Posts Tagged ‘CARES Act’

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.

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.

RRB labor update: Unemployed railroaders appear to be eligible for state Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

I wanted to send out another update on what is going on at the agency. We have received inquiries regarding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was established under the CARES Act and whether railroaders may be eligible for benefits under that program if they are not eligible for Railroad Unemployment Insurance Benefits (RUIA) benefits. The Department of Labor (DoL) is responsible for giving guidance to the states regarding the PUA benefits, so we asked the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) General Counsel to reach out to the DoL. The RRB’s General Counsel has been advised by the DoL that nothing in the PUA provisions prohibit railroaders from being eligible for these benefits if they otherwise qualify. Similarly, the RRB’s General Counsel has found that there is nothing in the RUIA that prohibits railroaders from receiving PUA benefits if they are not receiving RUIA benefits. So as a result, I would recommend that if your members have been denied RUIA benefits, they check with their state unemployment services to see if they are eligible for PUA benefits. To find out the application process in each state, you can refer workers to the Unemployment Benefit Finder at the following website:

https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/UnemploymentBenefits/Find-Unemployment-Benefits.aspx.

RRB Labor Member John Bragg

We have also received questions about the $1,200 one-time economic relief payment. The Department of Treasury is responsible for making those payments, so unfortunately, we do not have information about the timing of those payments. Information about the economic relief payments can be found at the following link: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know

Though not related to COVID-19, I wanted to inform you of a new hire at the RRB. As you may remember from previous updates, the Board has been trying to hire a Chief Medical Officer. A new CMO, Dr. Elizabeth Bonson, has been hired and starts today. We hope that the CMO’s presence at the agency will help make the disability process more efficient.

Finally, as you know, the RRB is located in Chicago and this week, the governor of Illinois extended the stay-at-home order through May 30. I anticipate that the agency headquarters will continue to primarily work remotely. Regarding the field offices, although not all states have the same limitations as Illinois, at present it is my recommendation that it is in the best interests of agency personnel and the railroad population we serve to maintain the current work environment for all offices. Consequently, for the time being, field offices will remain closed to the public and staff will work remotely with periodic visits to the office for administrative tasks.

John Bragg,
Labor member, Railroad Retirement Board

Union leaders call on FTA to set mandatory safety standards, ensure pay for frontline transit workers

April 8, 2020

The Honorable K. Jane Williams
Acting Administrator
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Acting Administrator Williams:

First, we want to thank you and your staff for your hard work ensuring that funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was apportioned to transit agencies in such an expeditious manner. The $25 billion in emergency funding provided by the CARES Act comes at a critical time for public transportation, the frontline workforce who operate and maintain it, and the millions of Americans—including health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—who still rely on it every day during this crisis.

As you know, these funds are provided for capital and operating expenses related to the coronavirus health emergency, including the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and paying the administrative leave of operations personnel due to reductions in service. While PPE and cleaning supplies are eligible for 100 percent federal reimbursement, we understand that there are significant challenges—largely related to demand and global supply chain disruptions—in securing adequate safety equipment for public transportation personnel.

While we stand by the critical importance of the work our members are providing during this crisis, we must also consider their health and the health of those around them. Stories of frontline public transportation workers contracting COVID-19 and tragically dying from the virus are already emerging around the country, and it will only get worse in the coming weeks and months. To ensure the best use of the emergency funding provided by the CARES Act and to protect the health and safety of the frontline workforce and traveling public, we request the following:

First, the Federal Transit Administration should issue immediate and specific interim guidance to public transportation agencies and local governments on the minimum level of PPE for essential frontline employees and cleaning procedures for public transportation services and facilities. At a minimum, this should include masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies for transit workers; and mandatory cleaning standards for trains, buses, subway cars, and public transit stations that are consistent with existing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Second, if a public transportation agency or local government is not able to meet these guidelines and is therefore not able to provide service, and in keeping with the intent of the CARES Act, the FTA must ensure that transit agencies provide continuity of pay to employees until such a time that the established requirements can be met.

Finally, the FTA should urge transit agencies to follow back-door loading policies on all buses, when possible, for all non-ADA passengers to minimize exposure to bus operators, and to set temporary maximum passenger loads that allow for social distancing of passengers.

Taking these steps now will ensure not only the health and safety of America’s frontline public transportation workforce, but also that this critical transportation service continues to operate regularly when we emerge from this crisis.

We thank you for your consideration and would be happy to have further discussion with you or your staff about proactive steps we can take to reduce harm and loss of life during this crisis.

Sincerely,

RRB: Coronavirus Relief Act impacts railroad workers

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law March 27, boosts unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad workers impacted by the pandemic.

Under the CARES Act, the 1-week waiting period required before railroad workers can receive unemployment or sickness benefits is temporarily eliminated. This applies to an employee’s first two-week registration period for a period of continuing sickness or unemployment beginning after the effective date of the law and ending on or before December 31, 2020.

In addition, the amount of the unemployment benefit is increased by $1,200 per 2-week period. This is in addition to the current biweekly maximum of $733.98 received by most claimants. This increased amount applies to any two-week registration periods beginning on or after April 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020.

The CARES Act includes a separate appropriation of $425 million to pay for this added “recovery benefit,” with an additional $50 million provided to cover the cost of eliminating the waiting period. If these funds are exhausted, the new provisions will no longer apply.

The CARES Act also authorizes payment of extended unemployment benefits to rail workers who received unemployment benefits from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020.

Under the legislation, railroad workers with fewer than 10 years of service may be eligible for up to 65 days of extended benefits within seven consecutive two-week registration periods. Workers with 10 or more years of railroad service who were previously eligible for up to 65 days in extended benefits may now receive benefits for up to 130 days within 13 consecutive two-week registration periods.

Since RRB offices are currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, railroad employees are encouraged to file for unemployment benefits online by establishing an account through myRRB at RRB.gov. Employees are encouraged to use a computer rather than a smartphone or tablet due to RRB IT system limitations. Otherwise, applications and claims for benefits will need to be submitted by regular mail. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail, or by fax at 312-751-7185. Subsequent claims may be completed online by those with myRRB accounts.

The RRB will also pay sickness benefits and, in some cases, unemployment benefits, to rail workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are subject to a quarantine order. Further guidance on these types of situations is available at RRB.gov/Benefits/Coronavirus.