Posts Tagged ‘H.R. 2’

Amtrak furloughs could be avoided with proper action in Congress

Amtrak, despite having been given $1 billion in funding under the CARES Act to prevent furloughs as a result of COVID-19, has announced that more than 500 – 509 to be exact – SMART members are targeted to be furloughed, effective Oct. 1.

Carrier leadership announced Sept. 1 that approximately 1,950 unionized jobs are being targeted by Amtrak’s latest cost-cutting measures, which come on the heels of voluntary buyouts from earlier this year and a reduction in service on a number of long-distance routes.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has rocked the global economy. However, some countries have it under control and can focus on virus containment and economic recovery while others, such as the United States, are seeing cases continue to rise (more than 6 million nationwide) along with deaths attributed to the virus (approaching 200,000).

“It is our hope to recall furloughed employees as soon as business conditions or funding permits,” Amtrak wrote in its notification of the furloughs.

But will additional funding for Amtrak materialize? There’s a transportation bill – The Moving Forward Act (or HR 2, which contains the INVEST Act) — sitting before the Senate that provides funding for Amtrak that could have averted these furloughs. However, Republican leaders and White House staff declared the bill dead on arrival after it was passed by the House.

“This week, another 2,000 workers learned that they will be losing their jobs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This time it is largely Amtrak employees who operate trains, provide onboard services, and support passengers who will bear the brunt of this administration’s failure to lead the country during this pandemic. The jobs at the center of today’s announcement are good paying, union jobs that sustain middle class families and will be difficult to replace, especially in a time of sky-high unemployment,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “In July, I led the House in passing the Moving Forward Act, which tripled funding for Amtrak to nearly $29 billion. Later that month, the House also approved transportation appropriations legislation that provided $10 billion for Amtrak, including emergency appropriations that contained protections to prevent the furloughing of workers. In fact, our Committee will soon be hearing from workers who are impacted by these furloughs. It’s time for Republicans in the Senate to stop sitting on these important bills and do their job to protect Amtrak employees and so many others currently in need.”
Next week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials will be holding a hearing on Amtrak’s response to the COIVD-19 pandemic. On the docket to be discussed are these furloughs and the carrier’s reduction in service, among others.

Our union is working hand-in-hand with the subcommittee and with receptive members in Congress to see that these cuts are reversed.

“We are doing everything in our power to make sure that this nation’s decision makers are fully aware of the ongoing events at Amtrak and the devastating effects they’re poised to have on our membership,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “One branch of Congress has already greenlit the money. It’s time for the Senate and the White House to do the same.”

H.R. 2 passes U.S. House and moves to Senate

H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that contains provisions important to members of all crafts in the SMART Transportation Division and to sheet metal workers, passed through the U.S. House of Representatives by a 233-188 vote on July 1.

A major component of this bill is the INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in late June.

H.R. 2 contains:

  • a two-person freight crew requirement
  • bus and transit operator safety measures
  • blocked-rail-crossing enforcement
  • a cross-border solution
  • yardmaster hours of service
  • additional funding for Amtrak
  • requirements for carriers to meet CDC guidelines and to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to transportation workers

“This is an unprecedented step ahead for many of our union’s major issues through the legislative process,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Our concerns were heard and addressed by the writers of this bill — safety for workers and communities alike in the bus and transit operator safety measures and in the crew-size provision, funding for Amtrak, and a number of other provisions intended to rebuild and transform the nation’s roads and rails.

“Federal agencies and big-pocketed lobbyists have tried to obstruct the essential protections that this bill provides to our members and to the people who work on, live near and use our nation’s transportation network. These representatives all had the foresight and initiative to move them forward.”

Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), earlier in the week had an op-ed published that was highly critical of the legislation, targeting the two-person crew portion and one that dealt with study of potential rail transport of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) specifically, saying the bill “woefully missed the mark.”

In the column, Jefferies also argued that legislators were “putting their collective thumbs on the scale” regarding railroad safety in regulating the crew-size safety issue.

The INVEST in America component of the Moving Forward Act was shepherded by House T&I Chairperson Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, through the committee June 18. He commented on July 1 after the bill’s passage:

“Passage of this bold, forward-thinking infrastructure bill is proof that finally, there is a majority of us in Congress who won’t accept the status quo and instead are willing to fight for a new vision that invests in our communities, addresses the climate crisis, and creates better opportunities for all. And we get there by putting millions of people to work in jobs that cannot be exported, while harnessing American-made materials, ingenuity, and innovation,” he said. “With the Moving Forward Act, we make it clear that our infrastructure does not have to be a product of the past, with crumbling roads and bridges, unreliable transit and rail networks, inequitable outcomes, and little regard to our changing climate and our changing economy. I challenge my Senate colleagues to join the House in thinking big and being bold on long-overdue investments not only in our infrastructure, but also in the communities and the people we all represent.”

Leaders in the SMART-TD National Legislative Department thanked DeFazio and the bipartisan group of Democrats and a trio of Republicans who supported H.R. 2.

“As if we need any additional evidence that elections matter, this result shows that the 2018 change of party control in the House made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We appreciate those legislators who supported this legislation in its journey through the House. There is more work to be done and a path to be cleared for this legislation, and our membership is more than willing to put in the time to make legislators understand why the bill provisions are necessary.”

The Moving Forward Act now moves to the United States Senate, where, according to Politico.com, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, called the bill “nonsense,” “absurd,” “pure fantasy” and vowed that it will die before getting to the White House, where the president has threatened to veto the bill.