Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

RRB: Unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), which provides two kinds of benefits for qualified railroaders: unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed but are ready, willing and able to work; and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to female rail workers for periods of time when they are unable to work because of health conditions related to pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth. A new benefit year begins each July 1.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements and how to claim them. At the time this news release was issued, unemployment and sickness benefit flexibilities were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because these flexibilities are temporary and may change, they are not covered in this release. Visit RRB.gov/coronavirus for up-to-date information.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2021?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $4,137.50 in calendar year 2020, counting no more than $1,655 for any one month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2020 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2020.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2020 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2021, may be eligible for extended benefits. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have railroad earnings of at least $4,275 in 2021, not counting earnings of more than $1,710 in any one month.

In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.

To be eligible for accelerated benefits, a claimant must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and, when claiming sickness benefits, be under age 65.

2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2021?

Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $82. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $820 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to Tier I Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.

Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 5.7% through September 30, 2021. Consequently, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $773.26. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to Tier I payroll taxes of 7.65% will be $714.11 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.

(The temporary benefits created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Continued Assistance to Rail Workers Act of 2020 (CARWA), and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are not subject to sequestration. Under CARWA, beginning January 3, 2021, all benefits under the RUIA (including normal unemployment and sickness benefits as well as normal extended unemployment and sickness benefits) will be exempt from sequestration until 30 days after the Presidential declaration of a national emergency concerning COVID-19 terminates. The RRB will publish updated information regarding the status of the sequestration of RUIA benefits when the end date of the Presidential declaration of a national emergency is known.)

3. How long are these benefits payable?

Normal unemployment or sickness benefits are each payable for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the new benefit year cannot exceed the employee’s railroad earnings in calendar year 2020, counting earnings up to $2,138 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during seven consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).

4. What is the waiting period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?

There is a seven-day waiting period requirement, prior to any benefits becoming payable under the RUIA. During the first 14-day claim period, benefits are payable for every day claimed in excess of seven days. Subsequent claims are paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in each 14-day registration period. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. If an employee has at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits in order to satisfy the waiting period for the current benefit year. Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.

5. Are there special waiting period requirements if unemployment is due to a strike?

If a worker is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.

If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.

While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.

6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?

No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.

7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?

Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.

8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?

If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and non-railroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2021, earnings of $1,655 or more in a claim period will disqualify a claim for unemployment benefits, even if there are more than 4 days of unemployment claimed. This amount corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.

Earnings of $15 or less per day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine if the work affects benefits.

9. How does a person apply for and claim unemployment benefits?

Employees can apply for and claim unemployment benefits online or by mail. Individuals who have established an account through myRRB at RRB.gov can log in and file their applications and their biweekly claims online. Employees who need to create an account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov. Employees are encouraged to establish their accounts while still working to expedite the filing process for future unemployment benefits, and for access to other online services.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an Application for Unemployment Benefits (Form UI-1) from RRB.gov, their labor organization or railroad employer. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and must be filed within 30 days from the date the claimant became unemployed, or the first day for which he or she wishes to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if the application is filed late. Claimants filing a late unemployment application or claim should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving his or her area by visiting RRB.gov and clicking on Field Office Locator, or by calling the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 and selecting the appropriate option from the automated menu.

The local RRB field office reviews the completed application, whether it was submitted online or by mail, and notifies the claimant’s current railroad employer, and base-year employer, if different. The employer has the right to provide information about the benefit application.

After processing the application, biweekly claim forms are provided to the claimant for as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. If a claimant filed an online application, his or her claim forms are only made available online. If a claimant filed a paper application, his or her first claim form is both available online and mailed to him or her. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s). Claim forms should be signed and sent (online or by mail) on or after the last day of the claim. The completed claim must be received by the RRB within 15 days of the end of the claim period, or within 15 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later.

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, in the case of multiple claim periods, a claimant must request a claim form from the RRB within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claim forms may then be filed online or by mail.

10.  How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?

An Application for Sickness Benefits (Form SI-1a) can be obtained from RRB.gov, a railroad labor organization, or a railroad employer. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail. However, subsequent claims may be mailed, or completed online by employees who have established a myRRB account at RRB.gov.

An application including a doctor’s Statement of Sickness (Form SI-1b – included with form SI-1a) is required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Claimants should make a special effort to have the doctor’s statement of sickness completed promptly since claims cannot be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application for sickness benefits on hand, and that family members know where the form is kept and how to use it. If an employee becomes unable to work because of sickness or injury, the employee should complete the application and have his or her doctor complete the attached statement of sickness. If a claimant receives sickness benefits for an injury or illness for which he or she is paid damages, it is important to be aware that the RRB is entitled to reimbursement of either the amount of the benefits paid for the injury or illness or the net amount of the settlement, after deducting the claimant’s gross medical, hospital and legal expenses, whichever is less.

If the employee is too sick to complete the application, someone else may complete it for him or her. In such cases, a family member should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (Form SI-10 included with form SI-1a), which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago within 10 days from when the employee became sick or injured. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which an employee wishes to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there is a good reason for the delay. (Employees cannot currently file their sickness applications online.) Upon receipt, the RRB will process the application and determine if the employee is eligible for sickness benefits.

After processing the application and statement of sickness, the RRB makes the first biweekly claim form available online (for employees with myRRB accounts) and mails a paper form to the employee as long as he or she is eligible for benefits and remains unable to work due to illness or injury. Those choosing to file the paper claim received by mail should return the completed form to RRB headquarters for processing. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both online and paper claim forms for the same claim period(s). Employees who need to create a myRRB account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov.

Completed claim forms must be received at the RRB within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim form is filed late. Claimants filing a late sickness application or claim form should include a signed statement explaining why they were unable to meet the required time frame.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications for sickness benefits must be mailed to the RRB. Statements of sickness may be mailed with the sickness application or faxed directly from the doctor’s office to the RRB at 312-751-7185. Faxes must include a cover sheet from the doctor’s office. Also, in order to prevent a delay in processing applications or claims, employees are advised against sending any sickness benefit forms to the RRB in Chicago via certified mail.

11. Is a claimant’s employer notified each time a biweekly claim for unemployment or sickness benefits is filed?

The RUIA requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. Benefits may not be paid at this time but the employee will receive a notice and have the right to appeal. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

The RRB also conducts checks with other Ffederal agencies and all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to detect fraudulent benefit claims, and it checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.

12. How long does it take to receive payment?

Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if a claimant files an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, his or her benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

If a claimant does not receive a decision notice or payment within the specified time period, he or she may expect an explanation for the delay and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others, especially if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations, or under special circumstances such as the current pandemic.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for review and to appeal. They will be notified of these rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on their claims.

13. How are payments made?

Railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits are paid by direct deposit to an employee’s bank, savings and loan, credit union or other financial institution. New applicants for unemployment and sickness benefits will be asked to provide information needed for direct deposit enrollment.

14. How can claimants get more information on their railroad unemployment or sickness claims?

Claimants with myRRB accounts can view their individual railroad unemployment and sickness insurance account statement by using the View RUIA Account service. This statement displays the type and amount of the claimant’s last five benefit payments, the claim period for which the payments were made, and the dates that the payments were approved. Individuals can also confirm the RRB’s receipt of applications and claims.

In addition, claimants can call the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 to access information about the status of unemployment and sickness claims or payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Individuals with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who need information about their specific claims and benefit payments, can send a secure e-mail to their local office by accessing the Field Office Locator at RRB.gov and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. If a customer needs to talk to an RRB employee, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772). However, customers are asked to be patient because of the increase in call volume due to the closure to the public of RRB offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first 100 days: How the Biden-Harris Administration is winning for workers

“Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family — the 40-hour workweek, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace — is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections.”

The words above could have been written or spoken by any of thousands of union organizers or leaders across the United States in recent decades. They could be part of the narration to a union video or the rousing prelude to a call-to-action at a union rally.

But they aren’t. Instead, they come from the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign website, which is peppered with promises to stand with regular working Americans, support the creation of good union jobs and strengthen collective bargaining and worker organizing.

We know campaign promises are one thing… and post-election actions and reality are another. So, what has the Biden-Harris Administration done for workers thus far? Are they walking their pro-worker talk? Below is a summary of actions to help working Americans under the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration:

01.20.2021

President Biden Fired Aggressively Anti-Union NLRB General Counsel

Just hours after his inauguration, President Biden took the unprecedented step of firing the sitting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Robb, who had been blasted as an anti-union zealot. During Robb’s tenure at the NLRB, the board significantly expanded employers’ powers, allowing them to search workers’ cars and personal items, eject union organizers from public spaces, withdraw union recognition more easily, discriminate against union members in the workplace, thwart protests, and disregard the rights of workers at subcontractors and franchises, among other harm done to workers’ rights. His assistant, who took over in his place and shares the same views, was next in line to replace him. Biden terminated her immediately thereafter. One of Robb’s priorities had been to try and limit the legality of Project Labor Agreements. Two suits filed by Robb aimed to create new case law on PLAs, which would have had disastrous impacts on work hours for all construction union members. They were rescinded by Robb’s Biden-appointed replacement.

01.21.2021

Biden-Harris Administration Issued Emergency Safety Protection Order

On Day 2, President Biden underscored that worker safety will be a top priority under his administration, signing an executive order directing OSHA to produce “clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.” This action aimed to save lives and protect workers who regularly face dangerous conditions while serving their communities during the pandemic. Strong enforceable standards built into the order require employers to develop workplace safety plans, implement science-based protection measures, train workers and report workplace COVID outbreaks.


01.21.2021

Biden Appoints Amit Bose to Replace Former Rail CEO Ron Batory Atop FRA

On Jan. 21, President Biden appointed Amit Bose, who had served as deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) during the Obama administration, to the same position for his administration. Bose later was elevated to the position of FRA acting administrator and is in line to become the permanent FRA administrator.

“We’re excited to be working with Amit Bose,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We’ve had several conversations and he understands and supports our issues. It’s a welcome new day for rail labor.


01.22.2021

New Administration Set $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors

President Biden signed an executive order that ordered the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a $15 minimum wage for all federal contractors.


01.22.2021

President Biden Selected Union Steelworker to Lead OSHA

President Biden selected former United Steelworkers’ safety official James Frederick to lead the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), signaling a commitment to tougher federal enforcement of workplace safety standards as the nation continues to battle a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 500,000 Americans. Frederick worked for 25 years in the Steelworkers’ health, safety, and environment department.


01.22.2021

President Picked Building Trades Official to Lead Wage and Hour Division

Jessica Looman was the executive director of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council before she was selected to head the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. She previously worked as general counsel for the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. In between, she served as the deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Her appointment is of particular importance and offers a very stark contrast with the previous administration, which issued an eleventh hour change to prevailing wage laws. If kept in place, the change would have had a disastrous impact on prevailing wages, pricing out high-road signatory contractors from projects. The change also would have given employers on public projects the leeway to pay someone performing commercial work the residential wage instead, which typically would be significantly lower.


01.22.2021

President Selected Union Attorney to Lead FLRA

President Biden promoted union attorney Ernest Dubster to be the chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). This agency oversees disputes between the federal government and federal unions. Dubster previously worked as legislative counsel for the AFL-CIO and as a law professor teaching collective bargaining and arbitration.


01.22.2021

President Fired Entire Anti-Union Federal Labor Board

President Biden’s work to rid the government of Trump’s anti-union appointees continued with his decision to oust the 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). This panel decides contract disputes between federal unions and the government. It was stacked with anti-union picks that included leaders from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which crafts “right-to-work” (for less) legislation for state elected officials, as well as bills aimed at eliminating prevailing wages (including the infamous Act 10 bill in Wisconsin). The board also included appointees from the Heritage Foundation, and another individual from a top union-busting law firm. President Biden offered the 10 appointees the chance to resign, which eight did. The other two were fired. When those appointees were on the board, the government won 90% of the cases that came before the FSIP — meaning federal employee unions won only 10%.


01.25.2021

President Biden Issued Buy American Executive Order That Closed Previous Loopholes

While the Trump administration used the right-sounding “Buy American” words and rhetoric, it never put into place policies to effect meaningful change regarding the purchase of American-made goods and services. Five days into office, President Biden signed an executive order that directed the federal government to strengthen its Buy American standards. This required more of the product to be made in the United States, cut red tape for buying these items, and made it easier for small and medium sized manufacturers to get federal contracts. The government spends about $600 billion a year on American-made products and is expected to add another $400 billion as part of Biden’s Build Back Better program.


01.25.2021

President Named Far More Labor-Friendly NLRB General Counsel

The week after firing Peter Robb as NLRB general counsel, President Biden named Peter Sung Ohr as the NRLB’s acting general counsel. A career NLRB attorney, Ohr had been the board’s regional director of Region 13 in Chicago. Now as the NLRB’s top attorney, he gets to choose many of the cases the board hears and write directives that tell regional offices how the NLRB should enforce the law. In his first week on the job, Ohr repealed a dozen Trump-era anti-worker directives that had targeted unions. He also threw out a case that would have prevented unions from negotiating commonsense neutrality agreements with employers.


01.27.2021

President Issued Order to End Federal Private Prisons

Near the end of his first week in office, President Biden issued an executive order directing the federal government to stop contracting with private prisons. Private prisons are for-profit ventures that reduce prison employee wages and take jobs from union corrections officers. Training and security standards are often much lower at private prisons. According to a 2012 study by The Sentencing Project, private prison employees earn an average of over $5,000 less than government employee prison staff and receive 58 fewer hours of training, leading to higher employee turnover and decreased prison security. In addition, a 2016 Justice Department report found that private prisons had a 28 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults and more than twice as many inmate-on-staff assaults. According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents employees with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal prisons staffed by union employees are “more cost-effective, more efficient and much safer than their for-profit counterparts.”


01.27.2021

Biden Signed Executive Order Calling for Union Labor to Build New Climate Infrastructure

Realizing that the shift to clean energy is a tremendous opportunity to create jobs, President Biden signed an executive order directing the federal government to lead the way by focusing public dollars on American-made products, including renewable energy goods and clean vehicles, and that high labor standards be attached to every federal incentive for clean energy. The president also explicitly called for investments communities that produce coal and other fossil-fuels to create good jobs in new industries and by cleaning up abandoned mines and wells.


01.29.2021

President Biden Signed Order Mandating Masks on Interstate Travel

President Biden underscored his commitment to the safety of air, rail and transit employees and passengers with a mask mandate that covers anyone who flies, takes a passenger train like Amtrak, or travels on busses such as Greyhound or Peter Pan that cross state lines. This order was followed up on January 29 by the Centers for Disease Control, as directed by the president, and imposes a mask requirement on all public transportation systems including rail, vans, bus and motorcoach services.

In an announcement of the order sent to Federal Railroad Administration stakeholders and partners on January 31, an FRA representative wrote the following: “Science-based measures are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing is one of several proven life-saving measures, including physical distancing, appropriate ventilation and timely testing that can reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Requiring masks will protect America’s transportation workers and passengers, help control the transmission of COVID-19, and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”


02.05.2021

Per Biden’s Order, OSHA Released New COVID-19 Safety Guidance

OSHA issued enhanced COVID-19 safety guidance to help employers and their employees implement a COVID-19 prevention program and better identify risks that could lead to exposure and infection.


02.05.2021

Employee Advocate Appointed Senior Advisor on Unemployment Insurance

The Biden-Harris administration selected Michele Evermore for the newly created role of senior advisor on unemployment insurance within the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration. Evermore previously worked as a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a non-profit that supports low-wage and unemployed workers. Evermore has been a prominent pro-worker voice throughout the pandemic, both as an expert in explaining the federal assistance available to workers, and as a vigorous advocate who addresses the inequities of unemployment assistance.


02.17.2021

U.S. House Passed National Apprenticeship Act

With this new bill, union-sponsored registered apprenticeships will not only continue strengthening economic opportunities in every community, both large and small, they will also open pathways for more industries to recruit, train and expand productive and highly-skilled workforces.


02.17.2021

President Biden Nominated Labor Attorney to Serve as NLRB General Counsel

President Biden appointed Jennifer Abbruzo, special counsel for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and highly respected within the labor movement, to serve as the NLRB’s new general counsel. During her labor career, she provided legal counsel on numerous initiatives that advanced worker power. She previously served as deputy general counsel and acting general counsel at the NLRB. In her nearly 23 years with the agency, she helped to protect workers’ rights from numerous corporate attacks. Once confirmed, she will replace acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr.


02.18.2021

Biden-Harris Moved to Eliminate IRAPs

In mid-February, the Biden-Harris Administration restricted funding for Industry Recognized Apprenticeships (IRAPs), an important step in rolling them back entirely. IRAPS are a dangerous initiative inspired by anti-union contractors aimed at undermining high-quality union apprenticeship programs and replacing them with a watered-down system of certifications. The IRAP program was the most serious political attack on building trades unions in over a generation. Cutting off IRAP funding is an important step in the fight to roll them back. Through his actions, President Biden took important steps to eliminate this existential threat to union apprenticeships. The Biden-Harris administration also brought back the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, which provides much-needed industry-based input on policy, quality assurance standards and equitable enforcement.


02.22.2021

FRA Closed Comment Period on Proposed Rail Worker Fatigue Regulations

On Feb. 22, comments closed for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for which the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sought input on how to address the problem of rail worker fatigue. The regulations would require certain railroads to develop and implement a “fatigue risk management program” as one component of their larger safety programs. The notice and closing of the comment period shows movement by the Biden-Harris administration on a long-delayed component of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA), which requires railroads to create safety risk reduction programs to address the hazards that railroad workers face on a regular basis. SMART-TD filed its comments in conjunction with another union representing rail operating personnel ahead of the comment deadline.


02.24.2021

Biden Signed Order Allowing Unions at DOD

The Defense Department employs about 700,000 civilian workers, about half of which are unionized. An executive order from the previous administration allowed the Secretary of Defense to eliminate collective bargaining rights for those employees at the DOD secretary’s discretion. An executive order by President Biden reversed this anti-union directive.


02.25.2021

Biden Order Allowed DOL to Extend Unemployment Benefits to Those Who Refuse Work Due to COVID Concerns

Under the Biden-Harris administration, the Department of Labor released guidance extending unemployment benefits to workers who refuse to return to a job that is unsafe. The benefits eligibility now applies in circumstances where a worker refuses to return to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite that, in either instance, “is not in compliance with local, state, or national health and safety standards directly related to COVID-19.” These health and safety standards include those related to the wearing of face coverings, physical distancing, and the provision of personal protective equipment consistent with public health guidelines. This extended eligibility is specific to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a type of benefit created and federally funded by the 2020 CARES Act. PUA covers self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and other workers who are not covered by traditional unemployment insurance programs.


02.26.2021

Major Court Victory for Freight Rail Labor Blocked Trump FRA Policy

In a legal victory that underscored the importance of electing presidents who will pick judges who understand worker issues, soon after President Biden was inaugurated, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put common sense and safety ahead of profits and political favoritism. By vacating action by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Trump administration to preempt all state laws and regulations concerning freight train crew size, the court ruling overturned one of the most blatant attacks on workers from the previous administration. While the decision was not a direct result of actions by the Biden Administration — the 3–0 ruling was made by judges nominated by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — the actions of President Biden and his appointees point toward a far more receptive audience in the nation’s capitol in the fight to maintain two-person crews.


03.02.2021

Biden Announced Support for Amazon Organizing Drive

By announcing his support for Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama seeking to form a union, President Biden became the first president in over 70 years to come out strongly in support of a major union organizing drive. The last president who articulated this type of support was Franklin D Roosevelt. While the Alabama warehouse workers lost their election in April, the campaign — and the president’s public support — inspired them and other Amazon workers across the country.


03.09.2021

House Passed Right-to-Organize Bill with White House Support

On March 9, the U.S. House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which is the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression. Among other improvements and reforms to outdated U.S. labor laws, it will:

  • Help ensure workers who win union recognition can reach a first contract quickly.
  • End employers’ ability to hire permanent replacements to punish striking workers.
  • Enhance the NLRB’s power to fine companies that violate labor law, up to $50,000 per violation.
  • Weaken so-called “right-to-work” laws in the 27 states that allow employees who benefit from union contracts to choose not to join or pay union dues.

In early March, President Biden encouraged Congress to pass the PRO Act and the House swiftly passed it. The president had articulated his support for labor law reforms during his campaign, but with the PRO Act now introduced in Congress, his support is a powerful tool in helping ensure that all Democratic Senators support the bill. As of press time, the bill was the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.


03.11.2021

The American Rescue Plan

On March 11, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The act is a $1.9 trillion relief plan that will jumpstart the American economy. It puts real money behind the president’s commitment to defeat the COVID-19 virus and to build back the U.S. economy back better than it was before the pandemic. This critical relief package has already delivered desperately needed federal support for hard-working Americans and will help rebuild our shattered economy with provisions that directly benefit SMART members.

The plan includes resources for COVID testing, logistics, vaccine production and distribution to save lives and reopen America. It secures health care coverage, extends unemployment benefits and provides direct cash support for tens of millions of American families. It also delivers badly needed state and local aid to safely reopen schools and keep our bus and transit systems safe. In addition, the legislation allocates $170 billion to education, with much of that funding targeted to updating ventilation systems — putting sheet metal members to work as we monitor air quality and retrofit those same buildings to rebuild America’s aging HVAC systems. For SMART brothers and sisters on Amtrak who were idled due to no fault of their own, $2 billion is provided to re-open routes and get them back to work.


03.11.2021

Multiemployer Pension Relief

Included in the American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden is a provision allocating $86 billion for multiemployer pension plans facing financial uncertainty. Under the legislation, eligible plans will receive funding in an amount sufficient to ensure that full benefits are paid for the next 30 years, without any benefit reductions or any repayment obligations. Hundreds of multiemployer plans that cover millions of union members and retirees stand to benefit (SMART’s pension plans are currently financially healthy).

“Reckless Wall Street behavior, industry deregulation and employer abuse of corporate bankruptcy have threatened the financial security of millions who’ve worked hard, only to have that promise stolen from them,” said SMART General President Joseph Sellers in his March 2021 video message to members. “We now have a president who supports workers, retirees and their union. This administration put that commitment of ‘guarantee’ back into the ‘Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation’ ” — without cuts to accrued benefits or taxation.”


03.22.2021

Former Union Leader Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor

On March 22, the U.S. Senate confirmed Marty Walsh as the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Known primarily for his work as the mayor of Boston, Mass. Walsh was previously a rank and file member of LIUNA who worked his way up in the trade. His appointment by the Biden-Harris Administration puts a union member in charge of the Labor Department for the first time in decades.


04.28.2021

Biden Nominated Nation’s First Made in America Director

On April 28, President Biden named Celeste Drake as the nation’s first Made in America Director. The new position will shape and implement federal procurement and financial management policy to help carry out the president’s vision of future manufacturing focused on ensuring goods are made in America by American workers.

Drake joins the administration from the Directors Guild of America, where she served as the executive in charge of government affairs. Prior to joining the DGA, she served as the trade and globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, where she led efforts to reform the labor rules found in NAFTA and the USMCA and to reform the process by which Congress oversees and approves trade agreements to protect American jobs.

Talking SMART Ep. 14: The 1st 100 Days of the Biden-Harris Administration

Back in January, we met with Steve Dodd and Greg Hynes to talk about the 2020 election and what to expect from the Biden-Harris administration. We have brought them back for this Talking SMART episode to talk about the first 100 days of the administration and, more specifically, its impact on SMART members.

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Steve Dodd

Brother Dodd is SMART’s Director of Governmental Affairs. He spoke with us about the many actions the Biden administration has already taken to support working families, including positive impacts of the passage of the American Rescue Plan on COBRA, unemployment benefits, multiemployer pensions, and funding for school HVAC retrofits. He also discussed the PRO Act and what it means for SMART members to have so many labor friendly people now appointed to top positions in the Biden administration.

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Greg Hynes

Brother Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and SMART TD’s National Legislative Director. He discussed how the Biden Administration, in contrast to the previous administration, now very much has an open door for labor and actively seeks input from unions on issues of concern to working families. Greg also touched on how the American Rescue Plan included funding to rehire furloughed Amtrak workers, the significance of new leadership at the Federal Rail Administration which is now re-prioritizing rail safety over corporate profits, and what it really means when politicians or rail carriers say we need to just “cut back on regulations.”

In addition, listen for the open mic segment with SMART General President Joseph Sellers at the end of this episode. He responds to multiple questions that have come in from SMART members asking about what steps the Biden-Harris administration has taken to address the multiemployer pension crisis.

Talking SMART is a member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network — working people’s voices, broadcasting worldwide 24 hours a day.

ACTION NEEDED: Tax bill takes away from unemployment fund

The Republican tax bill would result in millions of dollars in cuts to the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and take funds away from out-of-work employees. Tell your senators and representatives to VOTE NO.

Next week, the House and Senate are expected to vote on a tax bill that is expected to add $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion to the federal deficit in the form of corporate and individual tax cuts. According to estimates, the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund could lose as much as $9 million without any subsequent action by Congress under a 2010 budget process known as sequestration.

“Required spending reductions would significantly exceed the total resources available to be sequestered,” said Michele Neuendorf, a Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) labor member counsel, in an email. “This would have the practical result of a 100% sequestration of all non-exempt direct spending accounts including the funds from the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund which is used to pay unemployment and sickness benefits.”

Under the federal “Pay-As-You-Go” (PAYGO) Act of 2010, federal spending is required to balance or offset any increases to the federal budget deficit (also known as sequestration). As a result, the tax bill would trigger automatic budget cuts across all federal programs including the RRB’s Railroad Unemployment Trust Fund, which is targeted for a 6.6 percent cut or approximately $9 million in the 2018 fiscal year by the administration.

“This tax proposal is Robin Hood caught in reverse,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch. “It would take from the poor and give to the rich. If the tax bill becomes law, the railroads will still be able to deduct money that they spend on union-busting lawyers while our members will no longer be able to deduct their union dues. The corporate tax rate for the big railroads will go from 35% to 21% while ours will stay the same with fewer deductions.”

It also means that $9 million intended for ailing and unemployed rail workers doesn’t go where it was supposed to. Instead it will go into the pockets of corporations and the well-to-do.

“Every person in America should be outraged that the Republican tax bill will borrow $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion to fund tax cuts for the wealthy while leaving no room for future federal investments toward infrastructure projects such as airports, transit systems, and passenger railroads,” Risch said. “I’ve been in the business of government policy since the 1980s and this is simply the worst tax proposal I have ever seen. Economists across the political spectrum are condemning this plan and the Republicans are so desperate for some sort of ‘win’ they are moving forward with little to no transparency or accountability to their constituents.”

Time is running out. A vote is planned for next week. Call your senators and representatives and urge them to vote against the tax bill.

Find out who your members of Congress are by accessing the SMART-TD Legislative Action Center or call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Furloughed members may be entitled to benefits

In light of the recent furloughs by Union Pacific and BNSF railroads, below is a Q&A offered by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) addressing common questions about unemployment benefits.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits from the RRB, furloughed members must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,600 in 2014 and must also have five months of service in 2014 with a railroad. If you do not meet these requirements, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits from your state of residence.

Click here to learn more about the benefits the RRB offers in which you may be entitled to. Click here for claim forms from the RRB.

Unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

(Published July 2015 by the Railroad Retirement Board)

RRB_seal_150pxThe Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, which provides two kinds of benefits for qualified railroaders: unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed but are ready, willing and able to work; and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to female rail workers for periods of time when they are unable to work because of pregnancy and childbirth. A new benefit year begins each July 1.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements, and how to claim them.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2015?
To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,600 in calendar year 2014, counting no more than $1,440 for any month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2014 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2014.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2014 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2015, may be eligible for extended benefits, and employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have rail earnings of at least $3,637.50 in 2015, not counting earnings of more than $1,455 a month.

In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.

To be eligible for accelerated benefits, a claimant must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and be under age 65 when claiming sickness benefits.

2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2015?
Almost all employees will qualify for the new maximum daily benefit rate of $72. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $720 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury. (Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 7.3 percent through September 30, 2015. As a result, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $667.44. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to tier I payroll taxes of 7.65 percent will be $616.38 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.)

3. How long are these benefits payable?
Normal unemployment or sickness benefits are each payable for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the new benefit year cannot exceed the employee’s railroad earnings in calendar year 2014, counting earnings up to $1,860 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during 7 consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).

4. What is the waiting-period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?
Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day registration periods. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. However, during the first 14-day claim period in a benefit year, benefits are only payable for each day of unemployment or sickness in excess of seven which, in effect, provides a one-week waiting period. (If an employee has at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits.) Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.

5. Are there special waiting-period requirements if unemployment is due to a strike?
If a worker is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.

If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.

While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.

6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?
No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.

7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?
Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.

8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?
If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave, or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and nonrailroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2015, the amount is $1,440, which corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.

9. How does a person apply for and claim unemployment benefits?
Claimants can file their applications for unemployment benefits, as well as their subsequent biweekly claims, by mail or online.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an application from their labor organization, employer, local RRB office or the agency’s website at www.rrb.gov. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and, in any case, must be filed within 30 days of the date on which the claimant became unemployed or the first day for which he or she wishes to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if the application is filed late.

To file their applications — or their biweekly claims — online, claimants must first establish an RRB online account at www.rrb.gov. Instructions on how to do so are available through the RRB’s website. Employees are encouraged to establish online accounts while still employed so the account is ready if they ever need to apply for these benefits or use other select RRB Internet services. Employees who have already established online accounts do not need to do so again.

The local RRB field office reviews the completed application, whether it was submitted by mail or online, and notifies the claimant’s current railroad employer, and base-year employer, if different. The employer has the opportunity to provide information about the benefit application.

After the RRB office processes the application, biweekly claim forms are mailed to the claimant, and are also available on the RRB’s website, as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. Claim forms should be signed and sent on or after the last day of the claim. This can be done by mail or electronically. The completed claim must be received by an RRB office within 15 days of the end of the claim or the date the claim form was mailed to the claimant or made available online, whichever is later. Claimants must not file both a paper claim and an online claim form for the same period(s).

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, a claimant must, in such a case, request a claim form from an RRB office within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claims may then be filed by mail or online.

10. How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?
An application for sickness benefits can be obtained from railroad labor organizations, railroad employers, any RRB office or the agency’s website. An application and a doctor’s statement of sickness are required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Claimants should make a special effort to have the doctor’s statement of sickness completed promptly since no claims can be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application on hand for use in claiming sickness benefits, and that family members know where the form is kept and how to use it. If an employee becomes unable to work because of sickness or injury, the employee should complete the application and then have his or her doctor complete the statement of sickness. Employees should note that they must indicate on the application whether they are applying for sickness benefits because they were injured at work or have a work-related illness. They must also indicate whether they have filed or expect to file a lawsuit or claim against a third party for personal injury. If a claimant receives sickness benefits for an injury or illness for which he or she is paid damages, it is important to be aware that the RRB is entitled to reimbursement of either the amount of the benefits paid for the injury or illness, or the net amount of the settlement, after deducting the claimant’s gross medical, hospital, and legal expenses, whichever is less.

If the employee is too sick to complete the application, someone else may do so. In such cases, a family member should also complete Form SI-10, “Statement of Authority to Act for Employee,” which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago by the seventh day of the illness or injury for which benefits are claimed. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which an employee wishes to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there is a good reason for the delay. After the RRB receives the application and statement of sickness and determines eligibility, biweekly claim forms are mailed to the claimant for completion and return to an RRB field office for processing. The RRB also makes claim forms available for completion online by those employees who establish an online account. The claim forms must be received at the RRB within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was mailed to the claimant or made available online, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim is filed late.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications and statements of sickness must be returned to the RRB by mail.

11. Is a claimant’s employer notified each time a biweekly claim for unemployment or sickness benefits is filed?
The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

The RRB also conducts checks with other Federal agencies and all 50 States, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to detect fraudulent benefit claims, and it checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.

12. How long does it take to receive payment?
Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if a claimant filed an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations. If this happens, claimants may expect an explanation and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for review and to appeal. They will be notified of these rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on their claims.

13. How are payments made?
Railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits are paid by the U.S. Treasury’s Direct Deposit program. With Direct Deposit, benefit payments are made electronically to an employee’s bank, savings and loan, credit union or other financial institution. New applicants for unemployment and sickness benefits will be asked to provide information needed for Direct Deposit enrollment.

14. How can claimants get more information on railroad unemployment or sickness benefits?
Claimants with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who are seeking information about their claims and benefit payments, can contact an RRB office by calling toll-free at 1-877-772-5772. Claimants can also access an online service, “View RUIA Account Statement” on the “Benefit Online Services” page at www.rrb.gov, which provides a summary of the unemployment and sickness benefits paid to them. To use this service, claimants must first establish an online account.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving their area by calling 1-877-772-5772, or by visiting www.rrb.gov. Most RRB offices are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays.

Labor Day: For too many, another day without a job

UTU members participated in Labor Day events and parades nationwide, demonstrating that a healthy, energized and committed labor union movement is alive and well in America.

In truth, there was not too much to celebrate.

For too many Americans, this Labor Day was just another day without a full-time job; and for millions more Americans, any celebration of Labor Day was eclipsed by concerns of wage cuts, higher health care insurance premiums, loss of health care insurance, loss of collective bargaining rights and efforts by many in Congress to weaken Social Security, Medicare and public transportation.

Labor Day is the traditional start of political campaigns, and the 2012 presidential, congressional and state legislature elections will be a referendum on the future of organized labor and retention of all organized labor has achieved for Americans.

These achievements, all at risk in today’s harsh political climate, include collective bargaining rights, a minimum wage, the right to be heard and to present workplace grievances, an end to discrimination in hiring, overtime pay, paid holidays and vacations, employer provided health care insurance, compensation for workplace injuries, and workplace health and safety regulations.

Although UTU members are mostly secure in their jobs because of outstanding representation, here is a sampling of the climate facing working families in America today:

* Fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers today belong to a labor union.

* According to a recent Gallup poll, only 52 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of labor unions – 78 percent among Democrats, but only 26 percent among Republicans.

* Across America, 14 million Americans are unemployed, nine million part-time workers cannot find full-time employment, and almost seven million Americas have given up looking for work.

* The current 9.1 percent unemployment rate does not include part-time workers seeking full-time work or those who have given up looking for work.

* Since 2008, average annual wage increases have been less than 2 percent.

* There are currently almost five unemployed workers for every job opening.

* To reduce the current 9.1 percent unemployment rate to 5 percent, the economy must create an average of 282,000 jobs per month. In August, zero new jobs were created, and the job creation rate of an average of 240,000 new jobs monthly during the boom years between 1993 and 2000 still falls short of the 282,000 target figure to reduce the current 9.1 unemployment rate to 5 percent.

* The unemployed finding new jobs generally suffer a 20 percent reduction in earnings.

We know from history that in union there is strength. As we look ahead to the 2012 elections, it is essential that all members of working families eligible to vote are registered and go to the polls on Election Day to elect labor-friendly candidates, regardless of political affiliation. Union members have one of the highest rates of participation in elections, and that enthusiasm and effort must continue.

With assistance from the UTU’s political consultant, the UTU’s national legislative office and state legislative directors, the UTU will be keeping members informed about labor-friendly political candidates.

Participation in the UTU PAC is also important in helping to elect labor-friendly candidates, as these contributions assist them in delivering their message to voters.

Being involved with your union is also essential, and this includes attending meetings of your local.

If you believe in something strong enough, you fight for it.

We can turn things around in America, but it requires solidarity to win this fight and emerge stronger than ever, so that on the Labor Days of the future, organized labor and working families all have something of substance to celebrate.

New year for rail unemployment, sickness claims

A new year under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act for unemployment and sickness benefits begins July 1.

The maximum daily benefit rate payable remains at $66 in the new benefit year.

Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day registration periods. Thus, the maximum benefits for biweekly claims will continue to total $660.

During the first 14-day claim period in a benefit year, benefits are payable for each day of unemployment or sickness in excess of seven, rather than four, which, in effect, provides a one-week waiting period.

Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. However, only one waiting period is required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year. Claimants already on the rolls will normally not be required to serve another waiting period because of the onset of the new benefit year.

To qualify for railroad unemployment or sickness benefits in the benefit year beginning July 1, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,325 in calendar year 2010, not counting more than $1,330 for any month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2010 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in that year.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify in the new benefit year on the basis of their 2010 earnings may still be able to receive benefits beginning July 1.

Employees who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, might still be eligible for extended benefits.

Ten-year employees may be eligible for accelerated benefits, if they have rail earnings of at least $3,325 in 2011, not counting earnings of more than $1,330 a month.

Application forms for unemployment and sickness benefits may be obtained from railroad employers, UTU local or general committee offices, any Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) office, or the Railroad Retirement Board’s website at www.rrb.gov.

Applications for unemployment benefits may be filed on-line.

Since November 2010, claimants have been able to file biweekly claims for sickness benefits over the Internet as well. However, rail employees who miss work due to illness or injury still must file a paper form that serves as their initial application for sickness benefits.

To access Railroad Retirement Board online services, employees must first establish an RRB Internet Services account. For security purposes, first-time users must apply for a Password Request Code, which they will receive by regular mail in about 10 business days.

To do this, employees should click on “requesting a Password Request Code (PRC)” in the “Benefit Online Services Login” section of the www.rrb.gov home page.

Once employees establish their online accounts, they will be able to file their applications and biweekly claims for unemployment benefits as well as conduct other business with the RRB over the Internet.

Employees are encouraged to initiate an online account while still employed so the account is established if they ever need to use these or other select RRB Internet services. Employees who have already established online accounts do not need to do so again.

Claimants with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits should contact an RRB office by calling toll free at (877) 772-5772. Field office locations can also be found online at www.rrb.gov.