Today the Trump administration did everything it could to stop all railroad crew safety issues.
In a Federal Register posting published at 4 p.m. today, the FRA formally withdrew the pending proposed rulemaking dating from 2016 that would have set a mandatory crew size on freight and passenger trains.
But the notice went much further than that. It announced that not only will FRA turn a blind eye to the unsafe practices of single-person or no-person trains, the agency claims that its notice also nullifies all state laws and regulations that establish minimum crew standards.
President Donald Trump, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and FRA Administrator Ron Batory have taken sides, and it’s with the railroads that want to eliminate operating crew members to the detriment of rail safety and to the detriment of the communities through which our members operate trains. We are considering legal action and other avenues to protect our members and the American public from the prospects of driverless trains.
The action today flies in the face of so-called conservative values and state’s rights. The federal government is refusing to protect the public and at the same time is prohibiting states from doing so by posting this federal notice.
This action undermines my faith in the FRA in being a fair and impartial overseer of safety in the railroad industry. Clearly, the railroad CEOs have their folks in power with President Trump and his administration. This action should put an end to any thoughts that this president and this administration is supportive of railroad workers.
The Nevada State Legislative Board reports that A.B. 337, legislation requiring two people in the cab of freight trains in the state, passed in the state Senate on Tuesday by a 13-8 party-line vote.
The bill is in the process of enrollment — receiving signatures from both the Senate and General Assembly leadership — and is expected to be on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s (D) desk for his signature in the coming weeks, Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering said.
A bill in Maryland (H.B. 66) has successfully passed both houses of its Legislature and is awaiting action by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Two-person crew legislation also is progressing in Minnesota (part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill) and in Illinois (S.B. 24). The support of members in both states is important for both pieces of legislation to be passed.
Minnesota residents can contact these legislators to show support for the Minnesota bill.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas is putting a delay on the consideration by the U.S. Senate of three nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors and wants a solid commitment from the carrier that the long-distance Southwest Chief route will be preserved.
Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson has arranged a meeting later in May with Moran and other senators who represent states that host the daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles route to discuss the Southwest Chief’s future, according to a report published by the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Police now have a suspect in custody after members of the community identified the man in the video.
“On May 3rd, 2019, Montebello Detectives received information from several citizens who recognized the suspect from the video. Detectives were able to contact witnesses who positively identified the suspect. In an attempt to locate the suspect, Detectives discovered the suspect was currently in custody and being housed at the Los Angeles County Jail for an arrest for domestic violence which occurred on April 3rd, 2019,” Montebello police said in a statement on the department’s Facebook page.
“The Montebello police department will present this bus assault case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for filing consideration. The suspect has been identified as Vincent Eric Ramirez, 32 years of age. Ramirez is a Montebello resident.
“Thank you to the community for your help and efforts in solving this crime. Your support made the difference in this case.”
Police are asking for the help of the public in finding a man who brutally attacked another passenger as they both were exiting a Montebello bus March 12.
According to police and bus surveillance video, the suspect punched the victim in the back of the head as he got off the bus, knocking the victim unconscious. The attacker then kicked the man three times before walking away.
SMART Transportation Division represents bus operators and mechanics employed by Montebello Bus Lines in Local 1701 in Montebello, California.
The assailant could have easily turned and assaulted the bus operator as well, which is why SMART TD supports H.R. 1139 – the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, which would protect bus operators from violent incidents like this one.
A notice of a meeting of the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Rail Energy Transportation Advisory Committee (RETAC) appeared in the Federal Register April 30.
The meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 15, at STB headquarters, 395 E. Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20423.
The stated purpose of the meeting is to continue discussions regarding rail performance, capacity constraints, infrastructure planning and development, and the effective coordination among suppliers, carriers and users of energy resources. Items potentially on the agenda include a performance measures review, industry segment updates, a presentation on energy transportation logistics and a roundtable discussion.
RETAC was formed in 2007 to provide guidance to the STB on issues concerning the transportation of coal, ethanol and other biofuels by rail.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has launched a web page that provides information about the Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a database to be launched in early January 2020.
The database’s purpose is to track and identify “drivers who are not legally permitted to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) due to drug and alcohol program violations,” the FMCSA said.
In 2012, Congress directed the secretary of transportation to establish a national clearinghouse containing commercial motor vehicle operators’ violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program in Section 32402 of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). This rule implements that mandate and responds to recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board.
FMCSA says on the website that registration with the database will open in the fall and all operators who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial driver’s permit (CLP) must comply with the requirement in order to continue working in a safety-sensitive role.
Disability Fund Shows Strong Improvement—Twenty Years
The Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security trust funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) trust funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80% of benefits payable at that time.
The OASI trust fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 77% of benefits payable at that time. The DI trust fund is estimated to become depleted in 2052, extended 20 years from last year’s estimate of 2032, with 91% of benefits still payable.
In the 2019 Annual Report to Congress, the trustees announced:
The asset reserves of the combined OASI and DI trust funds increased by $3 billion in 2018 to a total of $2.895 trillion.
The total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed total annual income, for the first time since 1982, in 2020 and remain higher throughout the 75-year projection period. As a result, asset reserves are expected to decline during 2020. Social Security’s cost has exceeded its non-interest income since 2010.
The year when the combined trust fund reserves are projected to become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, is 2035 – gaining one year from last year’s projection. At that time, there would be sufficient income coming in to pay 80% of scheduled benefits.
“The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of Social Security. “The large change in the reserve depletion date for the DI fund is mainly due to continuing favorable trends in the disability program. Disability applications have been declining since 2010, and the number of disabled-worker beneficiaries receiving payments has been falling since 2014.”
Other highlights of the trustees’ report include:
Total income, including interest, to the combined OASI and DI trust funds amounted to just over $1 trillion in 2018. ($885 billion from net payroll tax contributions, $35 billion from taxation of benefits and $83 billion in interest)
Total expenditures from the combined OASI and DI trust funds amounted to $1 trillion in 2018.
Social Security paid benefits of nearly $989 billion in calendar year 2018. There were about 63 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.78% of taxable payroll – lower than the 2.84% projected in last year’s report.
During 2018, an estimated 176 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
The cost of $6.7 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2018 was a very low 0.7% of total expenditures.
The combined trust fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 2.9% in 2018.
The board of trustees usually comprises six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Steven T. Mnuchin, secretary of the treasury and managing trustee; Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of Social Security; Alex M. Azar II, secretary of health and human services; and R. Alexander Acosta, secretary of labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant.
With Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28) almost upon us, the AFL-CIO today released their annual report on deaths on the job. This year’s focus of the report was workplace violence.
According to the AFL-CIO, “Workplace violence is the third-leading cause of death on the job, resulting in more than 29,000 serious, lost-time injuries for workers each year.”
According to the report, in 2017, 5,147 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries and each day, an average of 14 workers die due to on-the-job injuries. An estimated, 95,000 people die each year from occupational diseases.
The report also states that nearly 3.5 million workers in the public sector had work-related injuries and illnesses, with an additional 2.8 million injuries reported in the private sector. Due to limitations to the current injury reporting system and widespread under-reporting of injuries in the workplace, the AFL-CIO estimates that the true numbers are two to three times greater than these at about 7.0 million to 10.5 million work-related injuries and illnesses per year.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that there will be a public meeting to solicit comments on its Whistleblower Protection Program from 1 – 4 p.m. EST May 14, 2019.
OSHA invites employers, employees of businesses affecting interstate commerce and all interested parties, including business owners, employees, associations, whistleblower advocacy groups, labor groups and attornies to the meeting.
In particular, OSHA wants to know how it can provide better customer service to whistleblowers and what kind of assistance OSHA can provide to better explain existing whistleblower laws.
Interested parties who plan to attend, speak or call in, should register by the close of business on April 30, 2019. Participants may speak and hand out written materials, but there will be no opportunity to give an electronic presentation. Registration on the day of the meeting will be permitted on a space-available basis beginning at noon. The meetings will be held in room S-3215A-C at the U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20210.
The U.S. Department of Transportation published a final rule April 23 that makes technical corrections to regulations governing drug testing for safety-sensitive employees to ensure consistency with recent amendments made to DOT’s “Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs,” which recently added requirements for testing for oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone.
According to the release from DOT, the new changes to the department’s regulations make it necessary to refer to these substances, as well as morphine, 6-acetylmorphine and codeine by the term “opioids” rather than “opiates.”
This final rule amends the term in the FAA, FTA and PHMSA regulations to ensure that all DOT drug testing rules are consistent with one another and the mandatory guidelines for the testing program.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D – Mont.) recently criticized the Trump administration for budget proposals that would cut funding for Amtrak rural services, especially the Montana Empire Builder line, and wrote Amtrak’s President Richard Anderson asking for accountability and answers.
“Congress purposely created a national network of long-distance and state-supported train service throughout the nation, in recognition of the importance of a transportation system that reaches every community — regardless of how rural it may be. Amtrak is more than a collection of individual train routes: it is a web of essential connections that bind our country together and link rural communities with major markets and economic opportunities. It provides residents of these communities with transportation options on which families, seniors, and businesses rely to access jobs, create economic opportunities, see our beautiful country. and visit family,” Tester’s letter to Anderson stated. “The federal investment in Amtrak ensures the small, mid-size, and rural communities served by Amtrak’s long-distance and state-supported routes continue to receive this essential service.”
Tester also posed the question to Amtrak as to why ticket agents have been eliminated and questioned the accounting methods the carrier is using to determine the cost of long-distance services. He also questioned leadership’s claims that long-distance service is down despite 2017 figures that showed that ridership is up 10.6% from the previous eight years. He asked that Amtrak address his questions by no later than April 29.
Sen. Tester’s bipartisan letter includes signatures from 10 other senators, including Tom Udall, Michael Bennet, Pat Roberts, Cory Gardner, Jerry Moran, Catherine Cortez Masto, Martin Heinrich, Joe Manchin III, Dick Durbin and Kyrsten Sinema.
Two-person crew legislation endorsed by our union progressed ahead in two state legislatures late last week.
In Illinois, S.B. 24 was passed by the state Senate by a party-line 36-19 vote on Thursday. The state House of Representatives’ Rules Committee has received the bill, which establishes a minimum crew size of two individuals, and will consider it. The bill’s primary sponsor in the Illinois House is state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D – Dist. 113).
“Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator, this couldn’t have been done without you,” The Illinois State Legislative Board said in a post on its Facebook page. “The General Assembly will now go on a two-week holiday break so please be ready to reach out to your State Representatives in their district offices.”
A two-person crew bill also has been passed in Maryland and awaits the action of Gov. Larry Hogan.
Nationally, the Safe Freight Act two-person crew bill introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 1748) by U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska continues to gain sponsors through the vocal support of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees alike, the national legislative office in Washington reports.
National Legislative Director John Risch said that more than 1,500 messages from members and retirees have been sent to members of the House in support of the Safe Freight Act and the bill has been gaining co-sponsors.
“Hearing from their voters goes a long way to opening the door to our message in the halls of Congress,” Risch said. “This is a team effort, so keep up the emails and phone calls.”