Archive for the ‘Yardmasters’ Category

SMART-TD mourns another COVID-19 loss

Terri Poole Taylor Kerns, 52, of Local 1971 (Atlanta, Ga.) lost her life to COVID-19 on Friday, September 10. Diagnosed with COVID-19 on August 24, she was hospitalized Sunday, August 29 with severe chest pains. After suffering from cardiac arrest, she passed in the early hours of Sept. 10.

Kerns

Graduating from high school in 1987, Kerns worked in the food industry before deciding on a career change. She hired out with Norfolk Southern, where she would work for 20 years, earning her engineer and conductor certifications and working her way up to the position of yardmaster.

In her free time Kerns enjoyed family vacations on the beach. Her true passion was spending time with her husband, children and grandchildren.

“Terri had a great love for her family. Family was everything to Terri, and she left an indescribable imprint on all of us,” her younger sister Joy Poole said.

She’s survived by her husband of 21 years, Paul Henry Kerns Jr. aka PJ; four children, Drew (Sadina) Kerns, Shadonna Kerns, Madison Kerns and Dominique Kerns; two grandsons, Ameer and Zelmeer Kerns; two sisters, Rhonda (James) Poole Farley and Joy (Greg Cowan) Poole; and many in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins. Kerns is preceded in death by her parents, Oddis Theodore Poole Jr. and Patsy Mitchell Arey; grandparents; mother-in-law, Bonnie Jo Kerns; niece, Mariah Turner; nephew, Andrew Sifford; and great nephew, Xander Tucker.

SMART-TD offers their sincere condolences to all who knew and worked with Kerns, as well as her friends and family.

Click here to leave condolences for the family.

SMART-TD joins #EssentialAlways campaign to honor transportation workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

TD Disaster Relief Fund activated to assist in wake of Ida

The SMART Transportation Division is primed to assist members in their time of need when disaster strikes.

Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29 and tore a path through an area stretching from the Gulf Coast to the New York-New Jersey region, dropping torrential rain and affecting members’ lives with its massive flooding and wind damage.

Our members in the impacted area, both active and retired, face a long recovery and the painful task of rebuilding their homes and carrying on with their lives.

Furthermore, not only are they coping with the aftermath of a storm, they are doing so against the backdrop of the continuing COVID pandemic.

We are asking the SMART-TD family to heed the call and give what you can so that the difficult task of starting over and rebuilding can begin for any TD members who have been affected by Ida.

Any donations will help lessen the struggle and bring real hope and relief to our members who are suffering after this great loss. SMART-TD will administer donations sent to the SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund.

Contributions may be sent and made payable to:

SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund
24950 Country Club Blvd.
Suite 340
North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333

TD Members who have suffered damage or loss due to this storm can contact the SMART-TD office for an application for assistance by calling 216-227-5237.

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.”

GCA-953 organizing educational sessions

Attendees participate in an educational session in Topeka, Kan., on June 23. (Photo courtesy Zach Nagy)

The leadership of GCA-953 (Union Pacific) have kicked off a slate of educational sessions for local officers and members.

The first of six sessions took place June 22 and 23 in Topeka, Kan., with General Chairperson Luke Edington, Associate GC Ian Reynolds and Sr. Vice GC Zach Nagy hosting and teaching the classes.

The curriculum included training on serving as a union officer, an overview of officer duties, website training, filing a proper time claim, writing a discipline appeal and a mock arbitration session.

Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson made a guest appearance through Zoom, Vice President Brent Leonard spoke in person and Larry Romine from Reliable Retirement spoke through Zoom.

“We had attendees including local presidents, local chairpersons, vice local chairpersons and secretary/treasurers from four states in attendance,” Nagy said.

The GCA  has plans for five more sessions in Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Portland and Waukesha, Wis., as the summer progresses.

For more information about time and locations, email Nagy at znagy@utu953.org.

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.

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.

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)

SMART-TD Leaders Pledge Support to 2021 INVEST in America Act

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 4, 2021) – Leaders of the SMART Transportation Division today announced their full support of the 2021 version of the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.

DeFazio

The transformational $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced today by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio of Oregon contains critical safety reforms for the bus, transit and freight rail industries. 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.

“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.”

“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.”

A markup of the bill is scheduled to take place June 9.

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.

RRB: Railroad Retirement survivor benefits

Monthly benefits may be payable under the Railroad Retirement Act to the surviving widow(er), children, and certain other dependents of a railroad employee if the employee was “insured” under that Act at the time of death. Lump-sum death benefits may also be payable to qualified survivors in some cases.

The following questions and answers describe the survivor benefits payable by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) and the eligibility requirements for these benefits.

  1. What are the general service requirements for Railroad Retirement survivor benefits?

With the exception of one type of lump-sum death benefit, eligibility for survivor benefits depends on whether or not a deceased employee was “insured” under the Railroad Retirement Act. An employee is insured if he or she has at least 120 months (10 years) of railroad service, or 60 months (5 years) performed after 1995, and a “current connection” with the railroad industry as of the month the annuity begins or the month of death, whichever occurs first.

  1. How is a “current connection” determined under the Railroad Retirement Act?

Generally, 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. If an employee dies before retirement, railroad service in at least 12 months in the 30 months before the month of death will meet the current connection requirement for the purpose of paying survivor benefits.

If an employee does not qualify on this basis, but has 12 months of service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the current connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the employee did not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after the end of the last 30-month period which included 12 months of railroad service and before the month the annuity begins or the month of death, if earlier.

Full- or part-time work for a nonrailroad employer in the interval between the end of the last 30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the beginning date of an employee’s annuity or the month of death, if earlier, can break a current connection.

Self-employment in an unincorporated business will not break a current connection; however, self-employment can break a current connection if the business is incorporated. All self-employment will be reviewed to determine if it meets the RRA’s standards for maintaining a current connection.

Working for certain U.S. government agencies — Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board, Surface Transportation Board, Transportation Security Administration, National Mediation Board or the Railroad Retirement Board — will not break a current connection. State employment with the Alaska Railroad, so long as that railroad remains an entity of the State of Alaska, will not break a current connection. Also, railroad service in Canada for a Canadian railroad will neither break nor preserve a current connection.

A current connection can also be maintained, for purposes of survivor annuities, if the employee completed 25 years of railroad service, was involuntarily terminated without fault from his or her last job in the rail industry, and did not thereafter decline an offer of employment in the same class or craft in the rail industry, regardless of the distance to the new position.

A current connection determination is made when an employee files for a Railroad Retirement annuity. If an employee dies before applying for an annuity, it is made when an applicant files for a survivor annuity. Once a current connection is established at the time the Railroad Retirement annuity begins, an employee never loses it no matter what kind of work is performed thereafter.

  1. What if these service requirements are not met?

If a deceased employee did not have an insured status, jurisdiction of any survivor benefits payable is transferred to the Social Security Administration and survivor benefits are paid by that agency instead of the RRB. Regardless of which agency has jurisdiction, the deceased employee’s Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits will be combined for benefit computation purposes.

  1. What are the age and other eligibility requirements for widow(er)s who haven’t remarried?

Widow(er)s’ benefits are payable at age 60 or over. They are also payable at any age if the widow(er) is caring for an unmarried child of the deceased employee under age 18 or a disabled child of any age who became permanently disabled before age 22. Widow(er)s’ benefits are also payable at ages 50-59 if the widow(er) is totally disabled and unable to work in any regular employment. The disability must have begun within seven years after the employee’s death or within seven years after the termination of an annuity based on caring for a child of the deceased employee. In most cases, a five-month waiting period is required after the onset of disability before disability payments can begin.

Generally, the widow(er) must have been married to the employee for at least nine months prior to death, unless she or he was the natural or adoptive parent of their child, the employee’s death was accidental or while on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, the widow(er) was potentially entitled to certain Railroad Retirement or Social Security benefits in the month before the month of marriage, or the marriage was postponed due to state restrictions on the employee’s prior marriage and divorce due to mental incompetence or similar incapacity.

  1. Can surviving divorced spouses and remarried widow(er)s also qualify for benefits?

Survivor benefits may be payable to a surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er). Benefits are limited to the amount Social Security would pay (Tier I only) and therefore are less than the amount of the survivor annuity otherwise payable (Tier I and Tier II) by the RRB. A Tier II benefit is not provided for a surviving divorced spouse or a remarried widow(er).

A surviving divorced spouse may qualify if she or he was married to the employee for at least 10 years immediately before the date the divorce became final, and is age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled). A surviving divorced spouse who is unmarried can qualify at any age if caring for the employee’s child and the child is under age 16 or disabled, in which case the 10-year marriage requirement does not apply.

A widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 60, or a disabled widow(er) or disabled surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 50 may also receive the portion of a survivor annuity equivalent to a Social Security benefit (Tier I); however, remarriage prior to age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) would not prevent eligibility if that remarriage ended. Such Social Security level benefits may also be paid to a younger widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse caring for the employee’s child who is under age 16 or disabled, if the remarriage is to a person entitled to Railroad Retirement or Social Security benefits, or the remarriage ends.

  1. When are survivor benefits payable to children and other dependents?

Monthly survivor benefits are payable to an unmarried child under age 18, and to an unmarried child age 18 in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school, or in approved homeschooling, until the student attains age 19 or the end of the school term in progress when the student attains age 19. In most cases where a student attains age 19 during the school term, benefits are limited to the two months following the month age 19 is attained. These benefits will be terminated earlier if the student marries, graduates or ceases full-time attendance. An unmarried disabled child over age 18 may qualify if the child became totally disabled before age 22. An unmarried dependent grandchild meeting any of the requirements described above for a child may also qualify if both the grandchild’s parents are deceased or found disabled by the Social Security Administration.

Monthly survivor benefits are also payable to a parent at age 60 who was dependent on the employee for at least half of the parent’s support. If the employee was also survived by a widow(er), surviving divorced spouse or child who could ever qualify for an annuity, the parent’s annuity is limited to the amount that Social Security would pay (Tier I).

  1. How are Railroad Retirement widow(er)s’ benefits computed?

The Tier I amount of a two-tier survivor benefit is based on the deceased employee’s combined Railroad Retirement and Social Security earnings credits, and is computed using Social Security formulas. In general, the survivor Tier I amount is equal to the amount of survivor benefits that would have been payable under Social Security.

In December 2001, legislation established an “initial minimum amount” which yields, in effect, a widow(er)’s Tier II benefit equal to the Tier II benefit the employee would have received at the time of the award of the widow(er)’s annuity, minus any applicable age reduction.

However, such a Tier II benefit will not receive annual cost-of-living increases until such time as the widow(er)’s annuity, as computed under prior law with all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable, exceeds the widow(er)’s annuity as computed under the initial minimum amount formula.

A widow(er) who received a spouse annuity from the RRB is guaranteed that the amount of any widow(er)’s benefit payable will never be less than the annuity she or he was receiving as a spouse in the month before the employee died.

The average annuity awarded to widow(er)s in fiscal year 2020, excluding remarried widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses, was $2,333 a month. Children received $1,549 a month, on average. Total family benefits for widow(er)s with children averaged $4,395 a month. The average annuity awarded to remarried widow(er)s or surviving divorced spouses in fiscal year 2020 was $1,301 a month.

  1. Are survivor benefits subject to any reduction for early retirement or disability retirement?

A widow(er), surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er) whose annuity begins at full retirement age or later receives the full Tier I amount unless the deceased employee received an annuity that was reduced for early retirement. The eligibility age for a full widow(er)’s annuity is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later, the same as under Social Security. The maximum age reduction is also rising to 20.36%, depending on the widow(er)’s date of birth. For a surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er), the maximum age reduction is 28.5%. For a disabled widow(er), disabled surviving divorced spouse or disabled remarried widow(er), the maximum reduction is also 28.5%, even if the annuity begins at age 50.

  1. Are these benefits subject to offset for the receipt of other benefits?

Under the Railroad Retirement Act, the Tier I portion of a survivor annuity is subject to reduction if any Social Security benefits are also payable, even if the Social Security benefit is based on the survivor’s own earnings. This reduction follows the principles of Social Security law which, in effect, limit payment to the highest of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.

The Tier I portion of a widow(er)’s annuity may also be reduced for the receipt of certain federal, state or local government pension based on the widow(er)’s own earnings. The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the public pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment. However, 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 also not cause a reduction.

For those subject to the public pension reduction, the Tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the public pension.

A survivor annuitant should notify the RRB promptly if she or he becomes entitled to any such benefits.

  1.   What if a widow(er) was also a railroad employee and is eligible for a Railroad Retirement employee annuity as well as monthly survivor benefits?

If the widow(er) is entitled to a Railroad Retirement employee annuity and neither the widow(er) nor the deceased employee had any railroad service before 1975, the survivor annuity (Tier I and Tier II) payable to the widow(er) is reduced by the total amount of the widow(er)’s own employee annuity.

If a widow or dependent widower is also a railroad employee annuitant, and either the widow(er) or the deceased employee had at least 120 months of railroad service before 1975, the Tier I reduction may, under certain circumstances, be partially restored in the survivor Tier II amount.

If either the deceased employee or the widow(er) had some railroad service before 1975 but less than 120 months of service, the widow(er)’s own employee annuity and the Tier II portion of the survivor annuity would be payable to the widow(er). The Tier I portion of the survivor annuity would be payable only to the extent that it exceeds the Tier I portion of the widow(er)’s own employee annuity.

  1. What types of lump-sum death benefits are payable under the Railroad Retirement Act?

A lump-sum death benefit is payable to certain survivors of an employee with 10 or more years of railroad service, or less than 10 years if at least five years were after 1995, and had a current connection with the railroad industry if there is no survivor immediately eligible for a monthly annuity upon the employee’s death.

If the employee did not have 10 years of service before 1975, the lump sum is limited to $255 and is payable only to the widow(er) living in the same household as the employee at the time of the employee’s death.

If the employee had less than 10 years of service but had five years after 1995, he or she must have met Social Security’s insured status requirements for the lump sum to be payable.

If the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, the lump sum is payable to the living-with widow(er). If there is no such widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses. These lump sums averaged $1,030 in fiscal year 2020.

If a widow(er) is eligible for monthly benefits at the time of the employee’s death, but the widow(er) had excess earnings deductions which prevented annuity payments or for any other reason did not receive monthly benefits in the 12-month period beginning with the month of the employee’s death totaling at least as much as the lump sum, the difference between the lump-sum benefit and monthly benefits actually paid, if any, is payable in the form of a deferred lump-sum benefit.

The average for all types of lump sums was $933 in fiscal year 2020.

The Railroad Retirement system also provides, under certain conditions, a residual lump-sum death benefit which ensures that a railroad family receives at least as much in benefits as the employee paid in Railroad Retirement taxes before 1975. This benefit is, in effect, a refund of an employee’s pre-1975 Railroad Retirement taxes, after subtraction of any benefits previously paid on the basis of the employee’s service. This benefit is seldom payable.

  1.  How does a person get an estimate of, or apply for, survivor benefits?

As all of the RRB’s 53 field offices are physically closed to the public until further notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best way to obtain a survivor’s annuity estimate is to call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772).

Under normal circumstances, applications for survivor benefits are generally filed at one of the RRB’s field offices, with an RRB representative at one of the office’s Customer OutReach Program (CORP) service locations, or by telephone and mail; however, while RRB field offices remain physically closed, applications can be filed solely by telephone and mail by first calling 1-877-772-5772. It is important to note that callers may experience lengthy wait times due to increased call volume caused by COVID-19-related issues.

UTUIA announces new field structure

United Transportation Union Insurance Association (UTUIA) President Kenneth Laugel proudly announced this month a plan intended to broaden the scope and availability of all of the fraternal benefit society’s services to SMART Transportation Division members and its customers nationwide.

“After serving a broad spectrum of our customer base during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that there were avenues where UTUIA could construct more efficient, more convenient and broader ways to serve all our customers,” Laugel said. “We are excited and confident that these improvements will not simply maintain, but elevate the level of service that our members have come to enjoy and expect.”

First and foremost is a revamping of the agency’s structure approved by the UTUIA board that comes in three major components:

  1. UTUIA agents who were in the former position of Field Supervisor have been dispersed among seven regions encompassing multiple states. Now known as Regional Insurance Managers, they oversee states in the Western, Great Plains, Southwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. The accompanying map shows specifics on the regional structure.
  2. Positions of Territory Manager and Assistant Territory Manager also have been created to provide a broader support system to improve service within each region.
  3. Finally, the position of Local Insurance Representative has been redesigned, meaning that every Transportation Division local will have at least one person singularly devoted to fulfilling the needs of members regarding UTUIA benefits.

“These changes are all designed to better increase our visibility to the membership,” Laugel said. “Ultimately with more ‘boots on the ground’ our members will see the greater value that the UTUIA represents to the SMART-TD family.”

The change in structure is not the only innovation that the society is undertaking.

UTUIA also has established a partnership with US Bank subsidiary Evalon Inc. to provide secure credit-card processing with full encryption so that paying premiums online is protected at the maximum level available.

“Elavon has a proprietary service that shields all sensitive data,” Laugel said. “UTUIA has seen the damage security flaws and breaches have caused to customers in our field. We will always protect members’ confidential information.”

A Credit Card Services page has been set up on the UTUIA website (www.utuia.org) for enrollment in online premium payments and provides another level of convenience for people who still may be hesitant to venture out as the nation continues to contend with COVID-19.

The pandemic has been a challenge for UTUIA and essential workers alike, but Laugel noted that the 152-year-old fraternal benefit society has continued to be there unabated and undeterred — paying claims and providing scholarships, extending premium grace periods, making policy loans and continuing its steadfast support with charitable donations and contributions to the SMART-TD Disaster Recovery Fund.

“Through this time we have continued to make changes that will serve to strengthen our Society and better serve our members,” Laugel said. “We are proud of this effort and are even more proud to continue to protect and serve our members and our customers with our full range of insurance and financial benefits as we emerge from the pandemic.”

A letter from UTUIA President Kenneth Laugel and Secretary Treasurer Jeff Becker to SMART-TD members with more details.

Visit the UTUIA website for more information