As we mark a second Memorial Day in what we hope are the waning days of the coronavirus pandemic, let us all take the time to offer a measure of respect to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America.
Our union takes seriously the duty to show appreciation to members of the military, both living and no longer with us. We must remember all they have done for our country and, by extension, all of us in times of conflict and of tranquility. Their fights have preserved the freedoms established at our country’s founding and have enhanced the strength of our nation. The Memorial Day holiday serves as a great reminder to show our gratitude and respect.
At a time where we still battle a virulent enemy, please take some time to pause in remembrance of the debt we owe to our servicemen and -women in the United States Armed Forces who fought and sacrificed in defense of the freedoms of our country that are too easily taken for granted.
It is hard to believe that 2020 is in the rearview mirror and we are already approaching the mid-point of 2021. The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) is still operating in a remote capacity with field offices closed to the public. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I will be writing to advise you of plans for getting back to normal operations. Today, however, I am writing to share a friendly reminder with you about action which every active employee should take on an annual basis – and may be of particular importance this year to some, in light of the unique work circumstances many encountered.
Each year, on or before the last day of February, employers must report service and compensation for each employee who performed compensated service in the preceding calendar year. The RRB, in turn, credits the service and compensation records of individual employees based upon these reports and in June of every year, the RRB releases Form BA-6 to each employee for which compensated service for the preceding year was reported. The Form BA-6 contains the information recently reported for the preceding year, as well as the information reported for three preceding years. For example, the Forms BA-6 which will be released by the RRB in mid-June of 2021 will contain service and compensation reported for the years 2017 through 2020. Regardless of the amount earned, the amount of compensation shown on the Form BA-6 will always be limited by the maximum creditable Tier I compensation amount for the calendar year. For calendar years 2017 through 2020, the maximum amounts creditable are $127,200, $128,400, $132,900 and $137,700, respectively. In addition to showing the creditable compensation for the years 2017 through 2020, the Form BA-6 issued in mid-June of 2021 will show the months for which the employer reported railroad service for the employee during the years 2017-2020.
It is critical that individual employees review their annual Forms BA-6 to make sure that all the information contained on the form is accurate. For example, in addition to validating the creditable compensation, it is important to check to see if the employer properly reported the months for which credit was given by the employer for a month of railroad service. Every month for which you believe you should have credit for railroad service should be coded with a “1”. If the code is “0”, you will not receive credit for any railroad service for that month. If the code is “D” then you will receive credit for railroad service pursuant to the rules governing the deeming of service months.
Employees who received pay for time lost, especially as a result of arbitration proceedings, during the years 2017 through 2020 are reminded of the importance of checking their Forms BA-6. RRB regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 209.15(b) provide that compensation which is pay for time lost must be reported with respect to the year in which the time and compensation were lost. However, it is not uncommon for the individuals responsible for completing reports of service and compensation to be unfamiliar with how to report pay for time lost, or to lack awareness that the compensation they are reporting reflects pay for time lost. As a result, the compensation is mistakenly reported for the year paid AND the service months for which the time and compensation were lost are not credited as railroad service months. Situations where this is most likely to occur are arbitration decisions resulting in the employee being reinstated with all rights and benefits unimpaired and receiving compensation for lost time.
REMEMBER: The law limits the period during which corrections to service and compensation records may be filed to four years from the date the report was due at the RRB, so it is very important for employees to request a correction within that period of time. Any railroad employee who thinks that the Form BA-6 contains an error should be certain to follow the directions on how to file with the RRB a protest of the information contained on the Form BA-6.
This popular program has become a critical resource to RRB customers and employees alike. It helps promote a better understanding of our benefit programs among the railroad community, and in turn, improves the effectiveness of our benefit program operations.
While we typically conduct several seminars across the country annually, we are currently unable to hold in-person events because of COVID-19.
To access the video online, visit RRB.gov/PRS and click on View Pre-Retirement Seminar Presentation. Because we cover several aspects of Railroad Retirement benefits in great detail, the entire presentation is over an hour long. View shorter segments of the program by selecting a seminar topic on the same web page. Available topics include: Retired Employee and Spouse Benefits, Spouse Annuities, Working After Retirement, Survivor Benefits, and Items Affecting All Retirement and Survivor Benefits.
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the nation, nearly all intercity passenger transportation ceased almost overnight. In 2020, air carriers ferried their fewest passengers in three decades, registering months with as much as 96% fewer boardings compared to the prior year. Amtrak saw its ridership decrease 97% as business travel along the profitable Northeast Corridor evaporated. As many as 800 motorcoach companies shuttered, and cruise lines ceased all operations in compliance with CDC orders. While the federal government has taken important steps to mitigate the devastation caused to transportation services, employees and communities, in many corners of the nation these effects have been catastrophic. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is imperative that we begin flying, riding and traveling again—and that we do so safely. Our national economic recovery, and the livelihoods of millions of transportation workers, depends on it.
The most essential factor in the restoration of passenger transportation is the promise that travel will be safe and that COVID-19 risks have been properly mitigated for passengers and frontline transportation workers. We wholeheartedly applauded President Biden’s common-sense Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, which came during one of the darkest stages of the pandemic. At a time when new daily COVID-19 cases averaged over 150,000 and the vaccines were not available to the vast majority of Americans, this order mandated the wearing of masks on many forms of transportation for both workers and passengers. While enforcement has proven to be challenging at many transportation operations, this standard must remain in place until COVID-19 has been defeated.
Perhaps more important is the ongoing need to complete the most ambitious mass-vaccination campaign in world history. While mask usage and current levels of inoculation have begun to bear fruit in terms of passenger volume, many more vaccinations are required before travel across modes returns to pre-COVID levels. In this regard, there are three tenets of vaccination efforts that must be realized.
First, transportation workers, including flight crews, conductors, drivers and other at-risk employees must have access to vaccines. As of April 21, 2021, all states are allowing any adult to receive a vaccine, but in many cases rollouts have been uneven, and challenges have persisted particularly for employees who are frequently away from their place of residence where they qualify for vaccines. States and employers should continue to focus on making sure that the workers who put their lives on the line each day to keep intercity transportation running have the ability to receive vaccines, and should pursue remedies where challenges in doing so have arisen.
Secondly, to further stimulate demand for domestic travel, it is essential that efforts to vaccinate the population broadly continue unabated. We are encouraged by the rates at which Americans are currently being vaccinated and we are optimistic for the sustained upward trajectory required for a return to normalcy.
Finally, such a return will also require international efforts. For both the safety of flight crews who travel through foreign airports and cities, and for renewed demand for international business and tourist travel, conquering the virus globally is also essential. This effort must not be neglected.
Over the last year, Congress recognized the crisis looming for intercity passenger transportation and its workforce, implementing a series of programs and emergency spending intended to keep workers on payroll and connected to critical benefits like healthcare, and to prevent against an economic collapse triggered by a wave of bankruptcies of major U.S. companies. These measures have been a vital lifeline and their continuing implementation will be instrumental in the return of intercity passenger service.
For airlines and airline contractors, the Payroll Support Program (PSP) has been extremely successful in protecting employees from the brunt of the rapid drop in air travel due to the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of employees have continued to be able to pay their bills and seek medical care due to the program. Treasury should continue to disperse funds appropriated for the PSP, including through the American Rescue Plan, and continue to observe the firewall between government assistance and employee collective bargaining agreements included in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
Amtrak has also received substantial funding through COVID legislation, which will ensure that the rail carrier and its workforce are prepared to respond to increased demand as the pandemic abates. The American Rescue Plan required Amtrak to restore its long-distance service and recall all furloughed employees within 90 days — smartly ensuring that relief was directed to employees and service maintenance. The restoration of long-distance service, reduced to three times a week from pre-COVID daily service on most routes revitalizes critical connections between urban hubs and rural communities, and promotes the future of these lines by underscoring their reliability and consistent presence to the riders who rely on them. The recall of approximately 1,200 furloughed employees and prohibitions on further furloughs will not only benefit workers on the unemployment lines, but is required to meet the service demands that we hope and expect to see shortly. Amtrak must act to restore its service and employees in an expeditious manner, and should seek to comply with statutory requirements well in advance of Congress’ deadlines.
In the second COVID relief bill, H.R. 133, Congress wisely included the CERTS Act, which sought to provide funding to transportation entities that had previously received aid, including school bus contractors, non-transit ferry services and motorcoach operators. Despite its passage on December 27 of last year, the Trump administration Treasury took no actions to make the grants available to entities that badly needed them. We call on the Treasury to dispense these grants as soon as possible. This is particularly necessary given the dire straits the motorcoach industry currently finds itself in. Motorcoach operators previously provided over 500 million passenger trips per year, serving both urban and rural travelers. However, given how many companies have already closed their doors, or are on the precipice of doing so, if aid is not promptly dispersed, the post-COVID economy may find itself deeply lacking in critical intercity passenger bus service.
While Congress correctly did not provide direct aid to cruise line operators who have chosen to flag their vessels in foreign countries, the resumption of cruise line service is important for the recovery of cruise port cities like Miami, and the thousands of longshore workers who prepare these vessels for voyage. We call on the CDC to only revise its No-Sail Order when it is deemed safe to do so. We also urge the CDC to consider the health and safety of longshore workers in any future guidance on the resumption of cruise line travel.
Finally, one of the most impactful actions the federal government can take to restore intercity passenger transportation is passing legislation that makes bold investments in our nation’s infrastructure, which this body has consistently called for. There is a real opportunity right now for the federal government to make the types of generational investments into our transportation systems that will not only help us recover economically and restore passenger transportation to pre-COVID levels, but also to build a system that can once again be the envy of the world. We can modernize and upgrade across every mode, and expand service throughout the country, especially to communities that have historically been underserved. In doing so we can rebuild our economy, create jobs and support the millions of transportation workers who keep America moving.
The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (TTD) is a coalition of 33 member unions, including the SMART Transportation Division, that provides a bold voice for workers in every mode of transportation – both in the private and public sector – and is devoted to protecting middle-class jobs, expanding collective bargaining, and ensuring modern, safe, and secure transportation operations and infrastructure.
The order implements President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 13998, Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, “to save lives and allow all Americans, including the millions of people employed in the transportation industry, to travel and work safely.”
In an announcement of the order sent to Federal Railroad Administration stakeholders and partners on Jan. 31, an agency representative wrote the following: “Science-based measures are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing is one of several proven life-saving measures including physical distancing, appropriate ventilation and timely testing that can reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Requiring masks will protect America’s transportation workers and passengers, help control the transmission of COVID-19, and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”
In addition to the CDC order, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates issuing additional information and guidance.
This form will become the primary tool to report and collect data concerning unsafe working conditions, including COVID-19 issues, from all members. Organizational information such as Craft, Local, Carrier, State Legislative Director and General Committee are loaded based on a member’s selection using defined database values, ensuring an accurate submission so that the officers responsible for acting on the report are directly and timely informed.
Members are presented a default list of safety hazards (including COVID-19) to choose along with identifying the state and location of the unsafe condition. Additionally, the form will dynamically update based on the members’ input, creating a customized report. After submission, an automated email to the General Chairperson and State Legislative Director with jurisdiction is sent as an initial notification. Full details of the Safety Condition Report are then accessed by these officers via the TD Connect portal along with printing and exporting capabilities for further collaboration with Local officers so that the unsafe conditions can be addressed.
It is important to note that the data collected by this Safety Condition Report and the information within are kept and used solely within our SMART Union computer system and are used by SMART-TD officers to assist in addressing the issues presented by members.
“Membership safety and well-being is a founding principal of this Union, but we cannot assist without being properly informed of the unsafe issues facing our fellow brothers and sisters.” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson stated. “These reports are to enhance our safety efforts as many carriers lack proper and effective reporting mechanisms. Our SMART Constitution lists safety as our local legislative representatives’ primary mission, stating ‘They shall report to their Locals regarding the handling of all alleged unsafe or unsanitary working conditions found to exist, or reported to them, within their jurisdiction. They shall undertake to correct such conditions through appropriate measures consistent with the local and national policies of the Transportation Division.’ Therefore, we ask that you also forward this information as soon as possible to your local legislative representative or other SMART Union officer for proper handling. If you are unsure who they are or how to contact them, please contact our office.
“It is imperative that we all accept the personal responsibility to properly document known unsafe conditions, acts and security concerns. If more people would take the time to do this we could, over time, address most of the long-standing concerns we have. Without documentation, nothing will ever change — the issues and concerns will continue to remain and often grow until a very unfortunate situation such as an injury, accident or fatality brings to light what many knew was a problem long ago but failed to address.”
The union’s chief of staff hopes that the use of this form brings hazards that have been taken for granted or tolerated by workers to light.
“Sadly, we hear one particular scenario too often,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Someone says, ‘That has been an issue for a long time’ or ‘Everyone knows that is a problem’ at a particular property. Yet everyone assumes that someone else has written the unsafe condition up and unfortunately, no one has. The issue remains and the carriers use that against us by stating the very same thing — ‘That has been like that forever, and no one has said anything or taken issue with it.’
“This online reporting process is here to change that. Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough. Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”
The Safety Condition Report is accessible directly from the SMART-TD home page as both a banner and as a menu item — look for the blinking yellow caution signal.
“Please assist us with assisting you,” President Ferguson said. “All of our members deserve safe working conditions on the job and to return home safely. If there is an issue you want to report — report it.”
Shortly before I joined the union in the mid 1990s, I served with the U.S. Army for three years in service to our country. I know I am not alone in this distinction as many of our union brothers and sisters in the SMART Transportation Division served in the military, and some continue to bravely serve.
Sharing that bond with the veterans in our union, and long before I was elected president of our union, I noticed that some recognition of our veterans’ service was long overdue. SMART-TD has not accumulated any definitive records about our members who have served in the military — whether they served, what branch they served, when they served. This is an oversight we are looking to correct by asking our members to update their veteran’s status by using a new Member Info Update form on the union website.
By updating your information, as a veteran, you will be eligible for future exclusive programs and information focused on veterans. The first step of this process was taken April 20 of this year with the addition of a Veteran Services page to the TD website. There will be more steps to come, but we first need to record who our veterans are in order to get the information out there and to better target our communications.
This project is close to my heart and a long time coming. I hope you will voluntarily participate by updating your information. Your union wants to recognize the sacrifices of all of our veterans and to better serve all those who served our country.
Thank you for your time. Thank you for your service. And please stay safe!
Jeremy R. Ferguson President – Transportation Division U.S. Army: 1988-1991
SMART Transportation Division members are reminded that elections are scheduled to be held this autumn to fill the three-year Local officer positions described by the SMART Constitution’s Article 21B, Section 56.
Positions include President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer, Collector (where applicable) and the three-member Board of Trustees. In addition, any existing vacancies (except for those in the positions of Delegate or Alternate Delegate) should be addressed during these elections.
As per the Constitution’s Article 21B, Section 57, nomination meetings are held in October, with election tabulations conducted in November. Special instructions are provided below for Locals unable to hold a nomination meeting due to COVID-19 related restrictions.
Winning candidates assume their offices on January 1, 2021. If they are filling a vacancy, however, they take office immediately.
Candidates must garner a simple majority of valid votes cast to win election to any elective Transportation Division office. (A simple majority can be thought of as 50 percent of votes, plus at least one more vote.)
The process begins
For the Local’s Secretary or Secretary-Treasurer, the election process begins with an effort to update the membership roster, ensuring accurate addresses are on file for each member. Our Constitution’s Article 21B, Section 49, requires each member to keep the Local Secretary and Treasurer advised of his or her current home address. At the same time, U.S. Department of Labor regulations and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) require the Local to take steps to update addresses in advance of an election.
Even if your Local conducts a floor election, where voting takes place at a physical location rather than by mail, it’s important that your address is up to date. Your Local Secretary (or Secretary-Treasurer, as the case may be) needs to mail a notice to all active members of the local to advise them, at least 15 days in advance of tabulation, that an election is to take place. The notice will indicate when and where voting will take place. (Postcards for this purpose are available for purchase from the Transportation Division’s Supply Department.)
If the Local is conducting its election by mail, the ballot itself must be mailed out at least 15 days in advance of the date of tabulation, as the ballot serves as the notice of the election.
The Secretary must post a notice at least 10 days in advance of the October nomination meeting indicating when and where nominations for affected positions will take place. They need not mail this notice directly to members.
Nominations may be made by any member in good standing from the floor at the nomination meeting. Nominations do not require being seconded. Any member eligible to vote may self-nominate. If a member wishes to self-nominate or nominate someone else, but can’t attend the meeting, nominations can be entered through a petition. A nomination petition must state the name of the nominee, the position for which the member is being nominated, and must carry at least five signatures of members in good standing. No nominations can be accepted following the close of the nomination meeting.
When a nomination meeting cannot be held due to COVID-19-related restrictions, a notice of nominations must still be posted at all locations where the Local’s members report for duty a minimum of ten (10) days prior to the deadline for nominating petitions to be submitted. Instead of including information pertaining to the time and location of a nomination meeting, the notice should set a specific date and time whereby nominations will be closed, and must include the Local Secretary’s pertinent contact information along with instructions for submitting written nominations. In situations where nomination meetings cannot be held, it is permissible for the Secretary to accept nominations submitted in writing, via hand delivery, text, email, and/or USPS mail.
With respect to choosing a deadline for nominations, typically, this would be determined by the members present at a regular or special meeting of the Local. Where it is not feasible to hold such a meeting, the Local President, Secretary, and Treasurer should all agree on a nomination deadline that works best. As noted, the minimum mandatory notice for nominations is ten (10) days. However, given the circumstances, we recommend giving more notice. Most Locals choose a time period that is closer to thirty (30) days in advance.
If only one member is nominated for a position, that member can be declared elected by acclamation.
The scheduled elections held this autumn offer an opportunity to fill other vacancies which may exist. If the vacant position is a Local Committee of Adjustment (LCA) position, only members of that LCA are eligible to make nominations for the position and to vote in that election. In locals having more than one LCA for different crafts, the secretary will provide a separate ballot for all eligible voters of each craft working under the jurisdiction of the committee involved. Any member in good standing with seniority in one of the crafts represented by the LCA may be a candidate for an office in that LCA.
To be eligible to vote, all dues and assessments must be paid within the time frame specified by the constitution. Article 21B, Section 49, indicates dues are to be paid in advance, before the first day of the month in which they are due. Eligibility to make nominations or to be nominated is similar. This means, for example, if the nomination meeting is in October, the nominator and the nominee must have paid all dues obligations prior to October 1. To vote in November, the voter must have paid all dues obligations prior to November 1.
Those in so-called E-49 status are eligible to run for office, but they cannot make nominations and they cannot vote. If elected, acceptance of pay from the company or the union creates a dues obligation.
As previously noted, candidates must garner a simple majority of valid votes cast to win election.
When it comes to handling elections for the Board of Trustees, instructions on the ballot should be included above the candidates’ names telling the voter: “Vote for three candidates.” Each member of the three-member Board of Trustees must be elected by a majority of votes cast, a requirement which frequently results in the need for runoff elections. The rule of thumb in such runoffs is that for each open position, which must be filled, two candidates will compete.
For example, if nine candidates run for a position on the Board of Trustees, and 200 valid ballots have been cast and counted in the first round of the election, each successful candidate must receive at least 101 votes. If no candidate receives at least 101 votes, a runoff must be held.
The runoff would include two candidates for each open position. In the above example, this means the three candidates with the lowest vote totals are dropped from the ballot, and the names of six candidates appear on the runoff ballot. In the runoff, if only one candidate attains a majority of votes that means one of the three positions was filled, and there remain two Trustee positions to fill, with five remaining candidates. Of those five remaining candidates, the candidate with the lowest vote total would be dropped from the ballot, and another ballot would be issued with four candidate’s names (because there are two positions to be filled).”
Members are encouraged to consult Article 21B of the SMART Constitution for information regarding elections. Unless an item within Article 21B directs you to a further stipulation outside of Article 21B, only the provisions found within Article 21B are applicable to Transportation Division elections. The Local election process is addressed directly by Article 21B, Section 57.
Election information and guidelines have been distributed to all Transportation Division Local Presidents and Local Secretaries, as well as to General Chairpersons, State and District Legislative Directors and Transportation Division International Officers.
The following is a brief description of the duties of the various Local officer positions.
The Local President presides at all meetings of the Local, enforces the provisions of the Constitution and bylaws of the Local and exercises general supervision over the Local’s affairs. The President ensures that Local officers respond to inquiries from the International, and with the Secretary and/or Treasurer, files all reports required by federal, state or local laws. The President may speak on any subject before the Local, but may not vote except, in case of a tie vote, casts the deciding ballot.
The Local Vice President succeeds the Local President and fulfills the remainder of the three-year term if the Local President resigns, retires, becomes incapacitated, dies, or for some reason cannot fulfill the requirements of the position. Also, if the Local President cannot attend a Local meeting, the Vice President presides at regular Local meetings.
In most Locals, the offices of Secretary and Treasurer have been combined. The Local Secretary keeps an accurate record of all Local proceedings, receives all communications, conducts correspondence and is in charge of the Local seal and Local records. The Secretary performs the duties of the Local Treasurer in Locals that do not provide for the separation of the offices of Secretary and Treasurer.
The Treasurer receives all monies due to be collected by the Local and provides receipts, except in cases where the Local maintains the office of collector. The treasurer holds and keeps secure all Local funds and is bonded. The Treasurer also keeps an accurate account of all receipts and expenditures of the Local on forms provided for that purpose. The Treasurer shall also remit all monies due the International to the General Secretary-Treasurer each month.
In a few instances, Locals of 50 or more members maintain the office of Collector. The Local Collector receives all money due the Local and provides receipts. Prior to the first day of each month, the Collector reports to the Local Treasurer all the money received during the current month and gives the amount collected to the Local Treasurer.
The Local Board of Trustees supervises the financial affairs of the Local. Upon approval by the Local, the Board has authority to rent, lease, or purchase property, office equipment or other necessary supplies. The Board meets in January of each year for the purpose of auditing the annual report of the Treasurer and verifying bank balances and cash on hand.
There are many provisions not covered by this article, including those that address candidates’ rights and permitted means of campaigning. Those with election questions are urged to call the Transportation Division President’s Department at 216-228-9400. It’s always easier to address issues in advance than after the fact.
As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020. In an announcement dated June 17, 2020, we advised that the Plan would be extending the waiver for three (3) more months through August 2020.
We are pleased to announce that the waiver of the elimination period is extended through November 30, 2020. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March through November 2020, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after December 1, 2020.
We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.
Board of Trustees Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr.,
General President SMART
Mr. Jeremy Ferguson,
President-SMART Transportation Division
Mr. Joseph Powell,
General Secretary-Treasurer SMART
The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201
Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.
Dear Secretary Chao:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry, I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.
While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.
These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.  The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.
As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage. DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines  and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations. Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.
Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them. In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. 
Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive. While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.
This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.
However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.
We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.” In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.
Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”.  The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.
While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.
In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:
“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.
We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.
While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”
To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.
Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department
 Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.
 To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.
 TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.
 For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01
 For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators
 Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.
 Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.
 Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.
 71 FR 8042
As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020.
We are pleased to announce that the Plan will be extending this waiver for three (3) more months through August 2020. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March through August 2020, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after September 1, 2020.
We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.
Board of Trustees
Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr., General President SMART
Mr. Jeremy Ferguson, President-SMART Transportation Division
Mr. Joseph Powell, General Secretary-Treasurer SMART
The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201
Locals not holding their meetings in June may continue to pay authorized expenses via the process outlined by this office in the March 17, 2020, circular. This advised officers and members seeking membership approval of expense submissions to utilize a version of a procedure that was previously available only to Local Chairpersons. For exact details and procedures, please reference the March circular. A copy of the claim form to be used can be obtained via TD Connect or by contacting this office.
Reimbursement for expenses via the five-signature claim form is only to be sought after fulfilling a legitimate duty of office, pursuing a matter as adopted and directed by the membership, or in fulfilling an assignment at the direction of an officer with authority over
the matter in question. It is not for members or officers to unilaterally assign themselves duties or make purchases and then seek a disbursement from the Local or the LCA.
As a reminder, there is no mechanism available for “official” meetings to be held via video conference. Among other concerns, such meetings pose a challenge to the constitutional requirement to keep the union’s business private, and some members might not have the equipment or skills to “attend” such meetings.
Further guidance will be circulated as the situation develops.