Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

SMART-TD, unions, transit agencies call on congressional leaders to provide emergency aid to public transportation

The SMART Transportation Division was among the 36 signatories in a letter sent Aug. 4 calling on leaders in Congress to provide $36 billion in emergency aid to public transportation agencies as the economy continues to be staggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter delivered a stark warning to lawmakers: without at least $32 billion in emergency funding, transit systems in both urban and rural areas face irreversible harm. In the letter, the organizations explained that physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on demand for public transportation services. This, in turn, has placed a major strain on funding sources public transportation agencies traditionally rely on, including farebox revenue and sales tax receipts.

The text of the letter appears below:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer:

On behalf of the millions of Americans who rely on public transportation every day, the 435,000 frontline workers who operate and maintain those systems, and the public transportation agencies that serve communities across America, we urge you to include at least $32 billion in funding for public transportation in the next COVID-19 emergency response bill.

As you know, physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on overall demand for public transportation services. This has placed a major strain on the revenue sources public transportation agencies count on for continued operations, including farebox revenue and sales taxes. Nonetheless, throughout this crisis, millions of Americans have continued to depend on reliable and safe public transportation to get to and from work and for other essential services.

Without robust public transit systems in our urban and rural communities alike, the national economy will not be able to recover. As recently reported in The New York Times, some public transit systems are in danger of heading into a “transit death spiral” where evaporating revenues lead to cuts in services, which in turn cause riders to find alternative means of transportation if they can, further incapacitating transit systems to the point where they become insolvent and inoperable. Communities and transit agencies of all sizes are hurting, and critical emergency funding must be made available immediately to avoid a worsening crisis.

Millions of essential workers bravely fighting on the front lines of this pandemic have no other means of transportation. Healthcare, grocery, and other workers will be put at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods. And families who rely on transit for transportation to pick up food, get to work, and meet their health care needs will be left stranded. Likewise, Americans who depend on paratransit service and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for critical care services will lose their only transportation lifeline. Seniors, communities of color, and other groups who disproportionately rely on transit will be particularly hard-hit, further weakening our country at the worst possible time.

Unfortunately, if Congress does not provide the necessary funding for public transportation in the immediate future, the traveling public will suffer. Allowing vital transportation services to lapse in the middle of a global pandemic will guarantee more harm to our communities and place the economic well-being of the American public in jeopardy.

Our communities across the country are depending on you to act swiftly and decisively to save public transit. This will require an immediate investment of at least $32 billion in our transit systems. We urge you to include this funding in the next aid package.

Sincerely,

Amalgamated Transit Union
Active Transit Alliance (Chicago, IL)
American Public Transportation Association
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
Better Bus Coalition (Cincinnati, OH)
Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
Central Ohio Transit Authority (Columbus, OH)
Center for Disability Rights (Rochester, NY / Washington, DC)
Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago, IL)
Circulate San Diego
Coalition for Smarter Growth (Washington, DC)
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD)
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Investing in Place (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) (Los Angeles, CA)
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston, Texas)
Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York, NY)
National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Riders Alliance (New York, NY)
San Francisco Transit Riders
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
Sound Transit (Seattle, WA)
The Street Trust (Portland, OR)
Transit Forward Philadelphia
Transit Matters (Boston, MA)
Transportation for America
Transportation Communications Union/IAM
Transport Workers Union
Tri-State Transportation Campaign (NY, NJ, CT)
Transportation Choices Coalition (Seattle, WA)
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Washington, D.C.)

A PDF version of the letter also is available.

AFL-CIO TTD’s letter petitions U.S. DOT for passenger face mask mandate

Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.

Dear Secretary Chao:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry[1], I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.[2]

Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.

While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.

These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.[3] [4] The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.

As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage.[5] DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines [6] and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations.[7] Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.

Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them.[8] In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. [9]

Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive.[10] While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.

This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.

However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.

We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.”[11] In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.

Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”. [12] The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.

While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.

In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:

“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.

We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.

While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”

To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.

Sincerely,

Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department

PDF Version

[1] Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.

[2] To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/20/more-than-half-of-us-states-have-statewide-mask-mandates.html

[4] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/18/892677119/world-sets-daily-record-in-new-coronavirus-cases

[5] TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.

[6] For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01

[7] For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators

[8] Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.

[9] Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.

[10] Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.

[11] 71 FR 8042

Local 1607 member Wilfredo Corsino passes from COVID-19

General Chairperson John Ellis (Los Angeles County MTA) reports that Brother Wilfredo Corsino, a member out of Local 1607 (Los Angeles, Calif.), passed away on June 11 from COVID-19 complications.

Corsino

Brother Corsino was 65 years old.

“Brother Corsino has been a part of our Union UTU/SMART since 1996,” Ellis said. “He was a 23-year veteran and a consistent supporter of the Union cause.”

Corsino began his career with LACMTA and worked out of Divisions 7, 10, and 13.

“On a personal level, many operators remember Brother Corsino’s infectious laugh and his love for Metro,” Ellis said. “Many of his co-workers stated that he was a great ping-pong and pool player.”

Brother Corsino is the eighth active member of the SMART Transportation Division reported to the union as having passed away from the novel coronavirus.

The union offers its sincere condolences to Brother Corsino’s family and friends and his union brothers and sisters at Local 1607.

VSTD COVID-19 Elimination Period Waiver is Extended

June 17, 2020

Dear Member:

As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020.

We are pleased to announce that the Plan will be extending this waiver for three (3) more months through August 2020. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March through August 2020, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after September 1, 2020.

We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.

Sincerely,
Board of Trustees
Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr., General President SMART
Mr. Jeremy Ferguson, President-SMART Transportation Division
Mr. Joseph Powell, General Secretary-Treasurer SMART

The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201

View this announcement in PDF form.

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.

NOTICE: SMART-TD Locals may meet in June with adherence to health protocols

From the SMART Transportation Division President’s Department:

As some state and local governments have begun to relax COVID-19 related precautions, Transportation Division (TD) Locals are advised they may choose to hold regular monthly meetings in June if conditions safely allow, and if permitted in accordance with state/local
guidelines. Locals choosing to resume meetings in June are reminded to observe the Centers for Disease Control’s illness prevention guidelines, which can be found at cdc.gov.

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.

RRB Labor Member: Testing underway, enhanced benefit payments expected in a week

From RRB Labor Member John Bragg:

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.

RRB Labor Member: Enhanced benefit payments expected by month’s end

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.

Read an earlier release from RRB about the CARES Act unemployment benefits.

RRB begins payment on extended unemployment benefits

From the RRB’s Public Affairs office:

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.

Local 61 loses second member to COVID-19

SMART Transportation Division Local 61 (Philadelphia, Pa.) has experienced the loss of a second member from the novel coronavirus.

McFadden

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.

Remembering Those We Lost

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, SMART mourns the deaths of those members who put their lives on the line during this global crisis.

It is important for us to work together during this crisis to prevent further deaths while thanking those doing the work to maintain our nations’ critical infrastructure and keep us safe.

We send our deepest sympathies and condolences to their families, extended families, friends, their Locals, and all who knew them.

Joseph Hansen,  SMART-TD Local 60, Newark, N.J. April 7, 2020

Joseph Hansen, a 20-year SMART Transportation Division member out of Local 60 (Newark, N.J.), passed away from COVID-19. Hansen was 62 years old and had been a SMART-TD member since November 1999. He worked out of NJT’s Raritan Yard.  “Brother Hansen’s 20 years of service was exemplary. He was the consummate professional, a loving husband, father and grandfather,” said General Chairperson Jerome Johnson (GCA-610), who is president of Local 60. “He will be greatly missed.”  (Read more)

• • •

Jory J. Bohanan, SMART-TD Local 1607, age 39, North Hollywood, Calif., died March 29, 2020.

A member of the union since 2007, he had previously worked for L.A. Metro and had only worked a couple of months for MV Transportation, which contracts with Santa Clarita Transit. “My son, he was a great man. He had a big heart. He was a genuine, good person, and he was easy-going,” his father, Darryl Bohanan, told the Santa Clarita Signal. Jory is survived by his children and was engaged to be married. A GoFundMe had been set up to assist his family.

• • •

Kenneth R. Jackson, SMART-TD Local 1337, age 73, Brusly, La., died April 1, 2020. Brother Jackson was a veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired Union Pacific conductor.

• • •

Donnie Carson, SMART-TD Local 1908, age 69, Buffalo, N.Y., died April 3, 2020.

• • •

Domingo Tovar, SMART-TD Retired Local 23,  Santa Cruz, Calif., April 14, 2020

Brother Tovar, 68, served two stints with Santa Cruz Metro as a bus operator starting in 1982, then leaving for another carrier before returning to Santa Cruz in 1987. He was involved in the initial contract talks with the carrier as well as a 37-day strike against in 2005.
He served a year as secretary and treasurer for Local 23.

“He had many friends. He was a happy person,” said retired Local 23 member Serena Tovar, Brother Tovar’s wife of more than 43 years and a 30-year SMART-TD member. “Domingo remained the same type of person the day she met him to the day he passed. He was always happy. He just loved life and had no regrets. He was very proud of his kids and was always there for his family.”

• • •

Michael A. Hill  SMART-TD Local 61, Philadelphia, Pa, April 14, 2020

Brother Hill was a 30-year member of SMART-TD and worked for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA). He was the second active member fatality for SMART-TD reported from the virus following New Jersey Transit conductor Joseph Hansen.

• • •

Rameliah “Reme” JenningsSMART-TD Local 1589, age 74, Scotch Plains, N.J., died April 22, 2020.

Brother Jennings spent much of his career with United Parcel Service (UPS). After he retired, in 2007 he tapped into his love for driving and worked part-time with Suburban Bus Company (Coach USA). In typical “Reme” fashion, he bonded with the staff at the company and was well admired and loved. He joined the union in 2011. Brother Jennings, an ordained minister, was a globetrotter and was constantly on the go! He had the opportunity to travel to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. He was also an avid sports fan and was passionate about his golf game. He served as associate pastor at First Park Baptist Church in Plainfield, N.J. The Rev. Jennings leaves to cherish fond memories, his wife of 35 years, Dorothy, his children, sisters and many nieces, nephews, and friends.

• • •

Kenneth K. Skoog, retired from SMART-TD Local 1177, age 90, Whapeton, N.D., died April 24, 2020. An Air Force veteran, Brother Skoog began working for the Great Northern Railroad in 1951, which later merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad. He retired in 1993 after 43 years of service.

• • •

Stephen G. McFadden, SMART-TD Local 61, age 51, Philadelphia, Pa., died April 30, 2020. Brother McFadden was a SEPTA conductor and 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. He 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.

• • •

Rony L. Jacobs, SMART-TD Local 30, age 69, Alma, Ga., died May 9, 2020. A retiree from Amtrak, Brother Jacobs was a conductor for the carrier for 40 years.

• • •

George Appiah-Kumi, SMART-TD Local 1589, age 63, Somerset, N.J., a union brother, friend and co-worker passed away May 18, 2020, at RWJ Hospital in New Brunswick. as a result of COVID-19.

George has been part of Suburban Transit since July 7, 2014.

“His dedication to his work and strong union activism are the reasons why he was well appreciated and liked by both management and union,” said General Chairperson Gordon Harris, who is also Local 1589’s president. “I will always remember his soft, quiet voice and brilliant smile every time we ran into each other at work. George was a team player and has helped out many times even on short notice. May his soul rest in peace.”

• • •

Wilfredo Corsino, SMART-TD Local 1607, age 65, Los Angeles, Calif., died June 11, 2020. A bus operator for L.A. Metro out of Divisions 7, 10, and 13, he joined the union in 1996. “Many operators remember Brother Corsino’s infectious laugh and his love for Metro. Many of his co-workers stated that he was a great ping-pong and pool player,” GC John Ellis said.

• • •

Retiree Luther “Junior” Lawson, SMART-TD Local 1315, Florence, Ky., age 89, passed away Aug. 26, 2020, as a result of COVID-19. He joined the union in 1970 and was a brakeman for CSX.

• • •

Ramon Gamez, a SMART-TD Local 1563 member, passed away from COVID-19 on Aug. 21, 2020, at age 55. A Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker, Brother Gamez worked out of Division 3202 and was hired December 21, 1997.

Well-liked by his co-workers, Brother Gamez was a great family man and is survived by his wife, Sonia Gamez; daughter, Alejandra Gamez; and son Ramon Gamez Jr., a SMART-TD member out of Local 1565. Brother Gamez loved to play chess, take trips to the lake, go to Las Vegas and go to the movies with his family.

“He was very friendly and outgoing and will truly be missed,” General Chairperson John Ellis said.

• • •

Rohan Johnson, SMART-TD Local 1715, Gastonia, N.C., age 59, a member of the union since February 2012 who worked for the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), passed away on Aug. 30 from COVID-19.

“He was known as dependable man that would help anyone in need,” Bus Department Vice President Alvy Hughes said.

“A respectful, loving and caring husband, father, and friend,” his wife posted. “Was loved and will be sadly missed by many.”

• • •

Christopher Bruce Skaggs, 49, of Mammoth Spring, Ark., died on Monday, October 26, 2020 at Fulton County Hospital in Salem, Ark. Brother Skaggs was a former president of Local 607 (Thayer, Mo.) and a former legislative secretary of the Missouri State Legislative Board.

• • •

Jose “Joe” Alfaro, a member of SMART Transportation Division for more than 15 years, died from COVID-19 on Nov. 13. He was 58 years old. Brother Alfaro was a member of Local 18 in El Paso, Texas, and worked as a trainman/brakeman for Union Pacific.

He leaves behind his wife of 22 years, Ruoana and four children: Avan Brian, Mia Brianna, Vanessa and Robert.

• • •

Miguel “Mike” Gaitan, 64, an active SMART Transportation Division member out of Local 1241 (Richmond, Calif.), passed away Friday, December 11, 2020, from COVID-19. An engineer with BNSF, he joined our union in February 1995.

“Mike was larger than life, his kindness, his funny laugh and his ability to be a leader in the railroad family was not rivaled,” California State Legislative Director Louis Costa said. “He will be deeply missed.”

Brother Gaitan is survived by his wife, Alice, and four children, Megan, Mike Jr., Santiago and Dolores. He also had two grandchildren.

• • •

Angel Lomeli, a 14-year member of our union, passed away Jan. 5, 2021, from COVID-19. He was 48 years old.

Brother Lomeli was a member of Local 1846 (West Colton, Calif.) and worked as a trainman for Union Pacific.

“God gained the absolute best angel today, we miss you but a soul as beautiful as yours will never be forgotten,” his family wrote on a memorial fundraiser page in his memory.

He is survived by his wife, five children and four grandchildren.

• • •

Laureen Young Jr., 59, a 34-year member out of Local 1565 who worked as a train operator for the LACMTA, passed away Dec. 27, 2020, from complications associated with COVID-19.

• • •

Bryant D. Armstrong, 46, of Local 835 (Bakersfield, Calif.), a trainman/brakeman for Union Pacific and a member of our union for four years, passed away Feb. 17, 2021, from COVID-19.

• • •

Thomas R. Christensen SMART SM Local 9, Denver, CO. A member since 1965.

• • •

Warren H. Hodges, SM SM Local 66, Everett, WA.

• • •

Reyernesto Mendoza, SM Local 105, Los Angeles, CA.  Brother Mendoza was a 25 year sheet metal member who started his career in 1995 and worked at Critchfield Mechanical.   In a message on the Local 105 website, SMART Local 105 Vice President Steve Hinson described Rey as someone who always had a smile on his face and a positive attitude.  On Facebook, many of his fellow union members expressed their condolences and described Rey as a hard worker.  According to an article from KTLA News, “Rey was one of those guys you meet along your path that you would never forget. A great man who will be missed dearly,” one member wrote.  His Local 105 brothers and sisters set up a GoFundMe website for his family.

• • •

Thomas L. Leonard, SM Local 20, Hobart, IN. Brother Leonard passed away Thursday, April 23, 2020. He was born in Gary, Indiana on November 24, 1942 and graduated from Hobart High School in 1961.  A long time member in Indiana, he retired from Area Sheet Metal in 2000.  He was survived by his son and two daughters.

• • •

Anthony L. Rush, SM Local 20, Indianapolis, IN.  Brother Rush passed away on the evening of March 28, 2020.  He was born in Indianapolis on January 10, 1953 and was a member of St John Missionary Baptist Church in his hometown.  He retired in 1997 after over 18 years at Bright Sheet Metal and as a long time member of SM Local 20.

• • •

Stanley E. Turner, SM Local 20, Evansville, IN.  Stanley E. Turner II passed away on Monday April 6th, 2020.  He was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on Sept 26, 1945.  His  family settled in Evansville early in his childhood and he attended North High School, graduating in 1963.  He joined the Navy and served 2 yrs active duty and 23 yrs of reserve duty with his highest ranking at retirement as a Chief Petty Officer. During his time at sea, he learned his craft as a Sheet metal journeyman and welder. He was an active member of Local 20 and served as a union steward during his career. He was known for his work ethic, integrity and high level craftsmanship.  He was a long time member of his church and after retirement, he would volunteer his time using his craftsmanship to perform maintenance and special projects for his fellow church members.

• • •

Gerald Carson, Local 63, Springfield, MA

• • •

Bob Olwig, Local 36

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