The Federal Railroad Administration on Sept. 21 sided with a SMART Transportation Division request to reject the extension of COVID-related regulatory waiver requests by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
The waivers, initially granted in March 2020 by the Trump administration in response to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, were roundly criticized by the SMART Transportation Division at their inception. They had been extended on multiple occasions since then and covered regulations governing:
Locomotive engineer skills examinations
Locomotive and conductor certification
On Sept. 13, the SMART-TD National Legislative Department filed public comments in objection to the latest extension request, saying the following:
“It is hard for this Organization to grasp that the railroads are seriously concerned about the pandemic when they are doing little to nothing to prevent its spread. In fact, it seems they only want the CDC guidelines to apply where they might be most able to cut an operational corner, rather than provide a safe and sterile work environment,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes wrote. “According to our applicable members: locomotive, crew room, and transport vehicle cleaning and sanitation has all but stopped (and has been for quite some time). Clearly, prevention of the spread of the virus has taken a back seat to waivers and relief from rules. Safety is either important or it isn’t. It doesn’t just apply here and there.”
FRA concurred with many of the points referred to by SMART-TD in its response, especially regarding training of new rail employees. The agency noted that carriers appeared to use the waivers of at least two rules for an intent outside the purpose originally sought. “FRA’s investigation of these concerns revealed that in numerous instances the railroads were utilizing this relief not to facilitate social distancing, but instead, out of administrative convenience,” FRA’s Karl Alexy wrote.
The SMART-TD National Legislative Office noted that the agency appears to be more responsive to safety concerns expressed by labor and commented on the renewed receptiveness the agency has displayed since the administration of President Joe Biden took charge at the beginning of the year.
“A change in leadership at FRA has made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We thank Deputy Administrator Amit Bose for his agency’s thoughtful consideration of our input as they made a decision on the extensions.”
In the same response to AAR, FRA granted two other extensions to which the SMART-TD National Legislative Department did not object that covered quick tie-ups and locomotive engineer and conductor recertification timelines.
Last week, Bose appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation regarding his nomination to become administrator of FRA. His nomination remains before the committee as additional written questions were posed by committee members and submitted to nominees after the Sept. 22 hearing.
Last last week, FTA published new bus and rail safety data reports to provide a snapshot of transit industry safety performance from 2007–2018 for rail and 2008–2018 for bus, and focus on patterns and trends in events, fatalities and injuries. Report summaries and full reports are accessible on the FTA website with a list of detailed links below.
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.
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.
New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol met with federal Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Westfield, N.J., an encounter that was later featured in a video produced by the DOT and then shared on Buttigieg’s official Twitter account in conjunction with Labor Day on Sept. 6.
Sabol, of Local 1447 (Newark, N.J.), met Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., on Aug. 9 and discussed his career as a freight rail conductor, remote-control operator and as a SMART-TD union officer.
“I got involved in my union right away, and that’s because of safety,” Sabol told Buttigieg. “Railroading is the most dangerous job in the country.”
A member of the SMART-TD National Safety Team, N.J. SLD since December 2016, and also his local’s president, Sabol reminded the Transportation Secretary of something that sometimes is lost among the public.
“Our railroads and bus operators, which we represent as well, they’re first responders,” he said.
Sabol recalled the efforts made by TD members to help evacuate people in tunnels during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City.
Sabol also said that the passage of infrastructure legislation will improve with an expansion of service, better accessibility to riders and improved safety for a number of TD members.
“The best part of my job is being able to help people,” Sabol said. “As you the mayor were able to help all those people, I do it at a different level with a different group of people.”
Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be increasingly important as regulatory efforts develop to make the Rule of 2 — a certified conductor and certified engineer — enforced on freight trains throughout the United States.
The Biden administration announced earlier in the year that FRA is revisiting the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding freight train crew size and would be prioritized at some point in the autumn.
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.
The SMART Transportation Division is primed to assist members in their time of need when disaster strikes.
Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29 and tore a path through an area stretching from the Gulf Coast to the New York-New Jersey region, dropping torrential rain and affecting members’ lives with its massive flooding and wind damage.
Our members in the impacted area, both active and retired, face a long recovery and the painful task of rebuilding their homes and carrying on with their lives.
Furthermore, not only are they coping with the aftermath of a storm, they are doing so against the backdrop of the continuing COVID pandemic.
We are asking the SMART-TD family to heed the call and give what you can so that the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding can begin for any TD members who have been affected by Ida.
Any donations will help lessen the struggle and bring real hope and relief to our members who are suffering after this great loss. SMART-TD will administer donations sent to the SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund.
Contributions may be sent and made payable to:
SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund
24950 Country Club Blvd.
North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333
TD Members who have suffered damage or loss due to this storm can contact the SMART-TD office for an application for assistance by calling 216-227-5237.
The Pullman neighborhood in Chicago will be abuzz on Labor Day weekend 2021 for the grand opening of the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory Grounds. Pullman has been preparing for this moment for decades, and in earnest since President Barack Obama designated the Pullman National Monument in February 2015.
The public is welcome for a weekend of family friendly events on Saturday, Sept. 4, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., including:
tours of the new visitor center (free)
tours of the first floor of historic Hotel Florence (free)
programs under the tent at the factory site (free)
walking tours and self-guided tours of the historic community (free)
tours of historic Pullman-built rail cars, sponsored by Amtrak, Metra and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners
The Pullman National Monument and State Historic site is at 11001 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago, IL 60628, the site of the former Pullman company town. The town was the vision of George M. Pullman, who founded it May 26, 1880. Pullman hoped that by building the town, he would attract skilled workers to build his luxury rail cars – known as the Pullman Sleeping Car, they were the first railcars in existence designed to accommodate overnight travelers.
Guests of the Pullman historic sites will find an exhibit chronicling the rise of the town and its role in labor history and the 1894 Pullman strike endorsed by labor leader Eugene Debs, a former secretary of one of SMART-TD’s predecessor unions, as well as the struggles of the black Pullman porters who formed the nation’s first black labor union – the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The events this weekend are being managed by the Historic Pullman Foundation, which is led by former Federal Railroad Administration Administrator and retired UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, the president of the foundation.
“Historic Pullman Foundation is thrilled to help welcome the public to Pullman National Monument and Pullman State Historic Site, an incredible new cultural attraction in Chicago,” said Szabo. “On Labor Day weekend and through ongoing programming and exhibits at the Monument and its partner sites, visitors to Pullman have many opportunities to learn about the continuing American story that is Pullman.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate today passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, its $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation, by a 69-30 vote, sending the bill to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration and taking a step to end a substantial period of largely flat federal investment in the nation’s roads, rails and bridges.
The bill contains $786 billion to address a backlog of national infrastructure needs, $66 billion for Amtrak and $39 billion for public bus, transit and subway systems.
“This legislation marks the end of a long period of stagnation in the upper chamber of Congress when it comes to putting additional money into the nation’s infrastructure,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “There was a lot of talk of Infrastructure Week and the like in prior years, but nothing ever was accomplished with the bills dying in the Senate. Now we see a strong effort to protect bus and transit workers to shield them from assaults and a major influx of money that will allow Amtrak to provide expanded service and help its national passenger service to flourish. These are very encouraging signs and the bill’s passage is a major win for our Amtrak, bus and transit members.”
Absent from the Senate bill was a two-person freight crew provision that was passed through the U.S. House of Representatives’ infrastructure bill known as the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684). Yardmaster hours of service, also in the INVEST Act, suffered the same fate.
The 10 bipartisan senators who authored the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did not include those items when writing the more than 2,700 pages of the legislation, and no amendment adding a 2PC provision was introduced by senators as the bill was considered for passage. Only bipartisan amendments were considered during the amendment process, and no Republican senators offered to co-sponsor the two-person-crew or yardmaster hours of service items as an amendment.
This does not close the door on national two-person crew bill efforts with House leaders, including Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairperson Peter DeFazio, Railroad Subcommittee Chair Donald Payne and other supporters of rail safety, working to find a vehicle to get a legislative solution passed. Regulatory efforts via the federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration will be intensified.
“We ask that members continue to be loud and clear about rail safety and the importance of a certified conductor and certified engineer being in the cab to elected officials via phone call, letter, and email and also by raising public awareness on social media,” Hynes said. “We have come further than we ever have in getting national two-person crew legislation accomplished this cycle. The battle is not over, and there is much more to be done.”
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), our 33 affiliated unions, and millions of frontline transportation workers, I urge you to advance the nomination of Jennifer Homendy for Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when the Senate Commerce Committee considers her nomination.
Member Homendy brings decades of experience in transportation safety and a fierce devotion to the protection of transportation workers, passengers, and the public writ large. Since joining the NTSB in 2018, she has worked tirelessly as an advocate for necessary safety improvements across all modes of our transportation network. Prior to joining the Board, Homendy shepherded major safety legislation through Congress as Staff Director of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. Equally important to her deep policy expertise, Homendy possesses a crucial understanding of the role transportation workers play in ensuring the safety and security of our transportation system. There is no person more qualified to serve as Chair of the NTSB.
Member Homendy’s distinguished career in public service and steadfast commitment to transportation safety have proven that she has the leadership, experience, and expertise to confront our transportation network’s most pressing challenges with a strong voice. TTD is proud to endorse Jennifer Homendy, and I urge you to support her nomination.
DeFazio, along with New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne Jr., who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, were two of the main architects of the INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), a surface transportation reauthorization bill that encompasses substantial investment in the nation’s infrastructure as well as in the safety of the people who keep the country moving that passed the U.S. House on July 1.
“PSR is not some fancy optimization strategy to increase freight volume or improve operations and reduce emissions; rather, it is a business strategy promoted by Wall Street to boost short-term profits,” DeFazio wrote.
He noted in his column that shippers, communities and the rail workforce all have been negatively affected by PSR.
“Let’s not forget that prior to COVID-19, from 2015 to 2019, the freight railroad industry slashed the average size of its workforce by over 17%,” DeFazio wrote. “It’s little wonder that STB Chairman Martin Oberman has sought information about how such a reduction may be related to or contributed to recent shipper complaints.”
The INVEST in America Act looks to protect bus and transit workers from assault, improve school bus safety and maintain safe freight rail operations. It contains increased funding for Amtrak passenger rail service and protects the environment, the public and rail workers alike by putting into law the Rule of 2 — that, like a pilot and co-pilot in the air — a certified engineer and a certified conductor remain present in the cab of freight trains when operated through the nation’s communities.