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Wilma Liebman, a former chief of the National Labor Relations Board for three terms and a member of the board for more than a decade, described what she termed “a stacked deck” against American workers that has been assembled by the current presidential administration in an op-ed column published by The Morning Consult. The term of the lone Democrat on the NLRB expired in December, and there currently are three Republicans on the board. “There is no one still inside the board with power to defend the statute that protects the right of American workers to improve working conditions by joining together,” Liebman wrote. Under President Donald Trump’s administration, Liebman describes a board that has reversed decades of precedent, been ignorant of ethics rules, put aside the advice of experienced staffers and has been hostile to the expansion of workers’ rights in favor of big business. “If the past predicts the future, then even worse things are coming for workers and their unions,” Liebman wrote. Read the full column at The Morning Consult.
If approved as-is, a federal budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year released Monday, Feb. 10, by President Donald Trump would reduce funding for Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and underfund the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, would see a 50 percent reduction in funding from the 2020 budget, with long-distance routes again in jeopardy of losing federal funding. “Despite Amtrak’s success and the critical service it offers to so many, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for Amtrak by more than half,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which SMART-TD is a member, said on Twitter. “These proposed cuts would apply to the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s broader national network, which serves low population areas.” The low-population areas would include Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona and, according to the administration, “would be better served by other modes of transportation like — wait for it — intercity buses,” TTD tweeted. Amtrak has been a frequent target of the administration, with Trump seeking to cut funding for the national rail carrier every year he has been in office. The future of long-distance routes such as the Southwest Chief was jeopardized in 2018, and it took an outcry by legislators in both houses of Congress to preserve the routes through the 2019 fiscal year while the FAST Act, which expires this autumn, preserved it in fiscal year 2020. The FRA, which has received about $3 billion in the past two Trump-era budgets, is targeted for nearly $1 billion in reductions. In contrast, funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase by $300 million to $13.2 billion. Finally, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) would be underfunded if Trump’s proposed budget goes through, board sources say. The RRB requests $141,974,000 for administrative costs and $13,850,000 to help fund its IT upgrade efforts for a total of $155,824,000. The request will support 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff. However, the president’s budget requests $114,500,000 for administrative and $5,725,000 for IT for a total of $120,225,000. The President’s budget would only support 672 FTE, which is 208 less than the agency’s request level and 119 less than the current level of 791 FTE. The agency’s budget through the Trump administration’s term has remained flat at $113.5 million annually with an additional $10 million provided each year to help RRB’s efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure. Trump proposes to allocate $120.225 million to the agency in the next fiscal year. “RRB needs a minimum of 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to sustain mission critical operations. Stagnant administrative budgets coupled with cost-of-living salary increases for Federal employees have resulted in severe understaffing,” a message from RRB’s Office of the Labor Member said. “The impact of this understaffing is being felt in the agency’s customer service and its ability to accomplish mission critical goals.” It stands to note that presidential budget proposals typically serve as a starting point for Congress as its members begin the task of setting the fiscal course for the country in an election year and rarely, if ever, are approved without alterations. “The good news about the president’s budget would be that it will most assuredly be dead on arrival in the U.S. House,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said. However, the proposed budget does serve as an indicator of where the administration’s budgetary priorities are.
Amtrak as we know it is in the budget crosshairs again, and if proposed cuts go through, it could have a lasting effect on not only our nation’s communities, but Railroad Retirement benefits as well. President Donald Trump’s budget request proposes a $1.06 billion reduction in funding to Amtrak. Service to rural and mid-sized city destinations would be drastically affected with the adoption of this plan, and 15 routes classified as long distance could eventually lose federal funding due to a change in how funds are allocated. “We hope that, like last year, this budget is a non-starter,” said Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association (RPA). “But we note with some concern that this time around, the administration appears to be getting a little smarter in its approach — and that approach could yet endanger our trains.” Rather than cutting the routes outright, as has been proposed in previous Trump budgets, the 2020 plan would shift the money available to fund long-distance routes from Amtrak’s annual outlay to a competitive process. Over a four-year period, the administration would choose the routes that received funds with states applying for funding through the Restoration & Enhancement grant program. “The Trump Administration seems to be taking a page from anti-long-distance factions in Washington, looking to pit National Network services against the Northeast Corridor. And by moving it to a competitive grant program — controlled by the White House — the administration gets to choose the winners and losers,” Mathews said. The plan doesn’t sit well with the RPA’s Mathews, and it shouldn’t sit well with SMART Transportation Division rail members. Reducing Amtrak’s long-distance service will result in fewer people at work for the carrier. Fewer people working for the carrier means fewer railroaders paying into Railroad Retirement — a Railroad Retirement Board analysis of Trump’s 2018 budget proposal that would have cut Amtrak’s long-distance routes said an estimated 10,000 rail jobs would go away with the routes’ elimination. For long-distance rail service to continue, the 2020 budget document suggests that the 23 states that the routes run through begin footing the bill rather than the federal government, which handed many corporations a major tax reduction at the end of 2017. “In 2020, the Department of Transportation, Amtrak, states, and affected local Governments will collaborate to rationalize the Long Distance network to more efficiently serve modern market needs as a series of shorter-distance, high-performing corridor services where passenger rail as a transportation options (sic) makes sense,” the 2020 budget proposal states on page 78. The budget goes on to say that “low population areas along the routes will be better served by other modes of transportation, like intercity buses. “Over time, Federal support for Amtrak would be significantly reduced as Amtrak is able to right-size its network and States play a larger role, as they do now for State-supported and Northeast Corridor services,” the budget proposal concludes.
Hoosier State on the brink
But what happens to smaller places like Indiana, where routes are already in jeopardy? Mayor Dennis Buckley’s city of Beech Grove is home to one of three Amtrak repair facilities nationwide. The Indianapolis-area shop employs approximately 525 workers and is served by Amtrak’s Hoosier State line that transports passengers from Indianapolis to Chicago as well as Amtrak cars to the Beech Grove facility for repairs.
The state’s Legislature and the governor are looking to defund the route, Buckley said, and he finds himself having to fight for the jobs created by both Amtrak and by the businesses that have sprung up around the repair facility in his city of almost 15,000 people. In a letter to state legislators urging them to support the route, Buckley said that Amtrak brings $100 million to the economy of central Indiana and Beech Grove’s Marion County. “Amtrak must also become more competitive in the business of local mass transit,” Buckley said, but eliminating the four-stop, 196-mile route would be a severe blow to his community. “Budgets should be set up to continually fund the Hoosier State line for years to come,” Buckley wrote to legislators, “I certainly recommend that the State of Indiana invests in our future. Our livelihood depends on it.” As part of his effort, Buckley has reached out to Indianapolis media outlets. He would welcome it if SMART TD members who are Indiana residents talk to their legislators and state Gov. Eric Holcomb about maintaining the route’s funding.
The targeting of Amtrak’s long-distance routes is not new. In addition to the administration’s yearly call to eliminate long-distance service, there was a battle waged last year over the Southwest Chief. Amtrak leadership had sought to replace portions of the route between Dodge City, Kan., to Albuquerque, N.M., with bus shuttles because of a lack of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. Communities on the Chicago-to-Los Angeles daily route mobilized, and the activism of workers, passenger rail advocates, politicians and others preserved the route’s funding and operation as-is through 2019. Similar action might be needed yet again to prevent any proposed harmful cuts to Amtrak’s long-distance routes as the federal budgeting process continues. SMART Transportation Division will keep members apprised. To find out who represents you in Congress, visit the SMART TD Legislative Action Center.
President Donald Trump today (Jan. 31) signed an executive order, “Strengthening Buy American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects,” encouraging the use of U.S.-made materials when undertaking infrastructure projects that get federal funding. The goal is to boost the purchase of domestic products, such as aluminum, steel, iron and concrete in federally funded projects to repair and improve sewers, roads and other vital parts of the country’s network. The president’s order falls short of a mandate and does not set required levels to be purchased or create an enforcement mechanism. A previous executive order, signed April 17, 2017, took a similar route, and this order signed Jan. 31 is intended to fill “gaps,” according to a presidential economic adviser. Read more on The Hill website.
SMART TD opposes the recent nomination of former U.S. Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland of Georgia by the Trump administration to serve on the Board of Directors of Amtrak. As a longtime member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Westmoreland has a hostile voting record against Amtrak, which includes efforts to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak entirely. In addition. Westmoreland has been an original cosponsor of the “National Right-to-Work Act” on multiple occasions, which would significantly weaken our ability to collectively bargain. For these reasons, we oppose his nomination as it would undermine the core mission of Amtrak and its employees. Please see below former Representative Lynn Westmoreland’s extreme voting record on Amtrak in the 114th Congress (2015-2016):
RCV#110: Voted YES on McClintock Amendment to H.R. 749 — Eliminate ALL Amtrak Funding (3/4/15)
RCV#303: Voted YES on Brooks Amendment to H.R. 2577 — Eliminate Amtrak Operating Grants (6/4/15)
RCV#304: Voted YES on Brooks Amendment to H.R. 2577 — Eliminate Amtrak Capital/Debt Service Grants (6/4/15)
RCV#314: Voted YES on Sessions Amendment to H.R. 2577 — Prohibit Funds for Sunset Limited Line (6/9/15)
RCV#315: Voted YES on Sessions Amendment to H.R. 2577 — Prohibit Funds for Amtrak Routes 2x Cost/Revenue (6/9/15)
Earlier this year, Trump’s budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2018 called for eliminating federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services, which would result in the immediate loss of 10,000 non-Northeast Corridor Amtrak jobs and the destabilization of the Railroad Retirement trust fund.
This week, President Donald Trump released his 2018 budget proposal, which includes severe funding cuts to Amtrak along with the elimination of federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services.
Despite criticisms by some in Congress, Amtrak served approximately 31.3 million customers last year with many of its services performing at record years in both ridership and revenues. The elimination of long distance Amtrak routes would terminate passenger rail service in 23 states, resulting in fewer railroad jobs, which means less money in the Railroad Retirement Fund.
Please take a moment to contact your elected representatives in Congress to urge them to OPPOSE any federal budget cuts to Amtrak by clicking the link below and sending a pre-drafted message via the SMART TD Legislative Action Center.