Archive for the ‘Amtrak’ Category

Remembering Martin Luther King’s legacy

SMART-TD shares with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the dream that men and women should be judged not by the color of their skin, their nationality or religious beliefs, but by the content of their hearts.

King’s brilliance, vision, leadership and ultimate personal sacrifice shifted the course of American history by shedding light and bringing hope to a nation marred by racism, ignorance and inequality.

King’s work and his words brought the promise of justice, hope and freedom to people of color and to the oppressed everywhere. His words still ring as powerfully, relevant and true today as they did more than 50 years ago:

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

–- From Martin Luther King’s historic speech delivered Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Read King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety here.

Watch highlights of King’s speech.

Read an article about King and his connections with labor.

TD leadership applauds confirmation of Amit Bose to lead FRA

Amit Bose, who has been serving the Biden administration as acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) since February 2021, was confirmed Jan. 12 by the U.S. Senate to become full administrator. This was a bi-partisan vote 68-29.

From left, SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Nick Katich, Michigan SLD Don Roach, Amtrak employee Stefan Schweitzer, then-FRA Deputy Administrator Amit Bose, TD Local 168 (Chicago, Ill.) member Keisha Hamb-Grover and Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy stand at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 13. Bose was confirmed Jan. 12 as full administrator of the FRA.

Bose’s nomination by President Joe Biden had been put on hold by Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida after it had cleared the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Oct. 20, 2021.

“We are pleased and excited to continue our collaboration with Administrator Bose and the FRA as we press ahead on important safety issues such as regulating freight crew size,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said. “Our National Legislative Department and other members of our legislative team have had numerous conversations with Administrator Bose while serving in an acting capacity. We look to build upon the positive relationship that’s been established and on the progress that has been made already, and we congratulate him on his overdue confirmation.”

During his tenure, Bose already has shown that rail labor’s input will be sought, rather than disregarded by FRA. Under the Biden administration, FRA has publicly announced that it plans to reopen the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the regulation of a minimum freight crew size.

Bose was a guest during the October call of SMART-TD state legislative directors and made it clear that the agency will prioritize cooperative efforts between labor and the federal government such as the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), the newly rechartered Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) and Fatality Analysis of Maintenance-of-way Employees and Signalmen group.

“The lines of communication between labor and FRA have been open ever since his nomination,” National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. “We’ve had productive dialogue from the start with Administrator Bose — rail safety is back on the table.”

Bose has years of experience serving in the public sector. He has served two stints as FRA deputy administrator, and has served as FRA chief counsel, USDOT associate general counsel and USDOT deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs including with former Federal Railroad Administrator and SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo of Local 1290 (Chicago).

In addition to living along the Northeast Corridor in West Windsor, N.J., and working for New Jersey Transit, Bose helped establish and later served on the Northeast Corridor Commission. He also participated in structuring the commission’s cost allocation policy, helped the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) deliver a $2.5 billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing (RRIF) loan to Amtrak for its next generation of Acela rail cars, and worked on the environmental review of a number of projects.

Holiday message from TD President Jeremy Ferguson

Brothers and sisters,

One of our organization’s main goals this past year was to take the lead.

We have done that by making progress on numerous fronts — technologically, organizationally and contractually. While the results have not been rapid or easily gained, our focus on the work at hand and our solidarity are helping us to break through. There’s evidence of this in every member with whom I’ve met this year. We are laying the foundation for greatness, one step at a time. It’s a long process, but we all will be proud of the results in the end.

No doubt, the past two years have tested us, but it’s that core concern for each other — the solidarity that unites this union and the labor movement at large — that can overcome all challenges and setbacks. Whatever the future throws at us, it pales in comparison to our collective strength.

This next year will bring more improvements and chances for us to lead — locally, regionally and nationally. There will be more chances to educate, communicate, organize and protect. With your involvement and your support, what we can accomplish is limitless.

Please be safe this holiday season, and remember that, historically, from the week before Thanksgiving to the week after New Year’s Day is the most-dangerous time of the year regarding transportation accidents, injuries and fatalities. Please stay focused and vigilant at work, and let us continue to take care of each other!

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

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

Fraternally,

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

SMART-TD, BLET suits seek immediate halt to Amtrak vaccine mandate

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (Dec. 9, 2021) — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) yesterday filed motions for a preliminary injunction, seeking to immediately halt a unilaterally implemented vaccine mandate imposed by Amtrak, and require the carrier to negotiate over the issue.

Through the motions, SMART-TD and BLET seek to restore and preserve the status quo that was in place prior to the implementation of the mandate.

This action is a follow-up to two November 23rd complaints filed by SMART-TD and BLET against Amtrak. In those suits, the unions allege, among other things, that the carrier’s unilaterally implemented vaccine mandate is a direct violation of the Railway Labor Act. The carrier made no effort to bargain with the unions over their vaccine mandate, or the effects of the mandate, despite the fact that the parties have long been engaged in negotiations for successor agreements, and that all parties have a duty to maintain the status quo regarding working conditions during such negotiations.

The SMART-TD and the BLET are actively embroiled in similar lawsuits with four other rail carriers: BNSF, Metra, Norfolk Southern (NS), and Union Pacific (UP). The litigation is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

In related news, two district courts have recently blocked enforcement of vaccine mandates for federal contractors. Most recently, on December 7, U.S. District Judge Stan Baker in Savannah, Ga., issued a nationwide injunction which temporarily halts the vaccine mandate issued by the Biden administration through an Executive Order.

SMART-TD and BLET will continue to monitor this case and other related legal challenges to determine if there is any impact on rail carriers.

President Ferguson and President Pierce issued the following joint statement: “The language contained in the Railway Labor Act is clear cut, and the carriers’ unilateral implementation of their vaccine mandates without negotiating with the union is a direct violation of the Railway Labor Act. We will continue to stand up for the rights of our members.”

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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 crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Senate confirms Deidre Hamilton to NMB

The U.S. Senate in a 52-48 vote Dec. 7 confirmed labor attorney Deidre Hamilton to the National Mediation Board (NMB), shifting control of the the government body that facilitates labor-management relations in the aviation and rail industries to a 2-to-1 Democratic margin.

Hamilton

Nominated by President Joe Biden in April, Hamilton bring more than two decades of labor expertise to the NMB. She has significant experience before the federal courts and the NMB on a wide range of legal issues including union elections, mediation, contract enforcement, and major and minor dispute claims, and has amassed an in-depth knowledge of the Railway Labor Act. Her most recent experience has been in the legal department of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters where she began working with the Airline Division in 2014.

The two other current NMB members, Democrat Linda Puchala and Republican Gerald Fauth, were nominated to new four-year terms by Biden in July. Their nominations have not yet been considered by the Senate.

Two Republican senators crossed party lines to vote with the 50 Democrats to approve Hamilton’s nomination.

SMART-TD, BLET join to fight Amtrak on COVID mandate

CLEVELAND (Nov. 23, 2021) — The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are challenging Amtrak over its actions in implementing its COVID-19 vaccine policy without the bargaining mandated by the Railway Labor Act. The unions filed suit today against the nation’s passenger railroad in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

The suit is similar to claims filed by the SMART-TD and BLET against Union Pacific (UP) and Norfolk Southern (NS) and the BNSF Railway (BNSF) regarding their vaccine policies. The unions have taken the position that Amtrak has no authority to unilaterally implement and enforce a COVID vaccination mandate among its employees, and that its actions in failing to negotiate terms of implementation violate the status quo requirement of the Railway Labor Act, thus engendering a major dispute.

SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis Pierce issued the following joint statement regarding their action:

“Amtrak has ordered all employees to submit proof prior to December 8, 2021, that they have received at least one vaccine shot, and submit proof by January 4, 2022, that they have received their final vaccine shot, or they will be subject to termination of employment. Amtrak is directly dealing with its employees instead of negotiating with us over its unilateral mandate.

“We have several objections to Amtrak’s unilateral implementation of its policies mandating them and illegally dealing directly with its represented employees. We will continue to fight on behalf of all SMART–TD and BLET members in an effort to stop Amtrak’s lawlessness in its tracks.”

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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 crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

ERMA Lifetime Maximum Benefit to increase in 2022

The lifetime maximum benefit for the Railroad Employees National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit (ERMA or GA-46000) Plan will increase from $175,700 to $182,700 beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

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

In conjunction with the formula established in 2001, a new lifetime maximum was calculated by utilizing the October 2021 consumer price index (CPI) data for Hospital and Related Services and Physician Services. The result is a lifetime maximum for 2022 of $182,700.

For individuals who have reached the lifetime maximum, the incremental maximum available is applied to eligible expenses submitted for dates of service on or after the effective date of the new maximum. For 2022, this amount will be $7,000.

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

Peter DeFazio introduces bill to protect workers, passengers from harm on transit

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced the Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act (H.R. 5706) Oct. 25, legislation to help protect passengers and personnel from sexual assault and harassment in different modes of transportation that includes the creation of new civil penalties that would apply to physical assaults or threats against Amtrak employees and other covered transportation workers.

“When it comes to the transportation of people, safety must always come first, and that includes protecting people from sexual harassment and assault,” Chair DeFazio said. “With this legislation, we can make important strides toward adequately training personnel, establishing formal policies against sexual assault and harassment, and facilitating the reporting of these incidents. In addition, my bill would help the public understand the scope of this problem by establishing the first-ever federal clearinghouse for transportation-related sexual assault and harassment data. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this legislation signed into law so we can help stop sexual violence and abuse on our roads, on our waters, on our trains, and in our skies.”

This legislation will help prevent sexual assaults and sexual harassment on airplanes, buses, passenger vessels, commuter and intercity passenger railroads, taxis and ride-sharing vehicles. Specifically, it would require covered companies to establish formal policies against sexual assault and harassment, facilitate the reporting of sexual assault and harassment incidents, establish civil penalties for individuals who physically or sexually assault—or threaten to assault—transportation personnel, and require the Department of Transportation to collect and publicly share data on the number of sexual assault or harassment incidents reported by transportation companies covered under the bill. The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (AFL-CIO TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, is among the entities that have issued endorsements of the bill.

Last Congress, Chair DeFazio introduced similar legislation that unanimously passed the House of Representatives.

Original co-sponsors of H.R. 5706 include:

  • Julia Brownley (D-CA)
  • Salud Carbajal (D-CA)
  • Andre Carson (D-IN)
  • Adriano Espaillat (D-NY)
  • Jared Huffman (D-CA)
  • Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
  • Rick Larsen (D-WA)
  • Alan Lowenthal (D-CA)
  • Stephen Lynch (D-MA)
  • Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY)
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
  • Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ)
  • Albio Sires (D-NJ)
  • Dina Titus (D-NV)

Read the bill’s text.
A fact sheet about the legislation.

RRB: Railroad Retirement spouse benefits Q&A

In addition to the retirement annuities payable to railroad employees, the Railroad Retirement Act, like the Social Security Act, also provides annuities for some spouses of retired employees. Payment of a spouse annuity is made directly to the wife or husband of the employee. Divorced spouses may also qualify for benefits.

The following questions and answers describe the benefits payable to spouses and the eligibility requirements. Information regarding divorced spouses begins with question eight.

1. How are Railroad Retirement spouse annuities computed?

Regular Railroad Retirement annuities are computed under a two-tier formula.

The Tier I portion of an employee’s annuity is based on both Railroad Retirement credits and any Social Security credits that the employee earned. Computed using Social Security benefit formulas, an employee’s Tier I benefit approximates the Social Security benefit that would be payable if all of the employee’s work were performed under the Social Security Act.

The Tier II portion of the employee’s annuity is based on Railroad Retirement credits only, and may be compared to the retirement benefits paid over and above Social Security benefits to workers in other industries.

The spouse annuity formula is based on percentages of the employee’s Tier I and Tier II amounts. The first tier of a spouse annuity, before any applicable reductions, is 50% of the railroad employee’s unreduced Tier I amount. The second tier amount, before any reductions, is 45% of the employee’s unreduced Tier II amount.

2. How does a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity compare to a Social Security spouse benefit? 

The average annuity awarded to spouses in fiscal year 2020, excluding divorced spouses, was $1,130 a month, while the average monthly Social Security spouse benefit was about $744.

Annuities awarded in fiscal year 2020 to the spouses of employees who were of full retirement age or over and who retired directly from the rail industry with at least 25 years of service averaged $1,410 a month, and the average award to the spouses of employees retiring at age 60 or over with at least 30 years of service was $1,602 a month.

3. What are the age requirements for a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity?

The age requirements for a spouse annuity depend on the employee’s age, date of retirement and years of railroad service.

If a retired employee with 30 or more years of service is age 60 or older, the employee’s spouse is eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60. Certain early retirement reductions are applied if the employee first became eligible for an annuity July 1, 1984, or later and retired at ages 60 or 61 before 2002. If the employee was awarded a disability annuity, has attained age 60, and has 30 years of service, the spouse can receive an unreduced annuity the first full month she or he is age 60, regardless of whether the employee annuity began before or after 2002, as long as the spouse’s annuity beginning date is after 2001.

If a retired employee with less than 30 years of service is age 62 or older, the employee’s spouse is eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 62. Early retirement reductions are applied to the spouse annuity if the spouse retires prior to full retirement age. The full retirement age for a spouse is gradually rising to age 67, just as for an employee, depending on the year of birth. Reduced benefits are still payable at age 62, but the maximum reduction will be 35% rather than 25% by the year 2022. However, the Tier II portion of a spouse annuity will not be reduced beyond 25% if the employee had any creditable railroad service before August 12, 1983.

4. What if the spouse is caring for a child of the retired employee?

A spouse of an employee who is receiving an age and service annuity (or a spouse of a disability annuitant who is otherwise eligible for an age and service annuity) is eligible for a spouse annuity at any age if caring for the employee’s unmarried child, and the child is under age 18 or a disabled child of any age who became disabled before age 22.

5. What are some of the other general eligibility requirements for a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity?

The employee must have been married to the spouse for at least one year, unless the spouse is the natural parent of their child, or the spouse was eligible or potentially eligible for a Railroad Retirement widow(er)’s, parent’s or disabled child’s annuity in the month before marrying the employee or the spouse was previously married to the employee and received a spouse annuity.

6. Can the same-sex spouse of a railroad employee file for a Railroad Retirement spouse annuity? 

Yes, if the same-sex spouse meets current spouse annuity eligibility requirements and follows current application procedures.

7. Are spouse annuities subject to offset for the receipt of other benefits?

Yes. The Tier I portion of a spouse annuity is reduced for any Social Security entitlement, regardless of whether the Social Security benefit is based on the spouse’s own earnings, the employee’s earnings or the earnings of another person. This reduction follows principles of Social Security law which, in effect, limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.

The Tier I portion of a spouse annuity may also be reduced for receipt of any federal, state or local government pension separately payable to the spouse based on the spouse’s own earnings. The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the public service pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment. Most military service pensions and payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs will not cause a reduction. Pensions paid by a foreign government or interstate instrumentality will not cause a reduction. For spouses subject to a public service pension reduction, the Tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the public service pension.

In addition, there may be a reduction in the employee’s Tier I amount for receipt of a public pension based, in part or in whole, on employment not covered by Social Security or Railroad Retirement after 1956. If the employee’s Tier I benefit is offset for a non-covered service pension, the spouse Tier I amount is 50% of the employee’s Tier I amount after the offset.

The spouse Tier I portion may also be reduced if the employee is under age 65 and is receiving a disability annuity as well as worker’s compensation or public disability benefits.

While these offsets can reduce or even completely wipe out the Tier I benefit otherwise payable to a spouse, they do not affect the Tier II benefit potentially payable to that spouse.

8. How do the eligibility requirements and benefits differ for a divorced spouse?

A divorced spouse annuity may be payable to the divorced wife or husband of a retired employee if their marriage lasted for at least 10 consecutive years, both have attained age 62 for a full month, and the divorced spouse is not currently married. A divorced spouse can receive an annuity even if the employee has not retired, provided they have been divorced for a period of not less than two years, the employee and former spouse are at least age 62, and the employee is fully insured under the Social Security Act using combined railroad and Social Security earnings. Early retirement reductions are applied to the divorced spouse annuity if the divorced spouse retires prior to full retirement age. Full retirement age for a divorced spouse is gradually rising to age 67, depending on the year of birth.

A divorced spouse is also eligible for an annuity at any age if caring for the employee’s unmarried child, and the child is under age 18, or a disabled child of any age who became disabled before age 22, if the employee is deceased.

Unlike a regular spouse annuity, the divorced spouse annuity is computed under the single-Tier I formula. The amount of a divorced spouse’s annuity is, in effect, equal to what Social Security would pay in the same situation (Tier I only) and therefore less than the amount of the spouse annuity otherwise payable (Tier I and Tier II). The average divorced spouse annuity awarded in fiscal year 2020 was $768.

9. Would the award of an annuity to a divorced spouse affect the monthly annuity rate payable to a retired employee and/or the current spouse?

No. If a divorced spouse becomes entitled to an annuity based on the employee’s railroad service, the award of the divorced spouse’s benefit would not affect the amount of the employee’s annuity, nor would it affect the amount of the Railroad Retirement annuity that may be payable to the current spouse.

10. What if an employee and spouse/divorced spouse are both railroad employees?

If both started railroad employment after 1974, the amount of any spouse or divorced spouse annuity is reduced by the amount of the employee annuity to which the spouse is also entitled. If both the employee and spouse are qualified railroad employees and either had some railroad service before 1975, both can receive separate Railroad Retirement employee and spouse annuities, without a full dual benefit reduction.

11. Are Railroad Retirement annuities subject to garnishment or property settlements?

Yes. Certain percentages of any Railroad Retirement annuity (employee, spouse, divorced spouse or survivor) may be subject to legal process (i.e., garnishment) to enforce an obligation for child support and/or alimony payments.

Employee Tier II benefits and supplemental annuities are subject to court-ordered property divisions in proceedings related to divorce, annulment or legal separation. (Tier I benefits are not subject to property division.) A court-ordered property division payment may be paid even if the employee is not entitled to an annuity provided that the employee has 10 years of railroad service or five years after 1995 and both the employee and former spouse are at least age 62.

12. How can a person get more information about Railroad Retirement spouse and divorced spouse annuities?

Individuals with questions about Railroad Retirement spouse and divorced spouse annuities 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 representative, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772) between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each weekday, except Federal holidays. 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.

Passengers, crew safe after fatal shootout aboard Amtrak’s Sunset Limited

In this photo posted to Twitter by Evan Courtney, Local 84 member Terrence Dicks, in blue, the Amtrak conductor who was aboard the Sunset Limited during a fatal gun battle Oct. 4, comforts a Tucson police officer at the scene.

A DEA officer was killed, as was a suspect, and two other law enforcement officers were wounded when gunfire erupted inside Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train the morning of Oct. 4 while it was stopped at the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum in Tucson.

One suspect was in custody, according to media reports, and none of the 137 passengers or 11 crew members aboard the train were injured in the incident, which authorities said was precipitated by a routine search for illegal contraband and drugs aboard the train.

Video of the incident as it happened was captured by a live railfan cam at the museum station.

Terrence Dicks, a 20-year member of our union and a member of Local 84 (Los Angeles, Calif.) who was the conductor on the train when the gun battle happened, can be seen in a photo provided to The Associated Press and other media outlets on Twitter by passenger Evan Courtney providing comfort to a Tucson police officer who had responded to the scene.

The identities of the slain DEA agent, the injured officers nor the suspects were not released at the time of this article’s publication.

“We express our most heartfelt sorrow to the law enforcement brothers and sisters of the DEA agent who was killed in this senseless act of violence, and we wish for rapid recoveries for the two wounded officers,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We also express relief that the incident in Tucson did not result in additional casualties among the passengers and crew who were aboard the train.

“But that such an incident happened during a routine stop and search exposes a great flaw in the security measures currently used on our nation’s passenger rail system. We again call upon Congress to enact measures that bring the level of security screenings aboard the nation’s passenger trains to where they are in the nation’s airports.”

SMART-TD initially called for such measures by federal agencies soon after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the nation’s capital.

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.

N.J. SLD Sabol meets with DOT Secretary Buttigieg

 
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.

“They’re heroes.”

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.