Locals not holding their meetings in June may continue to pay authorized expenses via the process outlined by this office in the March 17, 2020, circular. This advised officers and members seeking membership approval of expense submissions to utilize a version of a procedure that was previously available only to Local Chairpersons. For exact details and procedures, please reference the March circular. A copy of the claim form to be used can be obtained via TD Connect or by contacting this office.
Reimbursement for expenses via the five-signature claim form is only to be sought after fulfilling a legitimate duty of office, pursuing a matter as adopted and directed by the membership, or in fulfilling an assignment at the direction of an officer with authority over
the matter in question. It is not for members or officers to unilaterally assign themselves duties or make purchases and then seek a disbursement from the Local or the LCA.
As a reminder, there is no mechanism available for “official” meetings to be held via video conference. Among other concerns, such meetings pose a challenge to the constitutional requirement to keep the union’s business private, and some members might not have the equipment or skills to “attend” such meetings.
Further guidance will be circulated as the situation develops.
In my last update, I explained that Phase 2 of the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) CARES Act implementation plan was targeted for completion by the end of May. Phase 2 of the RRB’s plan provides for the additional $1,200 per registration period for claims beginning April 1, 2020, or later. I am happy to report that final testing is underway as I draft this message. Barring any unforeseen complications, we anticipate making the first payments under Phase 2 within a week. I am grateful for the commitment of RRB employees who have worked tirelessly to implement computer programming changes to issue these payments, in recognition that they are crucial to our brothers and sisters in the railroad community.
RRB Labor Member John Bragg
Recently, we have been receiving inquiries regarding railroad employees filing for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits with the RRB while being compensated for work as union representatives. Employees must report all full-time and part-time work to the RRB when filing for benefits, including work as a union representative. If pay is received for a particular day, the employee should not claim the day as a day of unemployment. Instead, the employee should report the pay on the claim form with the appropriate code (for example, ‘E’ for a day employed, or ‘P’ for a vacation day or holiday pay). There are certain conditions where part-time work does not affect entitlement to benefits. In general, if the pay is no more than $15 a day for work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of full-time employment, it may be considered “subsidiary remuneration” and will not affect payment of UI benefits. Employees should keep in mind that the RRB must make a determination in advance of whether benefits are payable for days where part-time work was performed. Following are 2 examples provided for illustrative purposes:
Example 1: A claimant receives a salary of $350 per month for serving as secretary-treasurer of the local lodge of his union. He performs a variety of duties at his own convenience while holding down a full-time railroad job in his craft. The average payment per day is not more than $15 and therefore it will likely be determined to be subsidiary remuneration. If the claimant is laid off from his full-time railroad job but still receives $350 per month union salary, he should contact the RRB to see if unemployment benefits may be paid to him.
Example 2: A claimant receives a salary of $500 per month for serving as secretary-treasurer of the local lodge of his union. He performs a variety of duties at his own convenience while holding down a full-time railroad job in his craft. The average payment per day is more than $15 and therefore it will likely be determined not to be subsidiary remuneration. If the claimant is laid off from his full-time railroad job but still receives $500 per month union salary, it is likely no UI benefits would be payable as UI benefits would only be payable if the amount he was paid for the union work was subsidiary remuneration.
Additional guidance on the effects of part-time work and whether the compensation paid for such work meets the definition of subsidiary remuneration can be obtained by contacting the RRB at 1-877-772-5772.
A message from John Bragg, the Railroad Retirement Board’s labor member, released this week stated that the increased $1,200 in unemployment benefits from the CARES Act will begin to be deposited toward the end of the month.
“We do not have an implementation date as of yet, but barring unforeseen complications, (we) hope to have Phase 2 completed by the end of the month,” Bragg stated. “Our team is working on the necessary programming changes to provide for those payments.”
The payment of the additional $1,200 biweekly per registration period for unemployment claims beginning April 1, 2020, or later will be paid retroactively to April 1 once the necessary adjustments are made to the RRB’s system.
“I assure you that agency employees recognize the lifeline that these benefits represent for the railroad community and all appropriate resources are being directed towards completing this work as soon as possible,” Bragg said.
The first phase of CARES Act unemployment assistance for rail workers required RRB to identify all employees who exhausted their regular UI benefits during the benefit year that began July 1, 2019, establish new extended UI periods and lengthen existing extended UI benefit periods as appropriate and pay any denied days of unemployment already on record.
RRB also sent UI claimants a letter of the payment actions and mailed any needed claim forms to bring claimants current so they can continue to receive the extended benefits. For those who file their claims electronically, the RRB loaded appropriate claim forms to their online accounts so that individuals can file them online through myRRB on the website RRB.gov.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, recently signed into law by President Trump, authorized extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for railroad workers sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic. After making necessary programming changes to agency systems, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) began processing and paying extended benefits on May 11.
The CARES Act authorized payment of extended UI benefits to rail workers who received UI benefits from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. Under the legislation, railroad workers with less than 10 years of service may be eligible for up to 65 days of extended benefits within 7 consecutive 2-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 2-week registration periods. No extended benefit period under this provision can begin after December 31, 2020.
The RRB will identify any employees who exhausted their regular UI benefits during the benefit year that began July 1, 2019, and send them a letter and claim forms to receive the extended benefits. The agency will also load appropriate claim forms to online accounts so that individuals can 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.
The extended benefits are being paid from a previous appropriation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, of which $140 million remains. As a result, these benefits will not be charged to rail employers in calculating their contribution rates to fund the railroad unemployment system. Extended benefits will be payable until a claimant’s eligibility is exhausted or the appropriation is depleted, whichever comes first.
While the extended benefits will not be subject to reduction due to budget sequestration, the RRB does remind recipients that the payments are subject to income taxation and garnishment for tax or other legally established debts.
The team responsible for programming adjustments continues to work diligently to update systems to allow for the payment of the additional CARES Act benefits. When that processing is completed, payment will be made to cover retroactive periods. Meanwhile, employees who met eligibility requirements for UI at the beginning of the benefit year but had exhausted those benefits will now be able to file for and again receive UI benefits.
SMART Transportation Division Local 61 (Philadelphia, Pa.) has experienced the loss of a second member from the novel coronavirus.
Brother Stephen McFadden, 51, of Philadelphia, and a SEPTA conductor, died April 30 from COVID-19. He had been a member of the union since September 1991.
“I saw him at every union meeting we had – and sometimes he was the only person there,” said Bernard Norwood, general chairperson of GO-STA. “Stephen was very committed to the union. He was a really nice guy.”
Using money out of his own pocket, Brother McFadden donated to the local’s annual holiday party without fail, Norwood said.
McFadden was a very passionate Phillies fan – sometimes catching part of the game during the down time he had during a shift and filling in his union brothers and sisters on what was going on – and making sure the game was on the TV in the crew room. He also was a very particular lottery player, schooling people to scratch from the bottom up and letting them know the range of numbers they should snag when considering a scratch-off ticket purchase.
Another tradition he was known for was on pay weeks – when the system processed the payroll and employees knew they were going to get their deposits, he’d greet his brothers and sisters with a cheery “Happy Wednesday!”
“That’s going to be missed a lot, especially today,” Norwood said. (He was interviewed on May 6 — a Wednesday morning.)
On April 14, McFadden’s Local 61 brother Michael A. Hill, 58, of Glassboro, N.J., died of COVID-19. Norwood says he’s received reports of 35 positive coronavirus cases and 135 SEPTA workers have been in quarantine. Seventy-two are back on the job.
Norwood said it’s been an uphill fight to get the carrier to mirror some of the sanitizing practices being adopted in New York and in New Jersey, to provide personal protective equipment and to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measures.
“We’re still fighting for temperature checks and to get marks on the floors for social distancing,” Norwood said, although he said he’s seeing some progress.
To date, SMART-TD nationally has lost at least eight members and retirees to the pandemic, according to reports submitted to the union.
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:
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.
Labor member, Railroad Retirement Board
Railroad Retirement benefit recipients who have a qualifying child and didn’t file a 2018 or 2019 tax return have a limited window to register to have $500 per eligible child added automatically to their soon-to-be-received $1,200 COVID-19 payment, the Internal Revenue Service said Monday.
A quick trip to a special non-filer tool on IRS.gov by noon Eastern time, Wednesday, April 22, may help put all of their eligible Economic Income Payment into a single payment, the agency said in a news release.
“We want to ‘Plus $500’ these recipients with children so they can get their maximum Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 plus $500 for each eligible child as quickly as possible,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “They’ll get $1,200 automatically, but they need to act quickly and register at IRS.gov to get the extra $500 per child added to their payment. These groups don’t normally have a return filing obligation and may not realize they qualify for a larger payment. We’re asking people and organizations throughout the country to share this information widely and help the IRS with the Plus $500 Push.”
If the Wednesday deadline is missed, RRB beneficiaries who don’t normally file a tax return and do not register with the IRS by April 22, will still be eligible to receive the separate payment of $500 per qualifying child. Their payment at this time will be $1,200 and, by law, the additional $500 per eligible child amount would be paid in association with a return filing for tax year 2020. They will not be eligible to use the Non-Filer tool to add eligible children once their $1,200 payment has been issued, the IRS said.
While America and the world struggle to combat the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, new heroes have emerged. While much of America has long celebrated its athletes and celebrities as its heroes, this pandemic has shown us who the real heroes are in our society.
At the onset of World War II, Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in a letter to a close friend:
This is a long tough road we have to travel. The men that can do things are going to be sought out just as surely as the sun rises in the morning.
Vice President Brent Leonard
America’s freight railroad workers are the men and women that “can do things.” Throughout this unfathomable crisis, they have continued to transport the critical commodities and supplies that keep this country operating. These dedicated employees work incredibly long hours, with unpredictable schedules, little rest between shifts, and relatively no time off. The nation’s freight railroads are deemed so important to the economy and our country during this pandemic that the federal government has exercised its emergency order authority, and waived crucial safety regulations designed to protect these employees and the general public, all for the sake of keeping the trains running at maximum efficiency.
It would reason that America’s railroads and our elected representatives would want to take care of these heroes if they were affected by the COVID-19 virus by ensuring these men and women would be treated under medical insurance at no cost to the employee. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In a stunningly greedy and despicable move, the nation’s railroads have denied their employees and their unions’ requests for relief from the costs of COVID-19 treatment.
In a letter dated April 15th, Chairman Brendan M. Branon of the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC), an association of more than 30 U.S. freight and passenger railroads employing more than 145,000 workers, advised rail labor organizations that they would NOT waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment, wanting these families to pay their full portion of treatment costs if they are affected by COVID-19. This move is a slap in the face to the heroes who are working tirelessly to keep the railroads and the nation operating.
Let us put this in perspective. The nation’s railroads are not the struggling small businesses fighting to stay afloat. They are consistently reporting billions of dollars in annual profit. In addition to those billions in profits, the nation’s railroads take government (taxpayer) handouts to the tune of billions of dollars per year. These behemoths are provided billions in tax subsidies in everything from diesel fuel taxes, property taxes, to payroll taxes and infrastructure subsidies. Yes, we the taxpayers are helping fund the billions of dollars of profit that these railroads make. Yet the railroads choose to not fully cover their employees’ costs if they are infected with COVID-19. Do not forget, these are the employees who make it possible for gas stations to have gas to sell, that toilet paper can be produced, that grain and feed is supplied to livestock, that produce can be grown, that there are chemicals to purify our drinking water, and that medical supplies can reach our hospitals and healthcare professionals at a time when they need them most.
In the railroads’ refusal to fully cover these costs, they claim their “extensive measures to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak” are designed to limit employee exposure. While this pandemic is challenging for even the best-managed and -run businesses, the railroads are failing miserably in this regard. Reminiscent of the auto industry’s infamous practice of calculating the cost of lawsuits rather than recalling and fixing deadly cars, the railroads are doing precisely the same thing in regard to COVID-19.
In many instances, railroads have taken only the most basic steps to protect employees. Even with that minimal effort, unions have collected thousands of reports from rail employees indicating that no action has been taken whatsoever. The railroads are gambling that the cost of a few employees’ lives are less consequential to the bottom line than providing basic protective measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This leads us to the potential cost of fully covering these frontline essential workers if they contract COVID-19. While it is difficult to provide an exact estimate at this time, it is a safe bet that the total additional cost is a pittance when compared to the uninterrupted billions in employee-generated revenue and taxpayer handouts the railroads continue to receive.
Ultimately, it is greed and disdain for frontline, essential workers that drives the railroad’s refusal to fully cover their employees’ out-of-pocket costs. Is this the America we have become? Do we no longer celebrate and protect our most-critical heroes who get things done?
Brent C. Leonard is a vice president of SMART Transportation Division, a labor union 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.
What is SMART-TD on Long Island, N.Y., doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sheet Metal Local 137 manufactured signs thanking TD members who continue to work on Long Island Rail Road through this pandemic. “Thanks to Dante Dano and Pete Scaglione,” said General Chairperson Anthony Simon. “They have been so supportive to the TD LIRR, I cannot express enough how we are all in this together.”
“Thank you to GC John McCloskey for his help and support in getting signs and with locations. The partnership is just unbelievable and appreciated,” Simon said. The reaction from the membership after the signs went up has been overwhelming
New York City and its bordering suburbs and counties have been among the hardest-hit in the nation by the coronavirus due to its density and the demands of the city’s economic engine driven by the financial and business districts.
Like most transportation systems, the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) has been deemed an essential service for health care workers, emergency responders, police officers, firefighters, city and state essential workers and countless other professions.
A Long Island Rail Road conductor works during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some of the ways union leadership on Long Island and SMART members continue to deliver.
While required to continue working, tremendous safety efforts have been achieved through the issuance of proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), manpower manipulations to allow for social distancing, constant disinfecting efforts to protect work locations, paid administrative sick leave to accommodate the hundreds of positive tested members and associated quarantines, and so many additional safety precautions to protect workers.
Members have been working around the clock cleaning and sanitizing over 1,000 train cars on an aggressive schedule, and our maintenance of equipment workers are continuing to inspect and repair our equipment to all of the standards outlined by federal authorities.
Engineering forces in the track and building and bridge ranks are continuing to build and maintain the system during this health crisis. Huge projects such as the over $11 billion East Side Access project to allow service to New York City’s Grand Central Station in addition to three other major city terminals continue. The mainline third track expansion continues along the central corridor of Long Island to add to the over 700 miles of track and 124 stations.
Front-line train crews are continuing to provide a modified essential service plan requiring flexibility, dedication and sacrifice working in vulnerable conditions. They are providing safe service and collecting whatever fares possible as safely as they can during the pandemic.
Union officials are providing administrative support to the varying work locations hit hardest by the virus to ensure crew dispatching, payroll and PPE issuance are all expedited appropriately.
After more than 60 COVID-19-related deaths at the MTA, the governing agency of the LIRR, SMART leadership has negotiated an additional $500,000 death benefit package to include health benefits for the beneficiary of any COVID-19 related deaths within our membership.
Union leadership has worked closely with agency heads and management to provide whatever benefits possible during this extremely troubling time, such as priority COVID testing, relaxed and paid sick leave rules, relaxed time keeping and travel arrangements, etc.
Union leadership is lobbying for additional federal funding needed to recoup billions of dollars of revenue lost during this crippling time.
General Chairperson Anthony Simon has worked closely with General Chairperson John McCloskey on the mechanical side in achieving protections and benefits for all SMART workers.
Long Island Rail Road workers pose for a picture after cleaning a car during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those are some of the collective efforts of GCA-505 in Babylon, N.Y., which represents SMART-TD’s workers on LIRR in a region hit hard by the coronavirus with tens of thousands of deaths reported there.
But the GCA’s leaders insist it’s just what they do, and what members expect from them.
“During catastrophic times is when leaders need to step up, lead and not hide,” said Vice General Chairperson Vinnie Tessitore. “Under General Chairperson Anthony Simon’s leadership, and through a dedicated team of union officials, we are out front making tough decisions and demands to secure and protect our workforce.”
Simon, also a SMART-TD alternate vice president, said it has taken a total team effort and cooperation from all to continue to endure the challenges of the coronavirus.
“I could not be prouder of our elected union officials and our membership for their hard work and sacrifices during this pandemic,” Simon said. “I am out in the field every day with our railroad family as they continue to work through this crisis, and my foot will remain on the gas to achieve what they have earned for their heroic efforts.”
Long Island Rail Road workers tend to the track during the coronavirus pandemic.
SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said that those efforts are shining through by protecting both employee and public alike and minimizing disruption.
“It’s a relief to finally receive some good news! On a normal day and in normal times, SMART-TD’s members and leadership in the New York City/New Jersey area have demands placed on them that often can exceed those of other metropolitan areas just because of the size of the agencies we serve and the population, but as always, our SMART-TD membership and our officers on the LIRR never cease to amaze me.” Ferguson said. “They are the toughest and most resilient Brotherhood that, I, too, am so very proud to have the opportunity to work with and represent as President of the Transportation Division. SMART-TD on the LIRR is leading the way on every front and thankfully giving the membership a solid footing to defend themselves from this disaster.
“Anthony Simon and Vinnie Tessitore have stepped up to make sure LIRR keeps trains clean and running for public and the workers alike so that what is considered ‘essential’ stays running. They’re an example of what solidarity can do — for all of labor to see. I do want everyone to know we’re with you in this, and we will all be there together to the end.”
In protest of what he said was gross misrepresentation by New Jersey Transit (NJT) of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SMART Transportation Division General Chairperson Jerome Johnson has resigned from NJT’s coronavirus safety task force.
Johnson, also president of Local 60 (Newark, N.J.), sent a letter April 6 to the carrier, saying that NJT had been unresponsive to concerns about the cleanliness of trains and that they were not being cleaned as frequently as NJT stated they would.
“I provided NJ Transit with pictures and train numbers, especially on weekends, train cleanings are just not being done properly,” Johnson told NJ.com reporter Larry Higgs. “Protocols are not being followed. Equipment being clean every 24 hour is false. I have pictures, videos and complaints.”
Johnson also said that the carrier did not provide personal protective equipment (PPE) in a timely manner and that the carrier’s coronavirus safety task force did not convene for a two-week period with labor representatives present.
“I’m not a union official who doesn’t want NJ Transit to succeed. When they succeed, we succeed,” Johnson told Higgs. “The protocols in place aren’t being followed. My resignation should speak volumes.”
Since late March, SMART-TD continues to field hundreds of reports from the labor workforce in all sectors it represents of carriers not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
On April 15, SMART Transportation Division Local 61 (Philadelphia, Pa.) announced that conductor Michael A. Hill, 58, of Glassboro, N.J., died from the coronavirus.
Local 61 Legislative Representative Nichelle Miles poses with member Michael Hill. It was announced April 15 that Brother Hill passed away from COVID-19.
Brother Hill was a 30-year member of SMART-TD and worked for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA). He is the second active member fatality for SMART-TD from the virus following New Jersey Transit conductor Joseph Hansen, whose death was reported a week ago.
SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson called General Chairperson Bernie Norwood to offer the condolences of all of SMART to the Hill family and Local 61. General Chairperson Norwood relayed to him that “Brother Hill was a great member that was no nonsense and always had a smile on his face. He really enjoyed being with his co-workers, attending football games for the Philadelphia Eagles and playing cards. Brother Hill will surely be missed.”
General Chairperson Norwood was also thankful for the assistance of UTUIA Field Supervisor Chris Malley, who is working with the family to ensure the fraternal UTUIA life insurance benefits Brother Hill had are handled quickly.
Brother Hill was on the front lines moving passengers as an essential employee and was doing so without all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that should have been provided by SEPTA. As news of this second fatality reached him, Ferguson participated in an AFL-CIO-hosted conference call to news media April 15 taking to task federal agencies that he said have not gone nearly far enough in protecting workers during the coronavirus pandemic, even as our union’s death toll from COVID-19 increases.
The union has sent letters to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) seeking emergency orders that establish definitive regulations to protect employees. The FRA has only issued a safety advisory when they have the power to regulate, while FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams did not even respond to a letter sent by SMART-TD, which is a slap in the face to labor, President Ferguson said during the call.
“I’m appalled that we can’t even get a response. It is not like we are asking for anything extravagant. Just what the CDC has stated is the bare requirements to ensure a safe work environment for both our members and the general public that use these services.” Ferguson said. “It’s paramount that we get this fixed at all levels of transportation, and quickly. Enough is enough.”
Other labor leaders participating in the conference included Transport Workers Union of America President John Samuelson, Amalgamated Transit Union President John Costa and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Larry Willis.