

  • Turn the TV off. Reduce exposure to news stories, which can trigger stress.
  • Eat healthy, go for a walk and get plenty of sleep.
  • Find a new hobby or make time to do an old one.
  • Connect with others either in person or by phone.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. (CDC, 2021)

While we all wait for the World Health Organization to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over, we must still take proper precautions to ensure safety. If you are unvaccinated, according the CDC, you will still need to wear your mask. Seeing others not wearing a mask may also be stressful because you can’t be sure they are vaccinated.

If you are having trouble managing your feelings or not feeling like yourself, see your doctor or other approved healthcare provider and tell them how you are feeling. Don’t wait until your next annual wellness visit. Even if you don’t feel up to (or ready to face) getting out for a visit, many doctors today are offering telehealth visits. Some Medicare benefits you may not know of include:

  • Yearly depression screening
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Family counseling
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Individual and group psychotherapy
  • Medication management
  • Annual wellness visit
  • Caregiver-focused behavioral health risk assessment of their own behavior and health risks, which benefits the patient
  • Cognitive assessment and care planning
  • Drug therapy
  • Drug withdrawal treatment and other substance use disorder treatments
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Initial Preventive Physical Examination (IPPE) to review medical and social health history and provide preventive services education

For more information about your Medicare benefits and how they can help you get help when you’re feeling down, please call Palmetto GBA’s beneficiary contact center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are also encouraged to sign up for Palmetto’s email updates. To do so, click “Email Updates” on the top banner on the Palmetto GBA website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me to start the process.

If you’d like to read more about the CDC and its information on coping with stress related to the coronavirus, please visit their website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html


Palmetto GBA is the Railroad Specialty Medicare Administrative Contractor (RRB SMAC) and processes Part B claims for Railroad Retirement beneficiaries nationwide. Palmetto GBA is contracted by the independent federal agency Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which administers comprehensive retirement-survivor and unemployment-sickness benefit programs for railroad workers and their families under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts.

SMART-TD arbitrates crew-consist dispute

On June 15 and 16, 2021, the simmering dispute between the SMART Transportation Division and carriers over crew consist finally reached arbitration before neutral party John LaRocca in Sacramento, Calif.

Class I railroads BNSF, UP, NS and KCS initiated a claim in October 2019, just prior to the opening of the current round of national contract handling, that asserted the moratorium provisions of various local agreements no longer barred the service of a Section 6 notice regarding the topic of crew consist.

At the arbitration, 13 SMART-TD General Committees presented their arguments against the National Railroad Labor Conference (NRLC), which represented the railroads involved.

The arbitration hearing was a result of a long court battle in which it was determined that the question of whether the moratorium language in the various agreements barred serving a notice was a “minor dispute” within the meaning of the Railway Labor Act and would have to be arbitrated.

The moratoriums were a result of negotiations in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the parties involved decided to lay to rest negotiations over crew consist until the last covered employee voluntarily separated. Despite the fact that the event has not occurred, the carriers have taken the position that the language of the moratoriums cannot be read to now bar negotiation over crew consist.

The railroads are seeking to bypass the agreed-upon wait time that bars such negotiation and to seek crew size changes now. SMART-TD argued that the language and intent of the moratoriums clearly bars any negotiation on crew consist until the last person standing is gone.

The arbitration was the largest conducted by the union in decades and was presented by a combined team of the SMART-TD International, SMART-TD Legal Department and multiple General Committees. A decision on the issue is expected by September 2021.

A ruling by LaRocca in favor of SMART-TD would leave current crew-consist agreements closed from negotiations until the expiration of the moratoriums. A ruling by LaRocca in favor of the carriers would open these agreements up for negotiation on the respective properties as the current round of national contract discussions continues.

RRB: Unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), which provides two kinds of benefits for qualified railroaders: unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed but are ready, willing and able to work; and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to female rail workers for periods of time when they are unable to work because of health conditions related to pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth. A new benefit year begins each July 1.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements and how to claim them. At the time this news release was issued, unemployment and sickness benefit flexibilities were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because these flexibilities are temporary and may change, they are not covered in this release. Visit RRB.gov/coronavirus for up-to-date information.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2021?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $4,137.50 in calendar year 2020, counting no more than $1,655 for any one month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2020 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2020.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2020 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2021, may be eligible for extended benefits. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have railroad earnings of at least $4,275 in 2021, not counting earnings of more than $1,710 in any one month.

In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.

To be eligible for accelerated benefits, a claimant must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and, when claiming sickness benefits, be under age 65.

2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2021?

Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $82. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $820 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to Tier I Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.

Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 5.7% through September 30, 2021. Consequently, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $773.26. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to Tier I payroll taxes of 7.65% will be $714.11 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.

(The temporary benefits created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Continued Assistance to Rail Workers Act of 2020 (CARWA), and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are not subject to sequestration. Under CARWA, beginning January 3, 2021, all benefits under the RUIA (including normal unemployment and sickness benefits as well as normal extended unemployment and sickness benefits) will be exempt from sequestration until 30 days after the Presidential declaration of a national emergency concerning COVID-19 terminates. The RRB will publish updated information regarding the status of the sequestration of RUIA benefits when the end date of the Presidential declaration of a national emergency is known.)

3. How long are these benefits payable?

Normal unemployment or sickness benefits are each payable for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the new benefit year cannot exceed the employee’s railroad earnings in calendar year 2020, counting earnings up to $2,138 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during seven consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).

4. What is the waiting period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?

There is a seven-day waiting period requirement, prior to any benefits becoming payable under the RUIA. During the first 14-day claim period, benefits are payable for every day claimed in excess of seven days. Subsequent claims are paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in each 14-day registration period. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. If an employee has at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits in order to satisfy the waiting period for the current benefit year. Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.

5. Are there special waiting period requirements if unemployment is due to a strike?

If a worker is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.

If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.

While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.

6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?

No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.

7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?

Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.

8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?

If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and non-railroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2021, earnings of $1,655 or more in a claim period will disqualify a claim for unemployment benefits, even if there are more than 4 days of unemployment claimed. This amount corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.

Earnings of $15 or less per day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine if the work affects benefits.

9. How does a person apply for and claim unemployment benefits?

Employees can apply for and claim unemployment benefits online or by mail. Individuals who have established an account through myRRB at RRB.gov can log in and file their applications and their biweekly claims online. Employees who need to create an account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov. Employees are encouraged to establish their accounts while still working to expedite the filing process for future unemployment benefits, and for access to other online services.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an Application for Unemployment Benefits (Form UI-1) from RRB.gov, their labor organization or railroad employer. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and must be filed within 30 days from the date the claimant became unemployed, or the first day for which he or she wishes to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if the application is filed late. Claimants filing a late unemployment application or claim should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving his or her area by visiting RRB.gov and clicking on Field Office Locator, or by calling the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 and selecting the appropriate option from the automated menu.

The local RRB field office reviews the completed application, whether it was submitted online or by mail, and notifies the claimant’s current railroad employer, and base-year employer, if different. The employer has the right to provide information about the benefit application.

After processing the application, biweekly claim forms are provided to the claimant for as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. If a claimant filed an online application, his or her claim forms are only made available online. If a claimant filed a paper application, his or her first claim form is both available online and mailed to him or her. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s). Claim forms should be signed and sent (online or by mail) on or after the last day of the claim. The completed claim must be received by the RRB within 15 days of the end of the claim period, or within 15 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later.

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, in the case of multiple claim periods, a claimant must request a claim form from the RRB within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claim forms may then be filed online or by mail.

10.  How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?

An Application for Sickness Benefits (Form SI-1a) can be obtained from RRB.gov, a railroad labor organization, or a railroad employer. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail. However, subsequent claims may be mailed, or completed online by employees who have established a myRRB account at RRB.gov.

An application including a doctor’s Statement of Sickness (Form SI-1b – included with form SI-1a) is required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Claimants should make a special effort to have the doctor’s statement of sickness completed promptly since claims cannot be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application for sickness benefits on hand, and that family members know where the form is kept and how to use it. If an employee becomes unable to work because of sickness or injury, the employee should complete the application and have his or her doctor complete the attached statement of sickness. If a claimant receives sickness benefits for an injury or illness for which he or she is paid damages, it is important to be aware that the RRB is entitled to reimbursement of either the amount of the benefits paid for the injury or illness or the net amount of the settlement, after deducting the claimant’s gross medical, hospital and legal expenses, whichever is less.

If the employee is too sick to complete the application, someone else may complete it for him or her. In such cases, a family member should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (Form SI-10 included with form SI-1a), which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago within 10 days from when the employee became sick or injured. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which an employee wishes to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there is a good reason for the delay. (Employees cannot currently file their sickness applications online.) Upon receipt, the RRB will process the application and determine if the employee is eligible for sickness benefits.

After processing the application and statement of sickness, the RRB makes the first biweekly claim form available online (for employees with myRRB accounts) and mails a paper form to the employee as long as he or she is eligible for benefits and remains unable to work due to illness or injury. Those choosing to file the paper claim received by mail should return the completed form to RRB headquarters for processing. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both online and paper claim forms for the same claim period(s). Employees who need to create a myRRB account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov.

Completed claim forms must be received at the RRB within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim form is filed late. Claimants filing a late sickness application or claim form should include a signed statement explaining why they were unable to meet the required time frame.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications for sickness benefits must be mailed to the RRB. Statements of sickness may be mailed with the sickness application or faxed directly from the doctor’s office to the RRB at 312-751-7185. Faxes must include a cover sheet from the doctor’s office. Also, in order to prevent a delay in processing applications or claims, employees are advised against sending any sickness benefit forms to the RRB in Chicago via certified mail.

11. Is a claimant’s employer notified each time a biweekly claim for unemployment or sickness benefits is filed?

The RUIA requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. Benefits may not be paid at this time but the employee will receive a notice and have the right to appeal. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

The RRB also conducts checks with other Ffederal agencies and all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to detect fraudulent benefit claims, and it checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.

12. How long does it take to receive payment?

Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if a claimant files an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, his or her benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

If a claimant does not receive a decision notice or payment within the specified time period, he or she may expect an explanation for the delay and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others, especially if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations, or under special circumstances such as the current pandemic.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for review and to appeal. They will be notified of these rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on their claims.

13. How are payments made?

Railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits are paid by direct deposit to an employee’s bank, savings and loan, credit union or other financial institution. New applicants for unemployment and sickness benefits will be asked to provide information needed for direct deposit enrollment.

14. How can claimants get more information on their railroad unemployment or sickness claims?

Claimants with myRRB accounts can view their individual railroad unemployment and sickness insurance account statement by using the View RUIA Account service. This statement displays the type and amount of the claimant’s last five benefit payments, the claim period for which the payments were made, and the dates that the payments were approved. Individuals can also confirm the RRB’s receipt of applications and claims.

In addition, claimants can call the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 to access information about the status of unemployment and sickness claims or payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Individuals with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who need information about their specific claims and benefit payments, can send a secure e-mail to their local office by accessing the Field Office Locator at RRB.gov and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. If a customer needs to talk to an RRB employee, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772). However, customers are asked to be patient because of the increase in call volume due to the closure to the public of RRB offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘End of an era’ at RRB: Geri Clark retires

Geri Clark of the Railroad Retirement Board shakes hands with Lamont Whitfield, then a local chairperson for LCA-393A, at the 2010 Regional Meeting in Phoenix.

Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) Labor Member John Bragg announced June 17 that Assistant to the Labor Member Geraldine “Geri” Clark will be retiring July 2 after 51 years with the agency.

“Geri’s retirement is a great loss to my office and the RRB. Her 51 years of dedication to the RRB, rail labor, and to both active and retired rail workers is unmatched. Her self-motivation, commitment to improving customer service and willingness to always go the extra mile when called upon will be greatly missed,” Bragg wrote in a letter announcing Clark’s retirement. “I wish Geri the best as she begins this new chapter in life, but most importantly I want to thank her for her service. She has truly been a pleasure to work with.”

Clark began working at RRB in 1970 and was appointed to her current position in 1985 by former Labor Member of the Board C. J. Chamberlain, becoming the first woman to be named a board assistant in the agency’s history. Geri also served as an assistant to succeeding Labor Members V.M. “Butch” Speakman, Jr. and W.A. “Walt” Barrows.

“Geri’s leaving will mark the end of an era for the Railroad Retirement Board, and I am indebted to her dedication and commitment to the men and women of the rail industry who keep this country moving,” Bragg wrote. “Her work over the last 51 years has helped assure that railroad workers always receive the benefits they need and deserve.”

During her time in the Office of the Labor Member, Clark was the driving force behind the Informational Conference program. The conferences were introduced by the Labor Member to help educate local rail labor representatives about the benefits available to members and their families under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts. Thousands of representatives attended conferences over the years and achieved a better understanding of the provisions and financing of the Railroad Retirement and unemployment insurance systems, and of the administrative organization of the RRB. In turn, they helped improve the effectiveness of the agency’s benefit program operations by passing on to their fellow railroad employees the information they acquired at the conferences.

She was a frequent guest at numerous UTU/SMART-TD Regional Meetings, sharing her knowledge of the RRB to members on the cusp of retirement or who were just planning ahead.

More recently Clark spearheaded RRB’s Pre-Retirement Seminar program for workers. The seminars have proven to be a popular successor to the informational conferences, offering similar content, but open to rail labor representatives and also railroad employees and their spouses nearing retirement.

The leadership and the whole of SMART Transportation Division thank Geri Clark for her many decades of excellent service in helping to ensure that union members understand and get the RRB benefits to which they are entitled. We wish her a long, happy and healthy retirement!

Palmetto GBA: Performing a cognitive assessment

Do you or a loved one have any of the following symptoms?

It’s easy to forget where you put your car keys once in a while. But if you or a loved one have any of the following problems, please read further:

  • Trouble remembering
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Feeling overwhelmed making decisions
  • Getting confused easily or frequently
  • Becoming very impulsive or showing poor judgment

You might think your memory has “slipped,” but it might be more than that. Medicare offers a service to test your cognitive functioning. It’s called a cognitive assessment, and it can be performed when you see your provider for a visit. Many times, it is performed when you do your yearly wellness visit, but it can be performed at any time you have a concern.

It’s really helpful if you bring someone with you to that visit, such as a friend, spouse or caregiver, so that they can provide answers to questions you might not know the answers to. During the visit, your doctor will do the following:

  1. Perform a cognitive exam.
  2. Review your medical history and your medication. Sometimes medications can have side effects that may make you appear to have a cognitive impairment.
  3. Develop a plan of care, if one is needed.
  4. Make a referral to a specialist, if one is needed.
  5. Talk to you about community resources (these can include adult daycare, rehabilitation services, and more).

When this service is performed, the Part B deductible and coinsurance apply.

Cognitive impairment doesn’t always present in the ways noted above. It can also show up as depression, anxiety, apathy or irritation/aggression. If you see these in yourself or others, please make an appointment with your doctor. Having mild cognitive impairment can increase your risk of developing dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. Per the Mayo Clinic, “some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.” Be the one who gets better. Call your doctor today.

If you need help locating a doctor, you can call our Palmetto GBA’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are invited to use Palmetto’s free internet portal, MyRRMed, to access claim status, historical Medicare Summary Notices, and review any individuals you have authorized to have access to your private medical information. You can visit MyRRMed at www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.

We also encourage you to visit the Mayo Clinic website, which discusses mild cognitive impairment (MCI) here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578.

You can also access the Alzheimer’s Association website, which discusses cognitive assessment services, by visiting here: https://www.alz.org/professionals/health-systems-clinicians/cognitive-assessment.


Palmetto GBA is the Railroad Specialty Medicare Administrative Contractor (RRB SMAC) and processes Part B claims for Railroad Retirement beneficiaries nationwide. Palmetto GBA is contracted by the independent federal agency Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which administers comprehensive retirement-survivor and unemployment-sickness benefit programs for railroad workers and their families under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts.

Biden budget proposal boosts funds for RRB staffing

The 2022 fiscal year budget proposed by the Biden administration May 28 offers a net increase in funding to the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) to cover accumulating administrative costs and to improve customer service.

The White House’s budget request of a little over $125 million for RRB, if approved by Congress, would result in a gain of $11 million for RRB to cover staffing needs to better serve railroad workers nearing retirement, retirees and their survivors.

In its budget request to U.S. House leadership and to Vice President Kamala Harris, RRB reported that it has a staffing deficit of 12% from its minimum levels and that the RRB’s programs office has been operating at a reduced capacity because funding for the agency has been nearly flat for five years. Its workforce also is aging, with nearly a quarter of its workers now eligible to retire and 231 employees eligible to retire in the next year.

The added funding will allow RRB to increase its ranks to 801 full-time employees at a time when it needs workers to take care of retirement, survivor claims and numerous other customer-facing duties that had been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and chronic understaffing. In its budget request, RRB reported that just 35% of the 1.2 to 1.3 million calls its Bureau of Field Services received were answered in FY2020.

“We are operating in a transitional state that requires a sufficient investment in staffing to sustain benefit determination and payment operations, which still rely heavily on manual processing, while ensuring that the agency retains the knowledge of our laws and systems critical to modernizing benefit payment systems,” the agency stated. “The RRB believes that an increase in staffing is critical to the success of the agency over the next few years.”

The budget request is not the only way the current administration is working to improve RRB.

The agency’s years-long project to upgrade its IT infrastructure finally received full funding through Biden and Congress’s American Rescue Plan. The agency said that the modernization of RRB’s systems should also help to open the door to better service and more efficiency once fully implemented.

“We are grateful to the Congress for providing annual and supplemental appropriations that have fully funded RRB’s IT Modernization program,” RRB stated.

Read the RRB’s budget request and its 2022 Fiscal Year performance plan.

After 44 years, John Dunn of Local 756 in Texas pulls the pin

From left, Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders; SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson; Lisa & John Dunn; TD Vice President Chad Adams; and Alt. Vice President/General Chairperson GCA-927 Scott Chelette, attend a celebration for John Dunn’s retirement on May 26.

After 44 years with Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific, John Dunn of Local 756, a great advocate for members in the great state of Texas in which he lives, has called it a career.

Dunn joined our union back in November 1977 after hiring on with Missouri Pacific in July 1977.

That began a long association with the union where Brother Dunn served in a number of leadership positions, including six years as a vice general chairperson of GCA-927, 16 years as local chairperson for LCA-927, 13 years as an alternate legislative representative and two years as his San Antonio local’s legislative representative. He served as the assistant Texas state legislative director starting in February 2020, and even had a stint on the SMART-TD Executive Board prior to his retirement, effective May 31, 2021.

“I guess I’m well-known because I’ve represented so many people,” Dunn said when contacted as he drove home from a union meeting at Local 1670 in Laredo, Texas, a mere four days before pulling the pin. “I’ve been doing this for so long … my reputation preceded myself.”

Dunn

Brother Dunn became an engineer in 1980 and started a notable streak of union activism in 1987 after his uncle, the local delegate, suggested he run for alternate delegate. Dunn ended up attending his first convention in Miami Beach, Fla., to start a streak of nine conventions that “Big Bad John” attended as Local 756’s delegate, taking the time to kick off his opportunities to speak with a reminder to all that he hailed “from the great State of Texas.”

In 1997, Brother Dunn began to get more and more involved in the representational aspect of things by attending regional meetings, getting to know Designated Legal Counsel Steve Young and always looking to educate himself so that he could defend people when targeted for alleged infractions by carriers.

“I was very lucky that they had regional meeting seminars – I went to those,” Dunn said. “A lot of times they were standing room only – there was a wealth of information, and I took tons of notes. All that information is very helpful. There is so much information you can use. Every time you go you can get something new. The guys who are doing it now are doing a phenomenal job. Education is vital to be a successful local chairperson.”

He learned things well, and it got to the point where Dunn even had people from other rail labor organizations asking him to represent them. He also got to see the sore spots where carriers needed to improve their treatment of workers.

“Attendance – railroads are really hitting people on that,” Dunn said. “The railroad wants more and more and more out of their employees.”

Dunn recalled having to defend one worker in a disciplinary hearing for an attendance violation years ago who took time off because his young child had died.

“Things are going to happen to workers’ lives outside of work and there needs to be a change in attitude on the part of the carriers,” he said.

His dependability and advocacy in defending and serving his fellow union brothers and sisters also earned him the respect of his peers.

“John was the go-to guy for everyone in and around San Antonio,” Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders said. “He worked tirelessly for our membership.”

Often, his family life and his union commitments crossed over. His 25th wedding anniversary plans with his wife Lisa were disrupted because Dunn was assigned to investigate a fatality on the Dallas, Garland & Northeastern short line. He also remembered a time when he had his daughter, then seven, sit off to the side while he was engaged in an arbitration hearing. But all these served as signs of his commitment to represent and help his union brothers and sisters to be treated fairly.

In addition to being honored by Local 1670, Brother Dunn’s career also was celebrated May 26 at the Local 756 monthly meeting as more than 50 people, including SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, Vice President Chad Adams, Alt. Vice President Scott Chelette and Saunders, attended the festivities.

“There are so many accomplishments that Brother Dunn achieved throughout the years,” Chelette said. “But his drive, motivation, and caring spirit will be missed the most. For the last 21 years or so, John has went to every ‘new hire’ class held in San Antonio and talked to them about the union and what to expect as a railroader.”

Paving the way for a person new to the railroad industry became a mission of sorts for Dunn – one that made a lasting impression on some. After he announced his retirement, Dunn was approached by a yardmaster who recalled the significant impact Brother Dunn had made by introducing him into the union and taking the time to give him the lay of the land.

“I made it a point to welcome them into the union,” Dunn said. “I wanted to make them aware that we’re here to help them — take them to lunch, give them the contact information that they’d need and they remembered that.”

His advice to the newer generation of railroaders and union members is first to not take things for granted — benefits such as insurance and retirement had to be fought for.

“I’ve always been proud of being a member of this union. Sure there were guys who complained — but where would we be without our union?” Dunn said. “People way before me worked hard and fought hard. People working the road had to pay for their lodging up until 1960. The union got us lodging and meals.”

The new members should be welcomed in, learn the culture and learn the job, Dunn said. By going to meetings they can become comfortable, learn and get involved to strengthen the organization from the local level on up.

“Volunteer to do stuff,” he urged. “You have to have passion, commitment, ownership and believe in what you’re doing. Start off small and attend every union meeting you can. Instead of listening to what’s being said in the crew room, go to the union meeting to be properly informed.”

“The union is able to do what it’s able to do by the strength of its membership. We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” Dunn said.

The strength he added to our organization was celebrated at no fewer than three local union events.

“I am truly humbled by them making the effort to recognize me,” Dunn said. “I have to thank everybody in the locals who have supported me for a number of years and have been so kind in wishing me well. I always refer to them as my ‘railroad family’ — there are a lot of great men and women out there. I’m leaving the railroad, but I’m not leaving them. It’s been a helluva ride — I’ve enjoyed it all.”

John Dunn cooks on the train-shaped barbecue trailer he created.

Post-retirement, Dunn said he’ll be spending more time with Lisa, his wife of 28 years; his daughter, Mallory, who is attending nursing school on a UTUIA scholarship; and his son, Jake, who is a pipefitting apprentice.

Plans will include traveling and reigniting his hobby of welding — Dunn has constructed a massive barbecue trailer in the shape of a steam engine and also has a computerized plasma cutter he might use to craft with as his wife continues to work a bit longer.

“Godspeed John. We love ya, and will miss you, but wish you well in this next chapter of your life!” Saunders said.

The SMART Transportation Division thanks Brother Dunn for his decades of service and wishes for him and his wife, Lisa, many years of happy and healthy retirement.

Memorial Day message from TD President Ferguson

Brothers and sisters:

As we mark a second Memorial Day in what we hope are the waning days of the coronavirus pandemic, let us all take the time to offer a measure of respect to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America.

Our union takes seriously the duty to show appreciation to members of the military, both living and no longer with us. We must remember all they have done for our country and, by extension, all of us in times of conflict and of tranquility. Their fights have preserved the freedoms established at our country’s founding and have enhanced the strength of our nation. The Memorial Day holiday serves as a great reminder to show our gratitude and respect.

At a time where we still battle a virulent enemy, please take some time to pause in remembrance of the debt we owe to our servicemen and -women in the United States Armed Forces who fought and sacrificed in defense of the freedoms of our country that are too easily taken for granted.

Also, as a reminder, our union wants to honor our brothers and sisters who have served in the military. If you are a veteran, please let us know by providing information about your service so we can recognize you in the future.

May God bless our troops, both living and those who have passed.

Please be safe, and thank you.

In solidarity,


 
 
 
 

Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, Transportation Division

Learn more about Memorial Day
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SMART-TD resources for veterans