Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

AFL-CIO TTD issues blueprint for restoring intercity passenger transportation

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the nation, nearly all intercity passenger transportation ceased almost overnight. In 2020, air carriers ferried their fewest passengers in three decades, registering months with as much as 96% fewer boardings compared to the prior year. Amtrak saw its ridership decrease 97% as business travel along the profitable Northeast Corridor evaporated. As many as 800 motorcoach companies shuttered, and cruise lines ceased all operations in compliance with CDC orders. While the federal government has taken important steps to mitigate the devastation caused to transportation services, employees and communities, in many corners of the nation these effects have been catastrophic. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is imperative that we begin flying, riding and traveling again—and that we do so safely. Our national economic recovery, and the livelihoods of millions of transportation workers, depends on it.

The most essential factor in the restoration of passenger transportation is the promise that travel will be safe and that COVID-19 risks have been properly mitigated for passengers and frontline transportation workers. We wholeheartedly applauded President Biden’s common-sense Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, which came during one of the darkest stages of the pandemic. At a time when new daily COVID-19 cases averaged over 150,000 and the vaccines were not available to the vast majority of Americans, this order mandated the wearing of masks on many forms of transportation for both workers and passengers. While enforcement has proven to be challenging at many transportation operations, this standard must remain in place until COVID-19 has been defeated.

Perhaps more important is the ongoing need to complete the most ambitious mass-vaccination campaign in world history. While mask usage and current levels of inoculation have begun to bear fruit in terms of passenger volume, many more vaccinations are required before travel across modes returns to pre-COVID levels. In this regard, there are three tenets of vaccination efforts that must be realized.

First, transportation workers, including flight crews, conductors, drivers and other at-risk employees must have access to vaccines. As of April 21, 2021, all states are allowing any adult to receive a vaccine, but in many cases rollouts have been uneven, and challenges have persisted particularly for employees who are frequently away from their place of residence where they qualify for vaccines. States and employers should continue to focus on making sure that the workers who put their lives on the line each day to keep intercity transportation running have the ability to receive vaccines, and should pursue remedies where challenges in doing so have arisen.

Secondly, to further stimulate demand for domestic travel, it is essential that efforts to vaccinate the population broadly continue unabated. We are encouraged by the rates at which Americans are currently being vaccinated and we are optimistic for the sustained upward trajectory required for a return to normalcy.

Finally, such a return will also require international efforts. For both the safety of flight crews who travel through foreign airports and cities, and for renewed demand for international business and tourist travel, conquering the virus globally is also essential. This effort must not be neglected.

Over the last year, Congress recognized the crisis looming for intercity passenger transportation and its workforce, implementing a series of programs and emergency spending intended to keep workers on payroll and connected to critical benefits like healthcare, and to prevent against an economic collapse triggered by a wave of bankruptcies of major U.S. companies. These measures have been a vital lifeline and their continuing implementation will be instrumental in the return of intercity passenger service.

For airlines and airline contractors, the Payroll Support Program (PSP) has been extremely successful in protecting employees from the brunt of the rapid drop in air travel due to the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of employees have continued to be able to pay their bills and seek medical care due to the program. Treasury should continue to disperse funds appropriated for the PSP, including through the American Rescue Plan, and continue to observe the firewall between government assistance and employee collective bargaining agreements included in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

Amtrak has also received substantial funding through COVID legislation, which will ensure that the rail carrier and its workforce are prepared to respond to increased demand as the pandemic abates. The American Rescue Plan required Amtrak to restore its long-distance service and recall all furloughed employees within 90 days — smartly ensuring that relief was directed to employees and service maintenance. The restoration of long-distance service, reduced to three times a week from pre-COVID daily service on most routes revitalizes critical connections between urban hubs and rural communities, and promotes the future of these lines by underscoring their reliability and consistent presence to the riders who rely on them. The recall of approximately 1,200 furloughed employees and prohibitions on further furloughs will not only benefit workers on the unemployment lines, but is required to meet the service demands that we hope and expect to see shortly. Amtrak must act to restore its service and employees in an expeditious manner, and should seek to comply with statutory requirements well in advance of Congress’ deadlines.

In the second COVID relief bill, H.R. 133, Congress wisely included the CERTS Act, which sought to provide funding to transportation entities that had previously received aid, including school bus contractors, non-transit ferry services and motorcoach operators. Despite its passage on December 27 of last year, the Trump administration Treasury took no actions to make the grants available to entities that badly needed them. We call on the Treasury to dispense these grants as soon as possible. This is particularly necessary given the dire straits the motorcoach industry currently finds itself in. Motorcoach operators previously provided over 500 million passenger trips per year, serving both urban and rural travelers. However, given how many companies have already closed their doors, or are on the precipice of doing so, if aid is not promptly dispersed, the post-COVID economy may find itself deeply lacking in critical intercity passenger bus service.

While Congress correctly did not provide direct aid to cruise line operators who have chosen to flag their vessels in foreign countries, the resumption of cruise line service is important for the recovery of cruise port cities like Miami, and the thousands of longshore workers who prepare these vessels for voyage. We call on the CDC to only revise its No-Sail Order when it is deemed safe to do so. We also urge the CDC to consider the health and safety of longshore workers in any future guidance on the resumption of cruise line travel.

Finally, one of the most impactful actions the federal government can take to restore intercity passenger transportation is passing legislation that makes bold investments in our nation’s infrastructure, which this body has consistently called for. There is a real opportunity right now for the federal government to make the types of generational investments into our transportation systems that will not only help us recover economically and restore passenger transportation to pre-COVID levels, but also to build a system that can once again be the envy of the world. We can modernize and upgrade across every mode, and expand service throughout the country, especially to communities that have historically been underserved. In doing so we can rebuild our economy, create jobs and support the millions of transportation workers who keep America moving.

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The Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (TTD) is a coalition of 33 member unions, including the SMART Transportation Division, that provides a bold voice for workers in every mode of transportation – both in the private and public sector – and is devoted to protecting middle-class jobs, expanding collective bargaining, and ensuring modern, safe, and secure transportation operations and infrastructure.

Local 1361’s Carol Jones featured in video as part of SMART Women’s Week

Longtime Amtrak conductor Carol Jones, a local chairperson with SMART-TD Local 1361 out of New Haven, Conn., and a member of our union for 23 years, was featured in a “Sister Stories” video during SMART Women’s Week in early March. See the embedded video above to watch her story of coming up in the transportation industry and working as a pioneering woman in the passenger rail sector.

FRA refuses to enhance passenger rail security in the wake of Capitol riots

Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory in a Jan. 14 letter to union leaders denied a request from the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) to issue an emergency order to safeguard passenger rail travelers and workers, even in the face of known threats and the potential for violence, according to the FBI.

“Regrettably, we received a response from FRA Administrator Ron Batory that denied our Emergency Order request from earlier this week,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “It seems that the safety-first mentality has fleeted under his watch and now the agency is not even willing to strengthen or increase enforcement actions against those that may do harm to the people, equipment, or infrastructure of this nation’s rail system – a complete deviation from FAA, its sister agency under the same DOT umbrella.

“FAA has announced extremely aggressive measures to deter those willing to do harm from boarding commercial aircraft. It’s sad that FRA refuses to do the same.”

In his letter, Batory deferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and encouraged rail labor to work with the carriers on bulking up security. This is in spite of the FRA being the primary agency responsible for regulating and enforcing passenger behavior, including the interference or assault of a train crew.

“While your petition correctly notes the differences in statutory and regulatory authorities between the Federal Aviation Administration and the FRA, which evolved based upon operational differences and legislative considerations, these differences do not provide a basis for FRA to take the requested action,” Batory responded. “Accordingly, FRA declines to grant your request for an emergency order. In addition, FRA does not believe it would be appropriate to introduce such an emergency order into the long-standing, well-established law enforcement partnerships between railroads and Federal, state, and local agencies.

“Consistent with your stated willingness ‘to work with the applicable agencies,’ we encourage you to work with railroads as they coordinate to provide for safe passenger rail service at the upcoming Inauguration and beyond,” Batory wrote.

Leaders from both SMART-TD and the BLET, two of the nation’s largest railroad labor unions, expressed concerns to FRA on Jan. 11 and to DHS on Jan. 13 about security vulnerabilities in passenger rail service in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that occurred at the U.S. Capitol. While airport and air travel security administered by the FAA is well-equipped to react to bar those suspected of causing violence from air travel, no such measures are in place for passenger rail.

“Realizing years of neglect cannot be fixed overnight, we are demanding that significant changes to passenger rail protocol be granted immediately to protect against the imminent threat of danger that exists today,” President Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce said. “It is our recommendation, as a minimal standard, that any regulation granted to prohibit the interference of a train crew’s duty be in line with that of aviation statutes and regulations.”

Among the remedies suggested by the union leaders to FRA was the establishment and implementation of a “No-Ride List,” which would mirror the FAA’s “No Fly List” and restrict people from using passenger rail. This solution also was shared with the DHS in the Jan. 13 emergency order request.

Amtrak, the nation’s largest passenger rail carrier, in a statement released Jan. 14 from CEO Bill Flynn, said that it was in favor of a “No-Ride List.”

“There is nothing more important than the safety of our employees. Since the start of the pandemic, our dedicated frontline employees have kept our trains running, providing a vital transportation service to essential workers. We join our labor partners in continuing to call upon Congress and the Administration to make assaults against rail workers a Federal crime, as it is for aviation workers, and to expand the TSA’s “No Fly List” to rail passenger service,” Flynn said.

“After last week’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, we are taking extra steps to continue ensuring the safety of our employees and customers in Washington DC and across our network as we prepare for the Inauguration. In addition to limiting ticket sales and requiring masks to be worn at all times, we are increasing our police enforcement to ensure strong compliance, remove noncomplying customers and ban those that don’t follow our policies,” Flynn said. “This includes deploying additional Amtrak Police officers onboard our trains and in our stations to support our frontline staff, and utilizing additional support from TSA and partner law enforcement agencies.”

As a precaution in advance of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden next week, two regional passenger rail carriers have announced service changes. The Maryland Department of Transportation stated it was halting traffic on three MARC lines from Jan. 17th to the 20th. Virginia Railway Express (VRE) said it will not operate trains Monday, Jan. 18 through Jan. 20 as well, citing security concerns.

DHS continues to weigh the emergency order request from the unions to implement a “No-Ride List” despite Batory’s rejection of the unions’ emergency order request and FRA’s failure to act.

Security concerns change Biden’s Amtrak plans

President-elect Joe Biden has decided not to take Amtrak to his inauguration ceremony after security concerns intensified following the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, CNN reports.

Biden had planned a journey similar to the one he had taken from Delaware to D.C. as a U.S. senator when he commuted daily on the passenger rail carrier. He also took a ride on Amtrak into D.C. for his 2009 inauguration for his first vice presidential term.

However, the attack on the U.S. Capitol and additional threats detected by federal agencies led to the cancellation after Biden had initially announced his intention to take the train.

Read more on CNN.

Rail unions petition Homeland Security to enhance passenger rail security after U.S. Capitol insurrection

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Jan. 13, 2021) — The leaders of two of the nation’s largest railroad worker unions urgently petitioned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a letter Jan. 13 to enact a “No-Ride List” on passenger rail carriers after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) demanded that the DHS take immediate executive action to tighten passenger rail security in line with aviation security overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Even as of this hour, the only real requirement for a person to board a train is simply to have a ticket; nothing more, nothing less. There is no screening process. There is no TSA. And there are no significant statutes or regulations to penalize those willing to interfere with a train’s crew or to do harm on a train, especially not when compared to the airline industry,” Presidents Jeremy R. Ferguson of SMART-TD and Dennis R. Pierce of the BLET said in their emergency order request.

SMART-TD and BLET urge that DHS implement a “No-Ride List” that mirrors FAA’s No Fly List immediately by expanding 49 U.S.C. §114(h) to include the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and passenger rail carriers.

“By granting an extension of the statute and giving access to the FRA and rail carriers, there will be, at minimum, a line of protection against those known to pose a threat from utilizing rail to manipulate the country’s transportation system, and it will mitigate against unwanted, aggressive interaction or attacks on train crews,” the presidents wrote.

The petition to DHS for an emergency order follows a similar petition sent Jan. 11 to FRA urging it to act to prevent security vulnerabilities and to protect those who ride — as well as the essential workers who operate — passenger rail service in and around the nation.

Read the Emergency Order Request (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 different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, 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.

Rail unions petition FRA to protect Amtrak passengers, personnel after U.S. Capitol insurrection

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Jan. 12, 2021) — The leaders of two of the nation’s largest railroad worker unions urgently petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a letter January 11 to prevent security vulnerabilities and to protect those who ride — as well as the essential workers who operate — Amtrak passenger rail service in and around the nation’s capital after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) demanded that FRA and DHS take immediate executive action to tighten security and enhance punishments, and to increase personnel to a level that brings passenger rail security more in line with aviation security overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the threat of political violence swirls.

“Realizing years of neglect cannot be fixed overnight, we are demanding that significant changes to passenger rail protocol be granted immediately to protect against the imminent threat of danger that exists today,” Presidents Jeremy R. Ferguson of SMART-TD and Dennis R. Pierce of the BLET said. “It is our recommendation, as a minimal standard, that any regulation granted to prohibit the interference of a train crew’s duty be in line with that of aviation statutes and regulations.”

Suspected insurrectionists continue to threaten further violence as the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration approaches next week. Some of these have been relegated to the No Fly List overseen by FAA, preventing them from traveling by air, but no such restriction exists for the national passenger rail network. SMART-TD and BLET urge that a “no-ride” list that mirrors FAA’s list be enacted immediately.

Similarly, train stations lack security. Absent the screening protocols similar to those provided by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) at the nation’s airports, armed riders with malicious intent could board an Amtrak train with weapons, putting passengers and rail workers at risk of injury or death. To remedy this, SMART-TD and BLET call for an additional law enforcement presence in the form of Amtrak police or, if manpower is insufficient, requests the Department of Justice or Department of Homeland Security bring in U.S. Marshals or TSA agents to take measures approaching those enacted by the airline industry.

A proportional presence of workers in the passenger compartments of Amtrak trains similar to that in the airline industry, with at least one conductor or assistant conductor present per 50 riders aboard also can enhance safety and the response aboard the train if an emergency does occur.

“SMART-TD is committed to safety, and we will accept nothing less. Our men and women risk their lives every single day as critical infrastructure employees in the railroad industry,” Ferguson said. “They have no way of knowing if an individual is violent, armed, or much less already flagged as a known risk to safety via the TSA’s No Fly List. Every encounter could serve as an agitation or provocation of an already aggravated individual to attack.

“Our members deserve better and the traveling public deserves better. We are willing and able to work with all applicable agencies to achieve this goal, but it must be done today.”

“Railroad workers have continued to serve the needs of the traveling public during these difficult times,” BLET President Pierce said. “Our members are hardworking Americans who put their lives at risk each day in the performance of their duties. In the aftermath of the violence in our nation’s capital last week, our members and the traveling public deserve increased protection during this time of ongoing political unrest. We stand ready to assist FRA, TSA and Homeland Security to help ensure the safety of our members and the traveling public.”

Read the PDF of the Emergency Order petition from the unions.

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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.

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.

Amtrak repeats call for funding aid as it releases fiscal results

In its preliminary financial report, Amtrak said that the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced ridership on the national passenger carrier by about 75% from pre-COVID levels.

While Amtrak leadership expects a slow rebound in ridership, with forecasts seeing an increase to about 40% of pre-pandemic levels by the close of the 2021 fiscal year as COVID-19 abates, the coronavirus has been a massive shock to the carrier.

Members of SMART-TD and other labor unions rallied in late September urging Congress to avoid Amtrak job cuts.

“Our dedicated employees continue to work tirelessly through the pandemic to keep this country moving, advance critical infrastructure and update technology and services, and provide safe transportation to customers,” said Amtrak President & CEO William Flynn. “However, without additional funding for 2021, we will be forced to further reduce service, defer critical capital projects and make more job reductions despite this important progress.”

The Republican-controlled Senate did not act on a pair of bills — the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act — passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have provided additional emergency funding for Amtrak to maintain employment and service levels as the nation continues to cope with the coronavirus. Instead, funding was maintained at 2020 levels by Congress.

In reaction to not having the nearly $5 billion needed to maintain operations, carrier leadership reduced daily long-distance routes to three trips a week and cut about 2,000 unionized employees effective Nov. 1 over the objections of SMART-TD and other unions representing Amtrak workers.

The carrier had expected to break even for the first time in its history during the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 2019 to Sept. 2020.

Read the carrier’s report.

PSR, Amtrak funding discussed before U.S. Senate committee

Amtrak’s financial situation and the freight rail industry’s continued use of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices were the focus of a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing Oct. 21.

Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn repeated his plea for almost $5 billion in emergency funding to help the nation’s passenger carrier weather the continued downturn in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The carrier has made drastic long-distance service cuts, going from daily to three trips per week on many routes. Furloughs for almost 2,000 Amtrak employees are scheduled to take effect in November.

“Virtually all of the CARES Act money has been spent,” Flynn told the committee. “These workforce adjustments are essential with current financial funding.”

A number of legislative actions, including the HEROES Act and the INVEST in America Act, while passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, have been stalled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the GOP-controlled Senate. The emergency funding provided by such legislation would help the carrier rebound, Flynn said.

“Once the pandemic eases, Amtrak plans to grow,” he said.

A second panel featured a discussion of PSR.

Rudy Gordon, CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, expressed concerns from a shipper perspective about the redeployment of furloughed railroad workers, saying that he fears delays in service and shipments on the part of rail carriers when the economy rebounds.

PSR has caused “a tipping point” at the expense of customer service, Gordon said, and said that if rail service erodes further at the expense of the carriers obtaining lower operating ratios (ORs) that the Surface Transportation Board should intervene.

Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, offered written testimony concerning PSR.

“Across the sector, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, threatening both the health and livelihoods of employees,” Willis stated. “At the same time, freight railroads, at the insistence of Wall Street investors and hedge fund managers, have pursued operating practices that undermine basic tenets of rail safety, ask frontline workers to do more with less, and threaten the reliable and efficient customer service that should be the hallmark of this industry.”

The lone labor representative invited to testify in person was Dennis Pierce, president of the Teamsters Rail Conference.

Other industry stakeholders appearing were:

  • Paul Tuss, executive director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and Member, Montana Economic Developers Association
  • Frank Chirumbole, vice president global supply chain, Olin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
  • Kent Fountain, chairman, National Cotton Council
  • Ian Jefferies, president and chief executive officer, Association of American Railroads

Watch the hearing by following this link.

Video in DNC’s first night highlights relationship between Biden, SMART retiree

Gregg B. Weaver, a retired member of SMART-TD Local 898 who rode with former Vice President Joe Biden many times during the longtime senator’s commute from Delaware to Washington D.C., was featured in a video presented Monday, Aug. 17, during the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

In the video, the former vice president’s respect and empathy toward the SMART members who served him as he traveled on Amtrak were highlighted.

“I think he’s most comfortable around everyday, working-class people,” Weaver said. “He makes you feel like you belong.”

SMART-TD member Gregg Weaver, right, introduces Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the Wilmington, Del., Amtrak station in January 2009.

Weaver has had a long relationship with the former senator and vice president, even introducing Biden and former President Barack Obama as they took a train ride to their first inauguration in January 2008 as featured in the February 2009 issue of the SMART-TD News.

Another instance of Biden’s concern came after he heard that Weaver had had a heart attack, Weaver recalled in the video.

“I was in a barber shop in New York City and the phone rings,” Weaver said. “And sure enough, it’s Vice President Biden asking how I’m doing — wanted to know the whole story. Kind of funny that you’re talking to the Vice President of the United States, but if I would have told the people in the barber shop, I don’t think they would have believed me.

“I’m not saying like it was me and I’m anything special. Everyone was special to him. We have heroes all over this country … the average guy is important to him.”

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.

What the COVID-19 bill means for our railroad members

On March 27, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that provides provisions favorable to SMART Transportation Division members as the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill provides a $2 trillion relief package to the nation as it copes with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has killed hundreds and infected thousands of Americans.

“This bill helps to provide some short-term relief to the transportation industry that has been staggered by the coronavirus,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “In the event that carriers continue to cut workers or that employees get sick, those workers, including our members, will have extended financial protection. It also gives a financial lifeline to Amtrak as the passenger carrier’s operations have been severely curtailed by the pandemic.”

This relief bill:

  • waives the seven-day waiting period for benefits provided under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA).
  • provides an enhanced RUIA benefit of $1,200 per two-week period in addition to regular RUIA benefits.
  • extends Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) sickness and unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.
  • provides RRB $5 million in additional grant funds to administer the RUIA.
  • provides $1 billion in funding to keep Amtrak operational to prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including $492 million to the Northeast Corridor and $508 million to support its long-distance service.
  • tasks Amtrak with providing congressional reports regarding employee furloughs, if they occur.
  • provides relief checks up to $1,200 per person, $500 per child. Click here to calculate your amount.

The economic uncertainty and long-term health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic present a challenge nationally, and the RRB is advising all railroaders to set up a RRB account. Click here to establish your account.

Due to the IT restraints and volume of contacts to the RRB, members are advised to access the RRB site from a computer, not a phone or tablet. Establishing an account gives workers a head start in the event that RRB unemployment or sick benefits are needed by RR workers in the case of carrier furloughs or illness.

Additional RRB funding and the removal of RRB benefits from the budget sequester implemented by congressional Republicans during the Obama administration may be considered in subsequent relief packages.

SMART-TD, BLET petition FRA for passenger rail emergency protocols regarding COVID-19

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 20, 2020) — On the heels of their joint petition to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requesting an Emergency Order (EO) to address employee safety conditions in response to the national COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) are now asking for a similar EO for Amtrak and passenger/commuter lines.

“Therefore, it is necessary that Amtrak and all railroads providing passenger and commuter rail service to take immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces and passengers, to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties, and to maintain sufficient staffing levels to compensate for reduced headcounts caused by sick employees and family members until the virus begins to subside,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce wrote in their petition.

The unions’ request for an EO basically calls for an action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers by using protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To date, the FRA has failed to enact such an action plan. Several components of the unions’ passenger rail EO request mirror those requested in their joint freight petition, which includes: locomotive sanitation, common room sanitation, employee temperature observation protocols, away-from-home terminal procedures, crew transportation sanitation, what to do if an employee develops symptoms, and furlough recall procedures. The unions’ petition for a passenger EO covers: coach/passenger car sanitation standards, sleeper car sanitation, and directives in case a passenger develops symptoms.

The unions suggest that 25% of furloughed rail personnel should immediately be recalled to service to deal with anticipated shortages and staffing needs, in accordance with President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.

“In order to standardize and define the best protocols across the industry for mitigation of the spread of the virus and the protection of both passengers and employees, there exists a number of safety precautions that need to be immediately ordered by FRA,” Presidents Ferguson and Pierce stated.

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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.

Read the emergency petition filed to FRA. (PDF)