An image of the TSMC chip plant project in Phoenix, Arizona
Construction on the TSMC chip plant in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo courtesy of TSMC.

SMART released the latest episode of the Talking SMART podcast on February 23, featuring a discussion with SMART Director of Organizing Darrell Roberts, Local 265 President/Business Manager and SMART 11th General Vice President John Daniel and SASMI Executive Director Ken Colombo about new travel benefits and incentives available to sheet metal members.

A wave of new megaprojects – or projects valued at over $1 billion – is creating unprecedented job opportunities for SMART sheet metal workers across the United States and Canada, as well as driving new changes and growth in the benefits available to SMART members.

To meet the ongoing demand for sheet metal workers, SMART and SASMI are coordinating to expand travel incentives and benefits available to SMART sheet metal workers who are willing to travel for work, and the International is developing resources to help local unions organize to secure more work for SMART members.

Throughout the conversation, Roberts underscored how the large volume of pending work presents huge growth and organizing opportunities for SMART, as well as challenges for locals in terms of staffing these large projects.

“We’re going to have areas where we have megaprojects where the local will be impacted severely,” he explained. “We could see membership growing double to triple what their current membership needs are currently.”

Colombo, meanwhile, detailed the new and increased financial incentives for SMART sheet metal workers willing to travel for work. The SASMI travel benefit has been increased to a maximum of $1,800, up from the previous travel incentive of a maximum of $1,125. In addition, non-SASMI members will now be eligible for traveler incentives, providing they are dispatched to a job that has SASMI in the collective bargaining agreement.

Daniel emphasized how megaprojects and new work stemming from infrastructure legislation are driving SMART to innovate to meet workforce needs across our two nations – both by expanding travel benefits and by working to bring members of all backgrounds into our union.

“Our absolute need to grow, paired with the megaprojects, the infrastructure spending, that’s going to create the opportunity for us to meet the numbers that we need moving forward,” Daniel noted. “And it’s also going to drive us to evolve as an organization.”

At the end of this episode, SMART General President Joseph Sellers joined a SMART Local 24 (northern Ohio) member for a wide-ranging conversation about megaprojects, traveler opportunities and how members can get involved with the union.

Return to Talking SMART index page.

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

Megaprojects in the News

Most railroad retirement annuities, like Social Security benefits, were scheduled to increase Jan. 1 on the basis of the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2016 to the corresponding period of 2017.
The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) reports that Tier I benefits, like Social Security benefits, will increase by 2 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will go up by 0.7 percent. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by RRB are not adjusted for the CPI change.
In January 2018, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $42 a month to $2,711 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $60 a month to $3,937. For those retirement-aged widow(er)s eligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $24 a month to $1,353. However, widow(er)s whose annuities are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 will not receive annual cost-of-living adjustments until their annuity amount is exceeded by the amount that would have been paid under prior law, counting all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable. Some 50 percent of the widow(er)s on the RRB’s rolls are being paid under the 2001 law.
The cost-of-living increase is the largest since 2012, and follows a Tier I increase of 0.3 percent in January 2017.
The RRB was mailing notices in December to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2018.

Earning limit increases

The RRB also announced that railroad retirement annuitants subject to earnings restrictions can earn more in 2018 without having their benefits reduced as a result of increases in earnings limits indexed to average national wage increases.
For those under full retirement age throughout 2018, the exempt earnings amount rises to $17,040 from $16,920 in 2017. For beneficiaries attaining full retirement age in 2018, the exempt earnings amount for the months before the month full retirement age is attained increases to $45,360 in 2018 from $44,880 in 2017.
For those under full retirement age, the earnings deduction is $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings over the exempt amount. For those attaining full retirement age in 2018, the deduction is $1 for every $3 of earnings over the exempt amount in the months before the month full retirement age is attained.
For employee and spouse annuitants, full retirement age ranges from age 65 for those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. For survivor annuitants, full retirement age ranges from age 65 for those born before 1940 to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later.
When applicable, earnings deductions are assessed on the Tier I and vested dual benefit portions of railroad retirement employee and spouse annuities, and the Tier I, Tier II, and vested dual benefit portions of survivor benefits.
All earnings received for services rendered, plus any net earnings from self-employment, are considered when assessing deductions for earnings. Interest, dividends, certain rental income, or income from stocks, bonds, or other investments are not considered earnings.
Retired employees and spouses, regardless of age, who work for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer are also subject to an additional earnings deduction in their Tier II and supplemental benefits of $1 for every $2 in earnings up to a maximum reduction of 50 percent. This earnings restriction does not change from year to year and does not allow for an exempt amount.
A spouse benefit is subject to reduction not only for the spouse’s earnings, but also for the earnings of the employee, regardless of whether the earnings are from service for the last pre-retirement non-railroad employer or other post-retirement employment.
Special work restrictions continue to be applicable to disability annuitants in 2018. The monthly disability earnings limit increases to $920 in 2018 from $910 in 2017.
Regardless of age and/or earnings, no railroad retirement annuity is payable for any month in which an annuitant (retired employee, spouse or survivor) works for a railroad employer or railroad union.
More information about RRB benefits is available at the agency’s website at or by contacting the RRB toll free at 1-877-772-5772.