Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

H.R. 2 passes U.S. House and moves to Senate

H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that contains provisions important to members of all crafts in the SMART Transportation Division and to sheet metal workers, passed through the U.S. House of Representatives by a 233-188 vote on July 1.

A major component of this bill is the INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in late June.

H.R. 2 contains:

  • a two-person freight crew requirement
  • bus and transit operator safety measures
  • blocked-rail-crossing enforcement
  • a cross-border solution
  • yardmaster hours of service
  • additional funding for Amtrak
  • requirements for carriers to meet CDC guidelines and to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to transportation workers

“This is an unprecedented step ahead for many of our union’s major issues through the legislative process,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Our concerns were heard and addressed by the writers of this bill — safety for workers and communities alike in the bus and transit operator safety measures and in the crew-size provision, funding for Amtrak, and a number of other provisions intended to rebuild and transform the nation’s roads and rails.

“Federal agencies and big-pocketed lobbyists have tried to obstruct the essential protections that this bill provides to our members and to the people who work on, live near and use our nation’s transportation network. These representatives all had the foresight and initiative to move them forward.”

Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), earlier in the week had an op-ed published that was highly critical of the legislation, targeting the two-person crew portion and one that dealt with study of potential rail transport of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) specifically, saying the bill “woefully missed the mark.”

In the column, Jefferies also argued that legislators were “putting their collective thumbs on the scale” regarding railroad safety in regulating the crew-size safety issue.

The INVEST in America component of the Moving Forward Act was shepherded by House T&I Chairperson Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, through the committee June 18. He commented on July 1 after the bill’s passage:

“Passage of this bold, forward-thinking infrastructure bill is proof that finally, there is a majority of us in Congress who won’t accept the status quo and instead are willing to fight for a new vision that invests in our communities, addresses the climate crisis, and creates better opportunities for all. And we get there by putting millions of people to work in jobs that cannot be exported, while harnessing American-made materials, ingenuity, and innovation,” he said. “With the Moving Forward Act, we make it clear that our infrastructure does not have to be a product of the past, with crumbling roads and bridges, unreliable transit and rail networks, inequitable outcomes, and little regard to our changing climate and our changing economy. I challenge my Senate colleagues to join the House in thinking big and being bold on long-overdue investments not only in our infrastructure, but also in the communities and the people we all represent.”

Leaders in the SMART-TD National Legislative Department thanked DeFazio and the bipartisan group of Democrats and a trio of Republicans who supported H.R. 2.

“As if we need any additional evidence that elections matter, this result shows that the 2018 change of party control in the House made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We appreciate those legislators who supported this legislation in its journey through the House. There is more work to be done and a path to be cleared for this legislation, and our membership is more than willing to put in the time to make legislators understand why the bill provisions are necessary.”

The Moving Forward Act now moves to the United States Senate, where, according to Politico.com, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, called the bill “nonsense,” “absurd,” “pure fantasy” and vowed that it will die before getting to the White House, where the president has threatened to veto the bill.

TD General Chairperson Crawford’s op-ed in Tennessean supports Biden

General Chairperson Adren Crawford of GO-433 (Canadian National — Illinois Central) had the following op-ed column published in the Tennessean on June 26.

To anyone who thinks America’s labor unions aren’t relevant, think again.

In what has become both a sad and challenging time in our history, unions are more important than ever — and with Joe Biden as president, they’ll be stronger.

Crawford

Across the U.S., working men and women — union members — are responding to the COVID pandemic with the same courage and work ethic that built the middle class and made our country the most productive nation in the world.

For example, the United Auto Workers are now part of the healthcare system, with members building life-saving ventilators at Ford and General Motors.

United Food and Commercial Workers are keeping the shelves stocked, ensuring that we can put food on our tables and enjoy meals with our families.

Members of the Service Employees International Union are standing on the front lines in hospitals and clinics.

Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation (SMART) union members have worked tirelessly running freight trains to maintain the flow of goods — such as delivering chlorine-based disinfectants for water, enabling e-commerce, transporting food, and other essential products.

The list goes on.

Let’s take stock of this historic moment — and, as we march toward the other side of the COVID crisis, let’s recommit to organized labor.

Simply put: Union workers are our heroes right now.

The fact that they’re well-organized at this critical time allows them to push for the necessary personal protective equipment, safe working conditions, and overtime wages that they need in order to support all of us.

Union workers’ courage stands in stark contrast to the behavior of corporations and anti-labor politicians who have spent decades waging war on organizing and collective bargaining.

The predictable results: Stagnant wages, loss of pensions, and exploitation of workers.

As president, Joe Biden intends to correct these inequities.

He will:

• Check the abuse of corporate power and hold executives accountable.

This means penalizing employers who pretend to bargain with employee unions while sidestepping meaningful agreements with their workers and also ensuring that federal dollars don’t flow to employers who engage in union-busting activities.

• Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining.

This means extending the right to organize to independent contractors in a fast-growing segment of the economy, enforcing workplace rights for federal employees, and making sure that the National Labor Relations Board does its job in supporting workers.

• Ensure that employees receive the pay, benefits, and protections they deserve.

This means making the minimum wage an actual living wage, directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to expand its enforcement of workplace-safety laws, and protecting undocumented immigrants who report labor violations.

Most importantly, Joe Biden knows that labor rights are civil rights and that the strength of unions is their diversity.

In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, we owe it to all of our brothers and sisters of color to listen, reflect on our own actions, and recommit ourselves to the fight for economic and social justice.

When we emerge stronger after the multiple crises facing our nation, let’s remember the critical role that the American labor movement played in both our economy and our society.

Finally, let’s support Joe Biden for president and renew our commitment to labor — and let us never forget the individual workers who pulled us through this crisis and led the fight for economic and social justice.

Adren Crawford is a general chairperson and proud member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers.

SMART endorses Joe Biden for president

Statement from SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. July 1, 2020

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) is pleased to endorse Vice President Joe Biden for President of the United States, following a unanimous vote of its General Executive Council.

Biden

The endorsement was informed by discussions with and feedback from SMART members and leaders from across the United States who met to discuss SMART issues and which candidate best supports them. Over the past four years, SMART leadership has also met with all the major presidential candidates from both parties, including the incumbent president, and had meaningful dialogue with them regarding issues impacting SMART members.

SMART has engaged with and listened to our members from coast to coast about their views and opinions regarding our union, their jobs and current events that affect their future. This effort was launched to ensure members have a say in shaping the course of our union as it proceeds to advance the needs and viewpoints of the membership.

Biden has a long history of engaging with SMART members and working families in both the sheet metal and transportation industries. The endorsement decision was based on Biden’s strong support of the concerns most important to our members, including the need for two-person railroad crews, retirement and pension security, protection of prevailing wages, and a prioritization of workplace safety. He also is dedicated to acting on a plan for real infrastructure work to enhance employment opportunities for current and future members in the industries SMART represents. SMART members have made it clear they can no longer wait after four years of empty promises for new infrastructure initiatives from the current administration.

From his early years working with local sheet metal workers as a County Commissioner in Delaware, to his frequent meetings with SMART Amtrak conductors during his commute back and forth to Washington, D.C., Joe Biden has been acutely aware of and engaged with the issues on the minds of our members.

After a series of discussions with Biden’s campaign staff, where members’ feedback and concerns were shared with the candidate, Vice President Biden took the time to respond with a video outlining his positions on the issues. His impassioned message in this video proves that Biden is the clear choice for our union and the membership.

SMART is highly engaged in the political process to ensure our issues are advanced and our members’ livelihoods are protected. We also strive to ensure union leadership is transparent and clear with our members when it comes to decisions in the electoral arena. We work to advance our members’ issues by advocating and educating on their behalf while supporting candidates, regardless of party, who stand with SMART members and for issues important to all working families.

House Committee sends INVEST Act to full House for consideration

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act passed through the U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee late June 18 by a party-line vote of 35-25.

The legislation, which contains provisions that affect the safety and well-being of all members of the SMART Transportation Division, now moves to consideration by the entire U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is another step in what has been a years-long journey,” National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. “We are now farther than we have ever been in regard to having national two-person freight crew protections made into law thanks to our members’ action and advocacy.”

“But we will need to keep the pressure on members of Congress in both the Senate and in the House so that this and other parts of this regulation are not casually tossed out in accordance with the carriers’ will as the scheduled July 1 floor vote approaches.”

The union has rolled out contact forms on its Legislative Action Center for members and concerned parties to reach out to their U.S. representatives as the INVEST Act is considered by House members. These links will be accessible through the main SMART-TD web page as well.

A coordinated informational campaign also has been launched to educate members on what the act provides. While not perfect, this legislation represents a step to shoring up a craft that has been under siege for years, SMART-TD leaders say.

“There are some people in our union who misunderstand the intent of the bill because they might support the Republican Party or the president. They degrade the union on social media or say that this attempt at legislation is a giveaway or too weak in protecting conductors because there are some exceptions in it,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “It establishes protections where there are NONE. Your union is not the enemy — the carriers want to eliminate even more jobs and lay waste to the people and families who kept the freight industry going through a pandemic. The battlefield is in the halls of Congress and passage of the INVEST Act, with the protections intact, would be a victory.”

The INVEST in America Act contains provisions on:

  • Two-Person Crews;
  • Operator Assault;
  • Blocked Crossings;
  • Sleep Apnea for Commercial Drivers;
  • Yardmaster Hours of Service;
  • a “Cross Border” fix.

During the two days and more than 24 hours of committee consideration in the House on June 17 and 18, four Republican representatives proposed amendments attempting to remove the portions of the INVEST Act covering freight rail: two-person crews, yardmaster hours of service, blocked crossings and the “cross border” fix, making President Ferguson’s prediction about the legislation become true.

“There are only two parties at the table. The Democrats wrote it into the bill, only the Republicans will take it out,” he wrote June 3.

For example:

Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California proposed Amendment 43, which requires the federal DOT to study, establish standards and come up with a final rule regarding untreated obstructive sleep apnea, which affects many transportation workers. The amendment succeeded and was passed by voice vote.

In contrast, four Republican representatives attempted to attack provisions important to our members.

  • Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania proposed Amendment 125, which attempted to remove two-person crew protections. That amendment was defeated by a voice vote after Perry in his argument parroted talking points rolled out by rail industry groups including the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
  • Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Babin of Texas proposed Amendment 41, which attempted to remove the cross border fix proposed in the act, but later withdrew his amendment before it could be voted upon.
  • Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio proposed Amendment 25, which attempted to remove the yardmaster hours of service rules proposed in the act, but later withdrew his amendment before it could be voted upon.
  • Republican U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson of Ohio proposed Amendment 23, which attempted to remove the blocked-crossing rule proposed in the act. That amendment was rejected by voice vote as part of an en bloc package of amendments.

The actions of these legislators will be remembered in November, but we have bigger concerns as we approach a scheduled July vote on the bill. Use the Legislative Action Center to contact your members of Congress and let them know that the INVEST in American Act deserves their support, keeps communities safe and protects American workers and their jobs!

Rail workers of all unions urged to end RRB unemployment sequestration

U.S. rail unions have united in an effort to overturn the sequestration of Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits that was enacted by a GOP-held Congress during the Obama administration and continues to reduce the unemployment and sickness benefits of railroaders nearly a decade later.

A large bloc of the unions are represented by AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member.

A letter to U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio sent by the union coalition requested that they jointly co-sponsor language consistent with the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) to eliminate RUIA benefits from sequestration by amending the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to include RUIA among the other various programs that are not subject to sequestration. Portman, a Republican out of Cincinnati, is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that will make a decision on sequestration.

“Unlike the average U.S. worker, railroad employees do not receive unemployment benefits through state-administered unemployment insurance programs. Instead, unemployed railroaders receive these benefits through the RUIA program, which is administered by the United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB),” TTD President Larry Willis said. “As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, RUIA (benefits) are subject to sequestration. No state unemployment insurance benefits in the country are subject to this unfair treatment.”

RUIA unemployment and sickness benefits are sequestered at 5.9%, and have been subject to reduction for nine years. These rates are adjusted when the federal sequestration is recalculated yearly.

Railroaders are urged to call Portman at (202) 224-3353 to tell him to exclude RRB sickness and unemployment benefits from those reductions.

Read the unions’ joint letter to the senators.

Facts about the INVEST in America Act’s 2PC provision

To help combat the spread of misinformation concerning the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act, Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity has provided the following facts regarding the two-person crew provision in the bill.

The INVEST Act delivers on Two-Person crews

The INVEST Act, as written, requires a certified locomotive engineer and certified conductor on most freight trains. According to the bill, there are instances that a train may be operated with a reduced crew. Exceptions are listed below:

A freight train may be operated with a reduced crew, if:

  • The train operations are within a rail yard, terminal area, or on auxiliary or industry track
  • It 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 (Note: The Secretary of the DOT is appointed by the President of the United States)

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

The INVEST Act is poised to be the most significant piece of rail-related legislation this generation of railroaders has seen since the passage of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970.

INVEST in America Act officially introduced by DeFazio

Washington, D.C. – Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) last week officially introduced the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act during a pro forma session in the House. The INVEST in America Act, a 5-year, nearly $500 billion investment in our nation’s infrastructure, is a key component of the Moving Forward Framework that House Democrats released earlier this year. After Committee leaders unveiled the bill text Wednesday, June 3rd, support started pouring in from a diverse array of transportation, environmental, worker, and safety advocates.

DeFazio

What advocates from around the country are saying about the INVEST in America Act:

“We applaud Chairman Peter DeFazio for listening to the needs of workers represented by SMART Transportation Division, and responding accordingly. By providing robust funding for infrastructure, passenger rail, and transit, as well as the inclusion of smart transportation policy, the Invest in America Act represents a bold step forward for our members,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD.

“Title V of the INVEST in America Act is the most significant piece of railroad legislation since the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) National President Dennis R. Pierce said.

“Past reauthorizations have been an exercise in spending more money and magically wishing for better outcomes with outdated policy, which was always foolish,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America. “With this new proposal from Chairman DeFazio, the INVEST in America Act, the House is charting a welcome course toward updating our country’s 1950’s approach to transportation.”

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), on behalf of the entire public transportation industry, would like to thank House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Dan Lipinski (D-IL) for their extraordinary leadership in crafting the INVEST in America Act. We strongly support the bill and its critical investments for surface transportation infrastructure, including $105 billion for public transportation and $60 billion for commuter rail, Amtrak, and other high-performance rail.”

“For too long, the needs of professional drivers and others who work in the transportation sector have been ignored by lawmakers,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said. “This legislation will set the nation on the right path by making badly needed infrastructure improvements while also ensuring that workers are protected on the job.”

“On behalf of ATA members helping move 71 percent of our nation’s freight, we applaud Chairman DeFazio for fulfilling his commitment to produce a comprehensive infrastructure bill, and we look forward to working with House Ways & Means Chairman Neal to fund it—with real money,” American Trucking Association President and CEO Chris Spear.

“The National League of Cities thanks Rep. Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, for proposing legislation that eases the impacts of COVID-19 on critical transportation projects in our cities, towns, and villages. The INVEST Act would provide increased federal support for next year’s transportation projects, grow strategic transit and rail investments over the next five years and improve intergovernmental collaboration.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) applauds House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio for today’s introduction of the INVEST in America Act. Chairman DeFazio is a traffic safety champion and has made saving lives a priority in this legislation.”

Stephanie Gidigbi, director of policy and partnerships for NRDC’s (Natural Resources Defense Council) Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program: “For too many years, funding from Washington has built roads and highways that divided low-income communities and communities of color without offering the transportation alternatives all of us can use. The INVEST Act offers a different path, one that leads to a more just, equitable, and climate-resilient future. Crucially, this bill ensures all communities have access to pedestrian, biking and transit options. It also will help us slash carbon pollution by investing in electric-vehicle charging stations, while ensuring that roads, bridges and transit lines are able to withstand the stronger storms and floods we must prepare for because of climate change.”

“The National Safety Council applauds House lawmakers for the INVEST in America Act, the reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. For too long, the United States has consistently avoided the hard choices needed to save lives on the roadways. This proposal is an opportunity for us to start making the right choices so we can save lives, because we know that all traffic deaths are preventable.”

“The Coalition for America’s Gateways & Trade Corridors (CAGTC) applauds the INVEST in America Act’s continuation of dedicated investment in our nation’s freight assets, first through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Program (INFRA) in Fiscal Year 2021, then through the Projects of National and Regional Significance Program (PNRS) through the remaining years of the proposal. Competitive grant programs are essential to funding large-scale goods movement infrastructure projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional distribution methods such as formula programs.”

“Unfortunately, we do not yet have a cure for COVID-19. But, we do have proven and available safety solutions to address the preventable fatalities and injuries occurring on our Nation’s roadways year after year,” said Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). “We commend Chairman DeFazio, Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) for sponsoring the INVEST in America Act and advancing important safety countermeasures.”  Advocates looks forward to working with the Committee as our review of this legislation continues.

ITS America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt: “As the association that promotes technology to reduce fatalities, congestion and emissions, ITS America is gratified to see so many positive aspects in the bill that will lead to more research in and deployment of technology, including increasing access to mobility services by making Mobility on Demand an eligible activity under transit programs.”

 “We commend Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) for leading the effort to address our nation’s transportation needs, including the costly backlog of transportation projects in our parks,” said Emily Douce of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Together we want to ensure park visitors can continue to experience and enjoy these places now, and for years to come.”

“The INVEST Act reflects more than a year of advocacy by the League, our partners, and our members to push for a future where our transportation system works better for all people, especially people biking and walking,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists.

“We know that the INVEST Act can make a difference in transportation equity across the country and the Safe Routes Partnership looks forward to supporting its passage and implementation for Safe Routes to Schools, to parks, to healthy food, and so many other essential parts of our lives,” said Cassandra Isidro, executive director of Safe Routes Partnership.

Railway Supply Institute (RSI) President Mike O’Malley: “This legislation will provide over $60 billion in much-needed funding to support substantive improvements to rail infrastructure across the country, including $29 billion for Amtrak and $19 billion for passenger rail improvement, modernization, and expansion projects. We also commend inclusion of strong funding levels for federal transit and grade crossing safety programs.  These investments will enhance safety for millions of passengers, preserve thousands of jobs, and support our domestic supply chain at this critical time.”

“On behalf of The Bus Coalition (TBC) and its members, I applaud the historic level of bus transit funding included in Chairman DeFazio’s reauthorization proposal. Buses are the backbone of transit service across America providing more than one-half of all trips on public transportation. Our customers rely on buses daily to access jobs, health care, education, and other critical destinations. The level of investment included in the bill will go a long way toward upgrading and replacing our aging and shrinking bus fleets, boost economic growth and help enhance bus service in all communities across the country,” said The Bus Coalition President Bill Carpenter.

CTAA [Community Transportation Association of America] members provide critical trips and support their vulnerable populations by acting as a lifeline. The record level of investment proposed in this bill would not only allow our rural, tribal, specialized and small-urban transit providers to continue meeting demand, but explore new and innovative ways to better serve their communities, said Scott Bogren, Executive Director of CTAA. “We applaud this bill’s important emphasis on improved bus operations and capital investment, the incorporation of meaningful improvements to procurement and vehicle disposition, and the focus on transit services for low-income and persistent poverty communities.”

“Through the INVEST in America Act, the House T&I Committee tackles many of the most critical issues facing America’s transportation system—including safety, climate and maintenance,” said Kevin Mills, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s vice president of policy. “The bill recognizes and advances policies to address the tragic and growing number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities that occur on our roads and it creates incentives to cut carbon emissions.  It makes active transportation eligible for many programs and increases dedicated investment in trails, walking and biking programs to more than $1.5 billion a year—allocating resources to the nation’s fundamental active transportation funding programs like Transportation Alternatives and the Recreational Trails Program, while ensuring that Transportation Alternatives funding remains dedicated to its intended purpose in all states. Especially exciting is a new investment to connect walking and biking facilities within our communities and between regions.”

For a running list of supporters and more information about the INVEST in America Act, click here.

FRA grants unions’ request for another extension to file certification petitions

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 5) — Following a second joint petition by the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on June 3 granted another 60-day extension to time limits in which certain petitions for review must be filed with the Locomotive Engineer Review Board (LERB) and the Operating Crew Review Board (OCRB). Originally, the SMART-TD and BLET requested an extension on March 30, which the FRA granted on April 7.

In response to the unions’ second joint petition for extension, which was filed on May 27, the FRA wrote: “FRA considered the petitioners’ extension request and concluded that extending the previously granted relief would be in the public interest, necessary to address the COVID-19 public health emergency, and is not inconsistent with railroad safety. Accordingly, FRA grants an extension of temporary emergency relief from the 180- and 120-day deadlines in § 240.403(c) and (d), and § 242.503(c), so that the deadline for any petition that becomes due to be filed during the duration of this waiver is extended 60 days.”

Under FRA regulations governing certification of locomotive engineers, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification must be filed with the LERB no more than 180 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision, and a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to revoke certification must be filed with the LERB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. Similarly, under FRA regulations governing certification of conductors, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification, or to revoke certification, must be filed with the OCRB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. Under the terms of the June 3 waiver extension, FRA granted temporary emergency relief from the 180- and 120-day filing deadlines, so that the deadline for any petition for review that becomes due to be filed during the duration of the waiver is extended 60 days.

A copy of the FRA waiver extension is available here. (PDF)

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

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

A message from President Ferguson on the INVEST in America Act

March 20, 2020

All Members — SMART Transportation Division

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today, House Democrats released the text of a $500 billion five-year funding authorization bill that defines their vision for the future of transportation in America, as well as outlines their plans to refresh and renew the infrastructure of the nation’s surface transportation network.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act is the result of countless hours of work by this Union on the Hill and in the halls of Congress. The INVEST in America Act reauthorizes funding set to expire Sept. 30, but more so, sets standards for safety, training, and transportation reform that have long been sought by the members of SMART Transportation Division including:

  • Two-Person Crews;
  • Operator Assault;
  • Yardmaster Hours of Service
  • a “Cross Border” fix.

Additionally, Amtrak would see its funding triple to $29 billion over the five-year period of the bill, allowing for expansion of national, state and regional routes and facility modernization. Funding for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program also would be increased to $7 billion to fund passenger and freight rail projects. Provisions for/or against the transportation of liquid natural gas (LNG) via rail tank cars, blocked railroad crossings, and excessive freight train length, among others, also have been included.

Our National Legislative Office has been hard at work in Washington, D.C., to convey our issues to both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House and Senate, and the provisions within this bill are the fruits of that labor.

Undoubtedly, House Democrats have heard our cries and have answered the call. By including our issues within the context of this bill, they have let America know that the only safe operation of a Class I freight train is with a two-person crew; that our bus drivers and operators have the right to a safe work environment; and that the public should be shielded from the risks that rail carriers will take in the name of greed.

But make no mistake, this bill still has a long road to travel and a lot of heavy-handed opposition standing before it in the Republican-controlled Senate. We will need all hands on deck to protect the provisions we have all fought so hard for to survive that journey.

I am asking you to please watch this bill as it moves through the legislative process and see who and what hurdles it faces. I’m asking you to please pay attention to the party affiliations of the individuals as the yeas and nays are registered when the bill is voted upon. And I am asking you to listen to the rhetoric and testimony that will affect its final appearance. Once the dust has settled, I will call on you to please support those who support you and your family’s well-being, and I firmly believe that picture will be crystal clear.

There are only two parties at the table. The Democrats wrote it into the bill, only the Republicans will take it out.

Fraternally yours,

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Ferguson
President — Transportation Division

ABOUT THE INVEST IN AMERICA ACT

RRB begins payment of CARES Act enhanced relief

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act authorized a “recovery payment” for unemployed railroad workers in the amount of $1,200 per 2-week registration period. After making necessary programming changes to its claims processing systems, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) started making the payments on the evening of May 28.

In the initial round of processing, the agency made retroactive payments of $1,200 per 2-week registration period to individuals who had previously filed claims beginning on or after April 1. Those individuals had previously received unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in the amount of $733.98 to most claimants. The RRB estimates that the total amount of retroactive payments will be about $32 million. While the regular UI amount of $733.98 is reduced from $780 due to sequestration, the additional $1,200 recovery payment is not subject to reduction. However, it is subject to income taxation and garnishment for tax and other legally established debt.

Once these payments are completed, the RRB plans to start paying the additional $1,200 for new benefit claims the following day. The additional amount is payable on claims for days of unemployment through the 2-week claim period beginning July 31, 2020.

The CARES Act includes an appropriation of $425 million to pay for this added recovery payment. If these funds are exhausted before August 13, the end of the last eligible registration period, the added payment will no longer apply.

The CARES Act also authorized payment of extended benefits to rail workers who received UI benefits between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. The RRB started paying the extended UI benefits on May 11, once again beginning with retroactive payments to individuals who had previously exhausted their regular UI benefits, before moving on to new claims.

The final piece of the CARES Act for the RRB is the elimination of a 1-week waiting period to receive benefits funded by an additional $50 million appropriation to cover this provision. The agency continues to diligently work on the needed programming for this provision, and hopes to have it completed in the near future. Again, the agency will initially make retroactive payments to individuals who had previously submitted UI claims before quickly moving on to processing new claims without the waiting period.

The RRB identified any eligible employees who previously received UI benefits for days of unemployment after April 1, 2020, so that the payments could be issued without the employee submitting additional information. For initial claims in the coming months, employees are encouraged to file them online through myRRB on the agency website, RRB.gov.

Since RRB offices are currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, railroad employees are encouraged to file for UI benefits by setting up an online myRRB account if they have not already done so.

FRA extension of safety waivers to railroads puts U.S. through another two months of risk

CLEVELAND, Ohio (May 27, 2020) — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) extended safety waivers granted to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic recently, again favoring the material concerns of the carriers over the safety of America’s rail workers and of the general public.

The extension runs until the earlier of when the emergency declaration is lifted, or 60 days from letters dated May 21 to the AAR and ASLRRA by the agency governing safety on America’s railroads. The broad waivers concerning numerous safety regulations and training requirements were initially set to expire beginning May 24, 29 and June 9.

The leaders of two of America’s largest rail unions, the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), objected to the lengthening of these waivers that they had described as “alarming” when first initiated.

“The agency continues a pattern of FRA appeasement to the carriers,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “Essential safety tasks once again are being deferred with regulators’ blessings while the agency could not be bothered to enact an emergency order to hold carriers accountable to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention minimum health and safety standards for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The waiver extension, granted nine days after the AAR’s petition to renew, cover regulations governing:

  • Periodic track inspections
  • Training
  • Quick tie-ups
  • Locomotive and conductor certification
  • Territorial qualifications

Conversely, SMART-TD and the BLET jointly petitioned FRA to respond to the pandemic multiple times in March seeking emergency orders to improve working conditions and to better protect workers from potential infection by requiring carriers to adhere to basic CDC protocols. The agency, however, declined to put its full regulatory power on the side of protecting essential transportation workers.

“The continued pattern of rubber-stamping requests by carriers while unabashedly coming up short for the essential workers who have continued to show up and work through the pandemic shows where FRA’s priorities are,” the union presidents said.

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

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

SMART-TD, BLET announce launch of Information and Communications Technology survey

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (May 20) — The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe), in partnership with the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), is launching a survey in mid-May to learn more about Information and Communications Technology (ICT), which relates to the technology and tools that railroaders use to share, gather and communicate information. The purpose of the survey is to understand how best to communicate important safety-related information to union members and across the railroad industry.

The ICT survey, approved by both SMART-TD and BLET leadership, is being sent to a randomly selected sample of active train, yard, and engine railroaders. Everyone included in this sample is strongly encouraged to respond.

“We support this effort because we believe it will help us to better serve our members. We are collaborating with the Volpe team to reach our members for this survey. Please make time to complete the ICT questionnaire if you receive it,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce explained.

Participation is voluntary and means only completing the questionnaire, which should take no more than 20 minutes. Unique codes for each questionnaire are assigned randomly to participants to keep responses strictly confidential.

Interested parties can learn more about the ICT Survey by contacting Dr. Heidi Howarth, the Volpe project lead, at heidi.howarth@dot.gov or 617-494-2522. This project is sponsored by the Office of Research, Development, and Technology of the Federal Railroad Administration.

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The U.S. DOT established Volpe in 1970 to serve as a federal resource positioned to provide world-renowned, multidisciplinary, multimodal transportation expertise on behalf of U.S. DOT’s operating administrations, the Office of the Secretary, and external organizations.

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

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.