Archive for the ‘Amtrak/Commuter’ Category

Senate bill benefits Amtrak, bus, transit members

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.”

NLD Hynes: Contact Congress to have Rule of 2 included in Senate infrastructure bill

You’ve probably heard in the news over the past few days that the U.S. Senate has agreed on a new bipartisan infrastructure package. This article is to provide facts, highlight the ongoing differences between the House’s infrastructure bill and the Senate’s infrastructure bill, show where we stand and what can be done to step up as we fight for public and worker safety and for the Rule of 2 — a certified conductor and engineer in the cab of freight locomotives.

  1. The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a product of the Senate, where a bill needs a simple majority to pass — that means 51 votes. However, unless a bill has 60 senators in solid support, it is vulnerable to a filibuster by any who oppose the bill and thus cannot pass. This bipartisan bill has been a big deal in the news because something is being done about the nation’s infrastructure as some senators from both parties came up with a bill by working together after a long, long period of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. Let’s remember that this Senate bill has only been in existence since last Sunday, Aug. 1 — about three days — and things can change quickly.
  2. While the news of this Senate bill is good in some ways because of its increased funding for Amtrak and transit and protections of bus members, the bill lacks the two-person crew provision that appeared in the INVEST in America Act that we worked to get passed by the U.S. House in July.
  3. The House gets a chance to make additions, subtractions, and changes to anything the Senate passes in what is known as the conference process. Be assured that our allies in the House will fight to have portions of their bill reinstated that were left out of this Senate bill, but, as it was when we first passed two-person crew legislation out of the House in 2020, the divided Senate remains an obstacle. Already, we have come farther than we did last year, and this is thanks to involvement from our membership as well as how we improved conditions for success in November 2020.
  4. So the door is NOT CLOSED on a legislative solution from Congress coming through with this bill. A senator could amend the bill to add the two-person crew provision before a vote. The conference process also takes time, and we have strong allies in the U.S. House in Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne who worked to get the 2PC provision in the INVEST Act both times it passed the House. But it’s not DeFazio, Payne or the U.S. representatives who already voted in favor of the INVEST Act’s two-person crew provisions that we need to convince. Republican senators who helped to craft the “bipartisan” Senate bill didn’t include the provision in accordance with the wishes of their railroad industry allies.

So what can you do to help?

We need to be loud and persistent. We need all of you to help. With the work being done right now in Washington D.C. on the legislative, and later this year, on the regulatory channel, now is the time to mobilize across the nation to step up and get the Rule of 2 across the finish line. Red state, blue state, purple state, north, south, east and west. We need to call. We need to email. Share the image above on social media. We need to explain to people in Congress, especially senators:

  • That public and worker safety is non-negotiable. That lives have been saved because of the presence and combined actions of a conductor and engineer working together. That the people in the freight locomotive provide the same safety functions and duties as a pilot and co-pilot on an airliner. By disregarding the 2PC provision, American lives are going to be endangered.
  • That the two-person crew component within the original INVEST in America Act MUST be included as the Senate considers this bill. Anything less ignores rail worker safety and community safety, jeopardizes jobs and lets the railroads and their profiteering Wall Street masters dictate what they say is safe rather than what we KNOW is safe.

We have resources such as the LAC set up to message people. There are grassroots networks such as the Fight for Two Person Crews group on social media who can provide collective strength. We need to stand up and not be silent waiting for other people to do the work as we embark upon both the legislative and the regulatory paths to make the Rule of 2 the law of the land.

Keep in mind that second path — the regulatory one — to secure the Rule of 2 is via the Federal Railroad Administration where the agency would promulgate a rule establishing a minimum crew size. Under President Biden, FRA has announced that a reopening of examining a rule concerning crew size would be a priority of the agency this autumn as it attempts to fill the regulatory vacuum that was created under the prior administration.

More about that will be shared as time goes on, but we are farther along the legislative path than we ever have been. We need to use our collective voices to get our message out to Congress.

Let’s continue to persist, step up, go forward and get the word out to Congress. Please get in touch with your senators and talk about the Rule of 2.

In solidarity,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greg Hynes
National Legislative Director — SMART-TD

TTD urges confirmation of Homendy to lead NTSB

Homendy

The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, released the following statement to senators from President Greg Regan Aug. 4 as National Transportation Safety Board Member Jennifer Homendy’s nomination as NTSB chairperson was advanced today by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Dear Senator:

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.

Sincerely,

Greg Regan

President, AFL-CIO TTD

DeFazio on PSR: ‘Wall Street’s goal is to get wealthier — no matter the impact’

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, responded to a recent Fortune Magazine column by a pair of economists who defended the rail industry’s Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) scheme and accused unions of hampering productivity.

DeFazio

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.”

Read DeFazio’s full column.

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.

The bill is under consideration by the U.S. Senate, and SMART-TD members are encouraged to send messages to their senators to pass H.R. 3684 for the sake of public and worker safety.

Timebook suggestions sought

Members have been able to spend half a year now with the 2021 SMART-TD bus and rail timebooks that were revised last year with membersʼ input.

Weʼre sure there are things you like about the revisions and things that you would want to have changed about the timebooks so they are of the best use to you.

Now through August is your chance to make suggestions for any changes or improvements to the books with mid-September the deadline for local officers to place their orders for the 2022 edition.

Please send improvement suggestions in to Dora Wolf in the Updating Department at dwolf@smart-union.org.

FTA launches Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative

Transit worker and rider safety is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Public transit is a safe form of transportation. Transit workers should expect a safe workplace and riders should expect a safe trip.

To help ensure the continued safety of our nation’s public transit systems, the Federal Transit Administration launched the Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative to provide information and resources to help transit agencies address and prevent crime on their systems and protect transit workers and riders.

FTA resources can be used by transit agencies to prevent and address crime in their systems and protect transit workers and riders. These resources also can be used for overtime pay for enhanced security personnel presence, mental health and crisis intervention specialists.

FTA has partnered with the National Transit Institute (NTI) to provide training for transit and bus operators on assault awareness and prevention. The

Click here for a list of courses from the NTI.

Click here for more information about the Enhanced Transit Safety and Crime Prevention Initiative.

TD leaders praise House passage of INVEST Act

CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 1, 2021) — SMART Transportation Division leaders expressed their appreciation as the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (H.R. 3684) successfully passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives, 221-201, on July 1 with two-person crew and other transportation safety provisions important to TD members remaining intact.

“This bill is a great step ahead for the country as it works to repair years of inattention given to the country’s infrastructure,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “The INVEST Act also pays heed to many safety concerns expressed by labor — the essential workers who helped move our nation through the COVID pandemic — bus operators, freight rail workers and transit workers. We thank Peter DeFazio, Donald Payne and all those in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who spurred H.R. 3684 to passage in the full House, and we now look ahead to consideration in the Senate and beyond.”

The INVEST Act is 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. H.R. 3684’s components look 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.

“We’re very pleased that the House has wisely moved ahead today on the legislative path to ensuring that rail safety’s Rule of 2 is maintained with the INVEST in America Act, and that the bus safety provisions, Amtrak funding and other rail safety components stay in the bill,” SMART-TD National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Now, similar to last year, the time has come to make it crystal clear to senators who might be on the fence that the safety aspects within this bill are not up for negotiation.”

“We truly thank and appreciate those legislators who supported the INVEST Act in its journey through the House and who listened to what we had to say,” Ferguson said. “There is more work to be done and a path to be cleared for this legislation in the Senate, and the members and officers of our union are ready to put in the time.”

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.

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.

DIPP offering new daily benefit level beginning in September!


SMART Transportation Division and the Trustees of the Discipline Income Protection Program (DIPP) are pleased to announce a new maximum daily benefit level for program participants beginning Sept. 1, 2021.

Participants will now have the option to elect a $250 daily benefit at a cost of $202.50 per month.

As always, participants in DIPP have the choice to choose the level of protection they want, currently from $6 to $200 per day. The duration of the coverage period (days), ranges from 200 to 365 days and depends on how long a participant has been enrolled in the program. The new maximum daily benefit will provide yet another level of financial protection and peace of mind when a member’s income is at risk. DIPP has a long tradition of shielding SMART-TD members if they are suspended, dismissed or removed from service by the carrier for alleged violation of rules or operating procedures and pays out millions of dollars to participants annually.

If interested in joining DIPP or increasing your existing daily benefit level, TD members should contact their Regional Insurance Manager / Field Supervisor or email DIPP_TD@smart-union.org or write to Discipline Income Protection Program, 24950 Country Club Blvd., Ste. 340, North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333.

For more information on DIPP, visit us on the web at www.smart-union.org/td/dipp.


Did you know that any member in good standing with SMART-TD can be appointed to the position of DIPP Representative and be compensated from the Plan for any direct sales?

If interested, please contact your Regional Insurance Manager / Field Supervisor or email DIPP_TD@smart-union.org for further details.

Nuria Fernandez confirmed by Senate to lead FTA

By voice vote June 10, the U.S. Senate confirmed Nuria Fernandez as the 15th administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Fernandez

Fernandez joined the Biden administration as deputy administrator of the agency on Jan. 21 and had served as the senior FTA official until her confirmation.

Her prior experience includes as general manager/CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), chief operating officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and senior VP of design and construction for the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. She also served as Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation, overseeing O’Hare and Midway airports.

Fernandez served as acting FTA administrator for the Bill Clinton administration in 1997 and is a past chair of the American Public Transportation Association from 2019-20.

INVEST Act passes committee with safety measures, including two-person crew, intact

After a session that began the morning of June 9 and carried on overnight into the pre-dawn hours of June 10, the INVEST in America Act passed out of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with two-person crew and other provisions important to SMART Transportation Division members intact.

“We are one step closer to success,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “This was a marathon session, but one that had the best possible outcome for our members. We thank the committee members for their work and now turn our focus to getting the legislation’s passage in the full House.”

The bill, H.R. 3684, a five-year, $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill, now moves to the full House for consideration after passing the committee 38-26. Two Republicans, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico, voted along with 36 Democrats on the committee to pass the bill.

Peter DeFazio, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, bangs the gavel after passage of the 2021 INVEST in America Act on June 10. (Screen capture from House T&I Committee YouTube)

“I commend my colleagues for their hard work helping craft these two bills to deliver what Americans expect and deserve: safe roads and bridges, reliable transit options and a robust passenger rail network, wastewater systems that aren’t on the brink of failure, and a commitment to address the existential threat of climate change,” said Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). “In many ways, the choice couldn’t be easier—because the best part of rebuilding our infrastructure for the modern era is the incredible opportunity for our nation that comes with it. We’re talking millions of good-paying jobs that can’t be exported, real and sustained support for U.S. manufacturing, and the chance to make our nation a world leader once again. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we can’t afford to miss.”

H.R. 3684 contains many provisions important to SMART-TD members.

The bill triples funding for Amtrak to $32 billion, allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes. Similar to a 2020 version of the bill, provisions of the legislation mandate two-person freight rail crews and take steps to address the problems of bus operator and transit worker assault as well as other issues faced by SMART-TD’s bus, rail and transit members.

Early Thursday, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania withdrew Amendment 091 that would have struck the two-person crew freight requirement.

Before his withdrawal, Perry argued in a glitchy video that Positive Train Control and technology made creating a federal crew standard unnecessary.

“It should be one or the other, not all the technology and then also with all the manpower. All it does is add additional cost to the freight rail system and the cost to consumers,” he said before his withdrawal.

The INVEST in America Act and how it protects TD members

A surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced June 4 by chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has a wide-reaching positive impact for members of the SMART Transportation Division.

Mostly mirroring the identically named INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last summer but died in the Republican-held Senate, the 2021 version known as H.R. 3684 is a $547 billion five-year surface transportation bill with a two-person freight crew provision and encompasses other issues important to all TD members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

The bill directs federal investments in roads, bridges, transit, and rail, re-imagines national transportation policies and helps put President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that invests in American workers and communities into motion.

“The benefits of transformative investments in our infrastructure are far-ranging: we can create and sustain good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree, restore our global competitiveness, tackle climate change head-on, and improve the lives of all Americans through modern infrastructure that emphasizes mobility and access, and spurs our country’s long-term economic growth,” DeFazio said.

Of particular importance to TD members are the portions of the INVEST in America Act that cover bus, transit and freight rail.

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

What follows is a recap of some of the provisions within the bill most important to SMART-TD members:

Amtrak

  • The bill triples funding for Amtrak to $32 billion, allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.

Bus

  • Creates a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) training center modeled on the successful National Transit Institute, but with a frontline employee mandate to focus on training for new technologies, safety and emergency preparedness.
  • Expands FTA’s safety plan to include a focus on passenger and personnel injuries, assaults, and fatalities; a risk management process to address transit worker assaults; a joint labor/management safety committee empowered to approve the safety plan; and a comprehensive frontline workforce training program on safety and de-escalation.
  • Prevents a transit agency from deploying an automated vehicle that duplicates, eliminates, or reduces the frequency of existing public transportation service or a mobility on demand service. Transit agencies considering transit automated vehicles and mobility on demand service are required to develop a workforce development plan describing how the automated vehicle will affect transit workers. Ensures transit workers are given fair notice if their job is jeopardized by a transit automated vehicle or mobility on demand service.
  • Authorizes FTA research on redesigning bus driver compartments to improve driver visibility, expand driver functionality, and reduce driver assault.
  • Directs the Transportation secretary to review the costs and benefits of requiring lap/shoulder belts in large school buses and to consider requiring seat belts in newly manufactured school buses. Requires newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with automatic emergency braking and electronic stability control systems. Directs the secretary to conduct research and testing on fire prevention and mitigation standards—including firewalls, fire suppression systems, and interior flammability and smoke emissions characteristics—for large school buses and consider issuing updated standards.

Freight rail

  • Requires the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) rescind any special permit or approval for the transport of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car issued before the date of enactment. Also prohibits DOT regulations on the transport of LNG by rail tank car from taking effect until DOT conducts a further safety evaluation. Directs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to initiate an evaluation of the safety, security, and environmental risks of transporting LNG by rail.
  • Improves rail safety by addressing highway-rail grade crossing needs.
  • Requires a study on the effects of long trains.
  • Requires FRA to increase its roster of rail safety inspectors by 20 percent.
  • Requires FRA to collect data on train length and crew size when an accident occurs.
  • Requires the creation of a standardized FRA safety investigation process.
  • Requires FRA to engage in a public process before granting waivers from, or suspensions of, railroad safety standards and regulations.
  • Creates a federal blocked crossing program to collect data and enforce a 10-minute blocked crossing limit.
  • Has a two-person crew freight train mandate that, like the 2020 bill, has some exemptions for short lines and train length. These are:
    • The train operations are not on a main line.
    • The train does not exceed a maximum speed of 25 mph on territory with an average track grade of less than 2% for any segment of track that is at least two continuous miles.
    • The locomotives are performing assistance to a train that has incurred mechanical failure or lacks the power to traverse difficult terrain, including to or from the location where assistance is provided.
    • The locomotives are not attached to any equipment (except a caboose) and do not travel further than 30 miles from a rail yard.
    • A location where one-person operations were being utilized one year prior to the date of enactment of this bill, only if the DOT Secretary determines that the operation achieves an equivalent level of safety.

    Short-line exception
    In addition to the above, a train may be operated with a reduced crew, if the carrier has fewer than 400,000 total employee work hours annually and an annual revenue of less than $20,000,000.

    A train must be operated by a two-person crew (no exception), if:

    • It is transporting one or more loaded cares carrying material toxic by inhalation.
    • It is carrying 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block.
    • It has 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid throughout its consist.
    • It is 7,500 feet in length or longer.
  • Has a cross-border provision for the southern border of the U.S.
  • Makes yardmaster employees subject to FRA’s hours of service protections.
  • Directs the FRA to take such actions as are necessary to ensure that certain older air brake control valves are phased out on rail cars operating in cold regions of the United States, an issue brought to light by SMART-TD leadership in 2019.
  • Directs the DOT to require railroad carriers to regularly report on failures of positive train control (PTC) systems.
  • Directs the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule on fatigue management plans within one year.

Transit

  • Establishes a working group to improve the musculoskeletal health of transit and commercial vehicle drivers by developing stronger ergonomic seating standards in transit and commercial vehicles. Requires the working group to compare design standards for women to those for men.
  • Provides funding for corridor planning and development of high-speed rail projects, reducing traffic congestion and shortening travel times.
  • Requires passenger and commuter railroad carriers to implement response plans and employee training in order to address assaults against both passengers and employees. The section also requires railroads to report annual assault data to FRA.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up by the U.S. House on June 9.

Read a section-by-section summary of the 2021 INVEST in America Act. (PDF)
Read the bill. (PDF)
Read a fact sheet about the bill. (PDF)