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.
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.
• 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.