After a long and distinguished career fighting for the rights and well being of SMART Transportation Division Bus Department members, Vice President Calvin Studivant retired on Sept. 30.
“It’s been a pleasure serving with Brother Calvin in many capacities going back many years,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “I am very happy for Calvin and his wife and wish them well and thank him for all his years of service.”
Brother Studivant had served as a vice president for the Bus Department since Oct. 1, 2014, and had the following message to share:
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve you, as I embark on this next chapter of my life, please know that I will continue to pray that you all will be able to do your jobs without the fear of being assaulted. I know that TD President Jeremy Ferguson has the Bus Department’s best interests at heart and will supply the necessary resources to ensure your safety.
“I hope that I represented you well. My only interest was ensuring that you were treated with dignity and respect and received the compensation you deserved. I will always be proud of the bus operators, because I, too, am one, and I know all too well the challenges that you face daily. I pray that God will continue to bless you all. I thank you for that opportunity. SMART forever.”
Fellow Bus Department Vice President Alvy Hughes said that Studivant has been a stabilizing force in the progress the department has made.
“He has always put the Bus Department’s membership first,” Hughes said. “His sacrifice and leadership to this organization have been second to none.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing Brother Studivant since my union career began, and he has been a great mentor, brother, and true friend. I salute him for all he’s done. He will be truly missed.”
Studivant, a member of Local 759, Newark, N.J., served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1986, then moved to Clifton, N.J. He was employed at Community Coach starting in June 1993.
He was named alternate vice president — bus-East by the United Transportation Union’s Board of Directors in August 2009 and re-elected in 2011. He was elevated to vice president — bus by the Transportation Division Board of Directors Oct. 1, 2014. At the Second SMART TD Convention on August 11, 2019, he was elected again by acclamation.
Studivant is married to Michelle, and the couple has three children and two grandchildren.
His commitment to the union fulfilled, he said he will now enjoy time with his family in his retirement years.
The SMART Transportation Division wishes Brother Studivant a long and happy retirement.
James Sandoval, who has served as an alternate vice president of the SMART-TD Bus Department, joined Hughes as a vice president Oct. 1 after being elevated by the SMART-TD Board of Directors.
Brother Sandoval has been a bus operator at the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District for more than a decade.
He’s been intensely engaged with labor efforts after joining SMART-TD as a member of Local 23 in Santa Cruz, first as a local officer then at a national level.
He assumed his first officer roles as general chairperson of GCA-SCM, alternate legislative representative and local chairperson of LCA-SCM in January 2019.
In February 2022, he assumed the position of Local 23’s legislative representative.
Brother Sandoval joined the California State Legislative Board as a legislative chairperson in June 2022, became an organizer in January 2021, and in August 2022 became alternate vice president of the Bus Department-West.
Today, President Biden vetoed HJ Resolution 30, which would have rescinded the Department of Labor’s rule entitled “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights.” In response, SMART issued the following statement:
“Days like today prove that no modern American president has done more to advance the causes of working people than President Biden. Today, President Biden used the power of the veto to stop Congress’ attempt to roll back a Department of Labor rule concerning environmental, social and governance (ESG). This rule allows private sector retirement investors to consider critical factors when making investment and proxy voting decisions around a company’s past record.
“The choices made by workers’ pension funds are crucial for the retirement security of millions of working families. So instead of putting the retirement security of working people first, some members of Congress chose to prioritize political posturing and culture wars over people’s pocketbooks.
“While some politicians suggest that ESG standards are a way for investors to force a political agenda on Americans’ retirement investment strategies, their claims are entirely misguided, ill-informed and just plain wrong. Such arguments are merely the latest attempt to boost corporate bad actors and shield them from legitimate investment decisions made by working Americans and those managing their retirement security.
“President Biden sent a strong and needed message to legislators that ESG factors should be left to the professionals, not to the politicians bent on their own personal agendas.”
After 44 years with Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific, John Dunn of Local 756, a great advocate for members in the great state of Texas in which he lives, has called it a career. Dunn joined our union back in November 1977 after hiring on with Missouri Pacific in July 1977. That began a long association with the union where Brother Dunn served in a number of leadership positions, including six years as a vice general chairperson of GCA-927, 16 years as local chairperson for LCA-927, 13 years as an alternate legislative representative and two years as his San Antonio local’s legislative representative. He served as the assistant Texas state legislative director starting in February 2020, and even had a stint on the SMART-TD Executive Board prior to his retirement, effective May 31, 2021. “I guess I’m well-known because I’ve represented so many people,” Dunn said when contacted as he drove home from a union meeting at Local 1670 in Laredo, Texas, a mere four days before pulling the pin. “I’ve been doing this for so long … my reputation preceded myself.”
Brother Dunn became an engineer in 1980 and started a notable streak of union activism in 1987 after his uncle, the local delegate, suggested he run for alternate delegate. Dunn ended up attending his first convention in Miami Beach, Fla., to start a streak of nine conventions that “Big Bad John” attended as Local 756’s delegate, taking the time to kick off his opportunities to speak with a reminder to all that he hailed “from the great State of Texas.” In 1997, Brother Dunn began to get more and more involved in the representational aspect of things by attending regional meetings, getting to know Designated Legal Counsel Steve Young and always looking to educate himself so that he could defend people when targeted for alleged infractions by carriers. “I was very lucky that they had regional meeting seminars – I went to those,” Dunn said. “A lot of times they were standing room only – there was a wealth of information, and I took tons of notes. All that information is very helpful. There is so much information you can use. Every time you go you can get something new. The guys who are doing it now are doing a phenomenal job. Education is vital to be a successful local chairperson.” He learned things well, and it got to the point where Dunn even had people from other rail labor organizations asking him to represent them. He also got to see the sore spots where carriers needed to improve their treatment of workers. “Attendance – railroads are really hitting people on that,” Dunn said. “The railroad wants more and more and more out of their employees.” Dunn recalled having to defend one worker in a disciplinary hearing for an attendance violation years ago who took time off because his young child had died. “Things are going to happen to workers’ lives outside of work and there needs to be a change in attitude on the part of the carriers,” he said. His dependability and advocacy in defending and serving his fellow union brothers and sisters also earned him the respect of his peers. “John was the go-to guy for everyone in and around San Antonio,” Texas State Legislative Director Kamron Saunders said. “He worked tirelessly for our membership.” Often, his family life and his union commitments crossed over. His 25th wedding anniversary plans with his wife Lisa were disrupted because Dunn was assigned to investigate a fatality on the Dallas, Garland & Northeastern short line. He also remembered a time when he had his daughter, then seven, sit off to the side while he was engaged in an arbitration hearing. But all these served as signs of his commitment to represent and help his union brothers and sisters to be treated fairly. In addition to being honored by Local 1670, Brother Dunn’s career also was celebrated May 26 at the Local 756 monthly meeting as more than 50 people, including SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson, Vice President Chad Adams, Alt. Vice President Scott Chelette and Saunders, attended the festivities. “There are so many accomplishments that Brother Dunn achieved throughout the years,” Chelette said. “But his drive, motivation, and caring spirit will be missed the most. For the last 21 years or so, John has went to every ‘new hire’ class held in San Antonio and talked to them about the union and what to expect as a railroader.” Paving the way for a person new to the railroad industry became a mission of sorts for Dunn – one that made a lasting impression on some. After he announced his retirement, Dunn was approached by a yardmaster who recalled the significant impact Brother Dunn had made by introducing him into the union and taking the time to give him the lay of the land. “I made it a point to welcome them into the union,” Dunn said. “I wanted to make them aware that we’re here to help them — take them to lunch, give them the contact information that they’d need and they remembered that.” His advice to the newer generation of railroaders and union members is first to not take things for granted — benefits such as insurance and retirement had to be fought for. “I’ve always been proud of being a member of this union. Sure there were guys who complained — but where would we be without our union?” Dunn said. “People way before me worked hard and fought hard. People working the road had to pay for their lodging up until 1960. The union got us lodging and meals.” The new members should be welcomed in, learn the culture and learn the job, Dunn said. By going to meetings they can become comfortable, learn and get involved to strengthen the organization from the local level on up. “Volunteer to do stuff,” he urged. “You have to have passion, commitment, ownership and believe in what you’re doing. Start off small and attend every union meeting you can. Instead of listening to what’s being said in the crew room, go to the union meeting to be properly informed.” “The union is able to do what it’s able to do by the strength of its membership. We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” Dunn said. The strength he added to our organization was celebrated at no fewer than three local union events. “I am truly humbled by them making the effort to recognize me,” Dunn said. “I have to thank everybody in the locals who have supported me for a number of years and have been so kind in wishing me well. I always refer to them as my ‘railroad family’ — there are a lot of great men and women out there. I’m leaving the railroad, but I’m not leaving them. It’s been a helluva ride — I’ve enjoyed it all.”
Post-retirement, Dunn said he’ll be spending more time with Lisa, his wife of 28 years; his daughter, Mallory, who is attending nursing school on a UTUIA scholarship; and his son, Jake, who is a pipefitting apprentice. Plans will include traveling and reigniting his hobby of welding — Dunn has constructed a massive barbecue trailer in the shape of a steam engine and also has a computerized plasma cutter he might use to craft with as his wife continues to work a bit longer. “Godspeed John. We love ya, and will miss you, but wish you well in this next chapter of your life!” Saunders said. The SMART Transportation Division thanks Brother Dunn for his decades of service and wishes for him and his wife, Lisa, many years of happy and healthy retirement.
Employers and employees covered by the Railroad Retirement Act pay higher retirement taxes than those covered by the Social Security Act. As a result, Railroad Retirement benefits are higher than Social Security benefits, especially for “career” employees (those employees who have 30 or more years of service). The following questions and answers show the differences in Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits payable at the close of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020. They also show the differences in age requirements and payroll taxes under the two systems. 1. How do the average monthly Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits paid to retired employees and spouses compare? The average age annuity being paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) at the end of fiscal year 2020 to career rail employees was $3,735 a month, and for all retired rail employees the average was $2,985. The average age retirement benefit being paid under Social Security was approximately $1,505 a month. Spouse benefits averaged $1,090 a month under Railroad Retirement compared to $765 under Social Security. The Railroad Retirement Act also provides supplemental Railroad Retirement annuities of between $23 and $43 a month, which are payable to employees with railroad service prior to October 1981 who retire directly from the rail industry with 25 or more years of service. 2. Are the benefits awarded to recent retirees generally greater than the benefits payable to those who retired years ago? Yes, because recent awards are based on higher average earnings. Age annuities awarded to career railroad employees retiring in fiscal year 2020 averaged about $4,370 a month while monthly benefits awarded to workers retiring at full retirement age under Social Security averaged nearly $2,070. If spouse benefits are added, the combined benefits for the employee and spouse would total $6,115 under Railroad Retirement coverage, compared to $3,105 under Social Security. Adding a supplemental annuity to the railroad family’s benefit increases average total benefits for current career rail retirees to about $6,135 a month. 3. How much are the disability benefits currently awarded? Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry in fiscal year 2020 were awarded $3,160 a month on average while awards for disabled workers under Social Security averaged $1,415. While both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security Acts provide benefits to workers who are totally disabled for any regular work, the Railroad Retirement Act also provides disability benefits specifically for employees who are disabled for work in their regular railroad occupation. Employees may be eligible for such an occupational disability annuity at age 60 with 10 years of service, or at any age with 20 years of service. 4. Can railroaders receive benefits at earlier ages than workers under Social Security? Railroad employees with 30 or more years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 60, and rail employees with less than 30 years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 62. No early retirement reduction applies if a rail employee retires at age 60 or older with 30 years of service and his or her retirement is after 2001, or if the employee retired before 2002 at age 62 or older with 30 years of service. Early retirement reductions are otherwise applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age (the age at which an employee can receive full benefits with no reduction for early retirement). Full retirement age is age 66 for those born 1943 through 1954 and is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under Social Security. Under Social Security, a worker cannot begin receiving retirement benefits based on age until age 62, regardless of how long he or she worked, and Social Security retirement benefits are reduced for retirement prior to full retirement age regardless of years of coverage. 5. Can the spouse of a railroader receive a benefit at an earlier age than the spouse of a worker under Social Security? If a retired railroad employee with 30 or more years of service is age 60, the employee’s spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60. The spouse of a worker under Social Security is not eligible for a spouse benefit based on age until both the worker and the spouse are at least age 62. Regardless of age, the spouses of workers under both retirement systems are eligible if the worker is retired and the spouse is caring for a qualifying child. 6. Does Social Security offer any benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement? Social Security does pay certain types of benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement. For example, Social Security provides children’s benefits when an employee is disabled, retired or deceased, whereas the RRB only pays children’s benefits if the employee is deceased. However, the Railroad Retirement Act includes a special minimum guaranty provision, which ensures that railroad families will not receive less in monthly benefits than they would have if railroad earnings were covered by Social Security rather than Railroad Retirement laws. This guaranty is intended to cover situations in which one or more members of a family would otherwise be eligible for a type of Social Security benefit that is not provided under the Railroad Retirement Act. Therefore, if a retired rail employee has children who would otherwise be eligible for a benefit under Social Security, the employee’s annuity can be increased to reflect what Social Security would pay the family. 7. How much are monthly benefits for survivors under Railroad Retirement and Social Security? Survivor benefits are generally higher if payable by the RRB rather than Social Security. At the end of fiscal year 2020, the average annuity being paid to all aged and disabled widow(er)s was $1,825 a month, compared to $1,380 under Social Security. Benefits awarded by the RRB in fiscal year 2020 to aged and disabled widow(er)s of railroaders averaged about $2,340 a month, compared to approximately $1,355 under Social Security. The annuities being paid at the end of fiscal year 2020 to widowed mothers/fathers averaged $1,990 a month and children’s annuities averaged $1,195, compared to $1,030 and $900 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security. Those awarded in fiscal year 2020 averaged $1,780 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and $1,545 a month for children under Railroad Retirement, compared to $1,015 and $905 for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security. 8. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security lump-sum death benefit provisions differ? Both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security systems provide a lump-sum death benefit. The Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit is generally payable only if survivor annuities are not immediately due upon an employee’s death. The Social Security lump-sum benefit may be payable regardless of whether monthly benefits are also due. Both Railroad Retirement and Social Security provide a lump-sum benefit of $255. However, if a railroad employee completed 10 years of creditable railroad service before 1975, the average Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit payable is $1,030. Also, if an employee had less than 10 years of service, but had at least 5 years of such service after 1995, he or she would have to have had an insured status under Social Security law (counting both Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits) in order for the $255 lump-sum benefit to be payable. The Social Security lump sum is generally only payable to the widow(er) living with the employee at the time of death. Under Railroad Retirement, if the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, and was not survived by a living-with widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses. 9. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security payroll taxes compare? Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, like Railroad Retirement benefits, are calculated on a two-tier basis. Rail employees and employers pay Tier I taxes at the same rate as Social Security taxes, 7.65%, consisting of 6.20% for retirement on earnings up to $142,800 in 2021, and 1.45% for Medicare hospital insurance on all earnings. An additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes (2.35% in total) will be withheld from employees on earnings above $200,000. In addition, rail employees and employers both pay Tier II taxes, which are used to finance Railroad Retirement benefit payments over and above Social Security levels. In 2021, the Tier II tax rate on earnings up to $106,200 is 4.9% for employees and 13.1% for employers. 10. How much are regular Railroad Retirement taxes for an employee earning $142,800 in 2021 compared to Social Security taxes? The maximum amount of regular Railroad Retirement taxes that an employee earning $142,800 can pay in 2021 is $16,128, compared to $10,924.20 under Social Security. For railroad employers, the maximum annual regular retirement taxes on an employee earning $142,800 are $24,836.40, compared to $10,924.20 under Social Security. Employees earning over $142,800 and their employers will pay more in retirement taxes than the above amounts because the Medicare hospital insurance tax is applied to all earnings.
After nearly four decades of service to members and numerous administrations in various roles in both SMART Transportation Division’s Public Relations and President’s Department, Senior Administrative Assistant to the President John Horvath is calling it a career. Starting May 1, the office won’t echo with his impassioned readings of Article 21B of the SMART Constitution as he provides guidance to those in need, and his gregarious conversations throughout the office will be missed. “John has certainly left an enduring mark on how this union has been run,” said SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson. “His experience as a communicator and his constitutional expertise provided a great depth of institutional knowledge. He’s going to be missed tremendously.” Horvath started out with the then-United Transportation Union on Jan. 5, 1981, in the Public Relations Department after getting a journalism degree from The Ohio State University. For 14 years in the department his special focus was on the alumni program, including multiple rebrandings. He also helped produce communication vehicles for the union, including the UTU News and UTU calendars, through five presidents’ administrations — from Fred Hardin to Paul C. Thompson, always focusing on members’ stories and what mattered most to them. “In my own past, I had some difficult jobs – I saw the need for dignity and a fair shake for the worker,” Horvath said. “I felt it was the ideal job for me. I wasn’t looking for a job, I was looking for a career, and that’s what I got.” In 2007, he moved on to the President’s Department where his primary focus became the union’s constitution. His communications role already had allowed Horvath to acquire in-depth knowledge about union operations, and it was easy for him to adjust to the new role. On the cutting edge of organizational functions in the President’s Department, Horvath was able to provide steady guidance to his co-workers across multiple departments. When confronted with a question regarding Local governance, Horvath always was able to provide the evidence to resolve the situation with his trusty copy of the constitution at hand, occasionally with the flair of an orator. “John is a brilliant person and working with him was a valuable experience. I was truly fortunate to have someone so knowledgeable to learn from,” said Ralph Leichliter, an administrative assistant in the President’s Department, who worked alongside him. “He truly cares about our members and set high standards for the support we provide. I look forward to continuing our friendship and I wish him a retirement that’s as gratifying as his years here at SMART.” “I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from John, and I am honored to have worked alongside him for the last five years” said Administrative Assistant Jeff Brandow. “His passion for the union labor movement and his dedication to our members is absolute, and I am certain that many of our members will agree when I say we owe John a debt of gratitude for imparting some of his knowledge to us. It’s going to be quite an adjustment not having him in the office every day.” In retirement, Horvath said he has no immediate plans other than to spend time with his wife of 37 years, Cheryl, and to continue to play guitar as long as his health allows — he’s been known to gig around the Cleveland area on occasion. The SMART Transportation Division wishes John the very best and a long, happy and healthy retirement.
John Lesniewski, vice president and successor president of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, has retired, effective July 1, 2018.
Lesniewski, a member of Chicago Local 1534, started his railroad career on the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad (CSXT) on Oct. 29, 1972. After holding local offices with the then-United Transportation Union (UTU), Lesniewski was elected local chairperson in 1982 and was re-elected by acclamation in 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998, serving for more than 16 years. He also served as the local’s delegate at UTU conventions in 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003. “It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve the membership as an officer of our great Union for almost 36 of my 46 years of railroad service. My sincere thanks to all of the Union members, officers and staff who have supported me along the way,” Lesniewski said. “I will never forget you.” In 1995, Lesniewski was elected part-time secretary of the CSXT/B&O General Committee (GO-049) after 26 years as a trainman and 16 years as a part-time representative. He was elected by acclamation to a full-time position as first vice general chairperson in 1999 and re-elected to that position in 2003. Upon the retirement of former General Chairperson J. T. Reed on July 1, 2004, Lesniewski was elected by acclamation as general chairperson on the former B&O CSXT property and then re-elected for successive terms by acclamation in 2007 and 2011. On Feb. 28, 2011, Lesniewski was elected as second alternate vice president-East by the UTU board of directors and was subsequently elected, overwhelmingly, as a full vice president by delegates at the 2011 UTU Convention and re-elected to the position at the SMART TD convention in 2014. At the 2014 convention, he was also elected “successor president” by the delegates. He also served as general vice president on the General Executive Council of SMART. Lesniewski served on the National Negotiating Committee for the July 1, 2008, National Mediation Agreement under both former-Presidents P. C. Thompson and M. B. Futhey Jr. He also served on the 2011 National Negotiating Committee, having been appointed by Futhey in December 2009. He served on his third National Negotiating Committee starting in 2015, having been appointed by Transportation Division President John Previsich, which resulted in the National Rail Agreement that was ratified Dec. 1, 2017. “As I step aside, I encourage younger members to get involved in the labor movement to protect their own future as well as the future of their co-workers,” Lesniewski said. “Being a Union representative, in any capacity, is a prodigious source of personal satisfaction if it is undertaken for the correct purpose of making a difference by helping and protecting our membership. “As an added bonus, within our Union, you end up working with a dedicated group of consummate professionals as I have.” President Previsich commented: “I have had the pleasure of working with Brother Lesniewski during my entire career as a nationally elected officer. His professionalism and expertise are at the highest level and his integrity and commitment are confirmed by all who know him. John has been a tremendous asset to our union in all respects and a close and dear friend to me personally. It is my distinct honor to wish John and his wife, Gail, a long, healthy and prosperous retirement.” John and Gail have been married for 45 years and reside in Noblesville, Ind. They have four children, three of whom are married, and eight grandchildren. The vacancy created by Lesniewski’s retirement will be filled by the elevation of Alternate Vice President Brent Leonard, effective July 1. Leonard, 45, has served as SMART TD alternate vice president since Jan. 1, 2013. He was elevated to the position by the Board of Directors on Dec. 28, 2012, and was re-elected to the position in 2014.
A member of Local 202 in Denver, Leonard started railroading in 1997 on Union Pacific as a conductor/switchman. He was promoted to engineer in 1998 and was elected local chairperson in 2001. He was elected vice general chairperson of his general committee, GO-953, in 2003; senior vice general chairperson in 2007 and general chairperson in 2011. GO-953 represents about 4,000 members and is one of the largest general committees in SMART TD. As general chairperson, Leonard represented Union Pacific employees encompassing 10 states as well as four regional short-line railroads representing both operating and non-operating crafts. Leonard negotiated several first-of-their-kind agreements providing significant pay increases, improvements to his members’ quality of life and predictive time off. Leonard has filled past roles of chairman of Union Pacific Railroad Employee Health Systems (UPREHS), chairman of the District 1 General Chairpersons’ Association and has served in various leadership positions for the Union Pacific General Chairpersons’ Association. Leonard and his wife live in Topeka, Kan., and have two daughters.
SEATTLE — SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch gave attendees a broad overview of the landscape of the transit industry on the third day of the TD regional meeting. Among the topics covered: how to grow support for transportation-related bills in Washington, D.C., train automation, operator safety, stock buybacks and the potential threat politicians pose to what they describe as “entitlements.” “If you see something, do something,” Risch told the crowd, encouraging them to get involved by running for public office, engaging government officials face-to-face to educate them about the issues important to the transportation industry and being more visible at public meetings and in the media.
“It’s not me or our small office in D.C. that passes a crew bill,” Risch said. “That’s not the most effective way. The most effective way is when constituents contact them.” He praised the grassroots efforts of Socorro Cisneros-Hernandez, a bus member out of Local 1607 in Los Angeles, who took it upon herself to meet Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Cook at a town hall meeting. After the discussion, Cook signed on to the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 233) as one of the 112 bipartisan members in the U.S. House who support the two-person crew bill. General Chairperson Steve Simpson (GO 489) met with U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican and one of the most conservative congressmen, and also was able to get Gohmert to sign on in support of H.R. 233 and to advocate for funding for the National Mediation Board, Risch said. “This is a political year — they’re all ears. They’re all ears in the political years,” Risch said. “Once they get elected, they’re not quite as attentive.” Risch said the responses received by the Federal Railroad Administration in a request for comments on automation in the rail industry largely agreed with rail labor’s approach — that all trains should have two-person crews. “The vast majority, with a handful of exceptions from railroads, of the comments were comments saying the only safe way to be allowed to run a train through America is with two crewmembers — a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” Risch said. “It’s a safety issue — it’s an issue to where you need two people to get the job done.” Two safety bills have been introduced in Congress — one to protect passenger rail workers in the Senate and one to protect bus operators in the House. The House bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of California and U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York, is a strong bill and if passed, would protect our bus members. “It will require that bus companies develop risk-reduction programs, and not only do they have to develop them, they have to do it with their bus drivers and union representatives,” Risch said. The programs would target areas on bus properties where safety could be improved, such as fixes for the vehicles, and de-escalation training, Risch said. “Too often, the fare is a dollar-and-a-half and the guy’s only got a dollar getting on the bus and then the bus driver tells him it’s a dollar-and-a-half…and this 50-cent issue turns into something terrible,” Risch said. Class I railroads received millions, if not billions of dollars back when the Tax Cut and Jobs Act cut the U.S. corporate tax rate last year. Risch reminded attendees what the railroads are using the money for rather than infrastructure and maintenance. “They’re using it to buy back stock — elevate the stock price. Who are the biggest stockholders? — Top officers of the railroads and the hedge funds,” Risch said. “Those are the guys that are profiting. Union Pacific will spend twice as much money these next three years buying back stock than they will in investing in the railroad.” The runaway debt that has been created by spending increases also has politicians eyeing what they describe as “entitlements” — among them Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Railroad Retirement. Politicians want to get their hands on the money that fund these “entitlements” – money that we’ve put in for our retirements – and bankrupt these programs. “That’s the deal we’ve made — we’re going to pay in for 30, 40 years and then we would have a few years to enjoy retirement because we invested,” Risch said. “That was the deal — it was a pension plan. You can’t change that. We’re not going to stand idly by if they try to change that deal.”
As I prepare for retirement, there are many things on my mind about the future of our industry and transportation workers that I have had the honor to represent during my career.
The most important item on my agenda today, and every day during the past 31 years that I have been a legislative officer, is that our members are treated fairly when decisions are being made concerning safety, job security, health care and pensions.
Looking back on my career that started in 1966, change is the only constant thing I’ve witnessed.
The hours of service law was reduced from 16 hours to the present 12. We went from 48 Class I railroads to the present seven. There has been a dramatic expansion of public transportation around the country, and the best news of all is that there has been a significant reduction in injuries and fatalities of transportation workers.
Our union has worked hard on improving safety and expanding passenger rail and that focus will continue long after I’m gone. Just as there have been constant changes in our industry over the past 31 years, constant changes will continue for the next 31 years and beyond.
The good news is the vast majority of rail and transit workers in America are organized and because they have a union, they can demand that future changes benefit them as well as the CEO and company investors.
Perhaps the most significant advances we have seen in the past decade are that of communications. When I hired out, they hooped up manually-typed train orders to passing trains and you stuck your arm out the locomotive window at 60 mph to grab them.
Today, information is instantaneous and constantly being updated. I’m convinced that as communication and information technology improves, our rail members will all have predictable work schedules and our transit members will have more appropriate work schedules that include frequent bathroom breaks.
With improvements in information technology, there is no excuse for our members to be uninformed about what is taking place in our industry and in our union. But it’s up to you as a member to make some effort at staying informed.
How you and our union react to future changes will directly impact your safety, your work environment and your paychecks. I’m convinced that when our members are involved and work with other members through our union, we are up for the challenge.
The good news is we already have a strong legislative presence in Washington and in every state capital and capable contract-negotiation teams on our general committees and at the national level.
In closing, I believe “knowledge is power.” I urge you all to stay informed and participate in your union by attending meetings and running for elected office. By hanging together and working through our union, you and your co-workers can benefit as well as the CEO and corporate investors when changes do occur.
I’m “pulling the pin” and I’m able to retire because of our union’s efforts to establish and maintain the best pension in America, Railroad Retirement. While I will be retired, I will be paying close attention from the sidelines.
Thanks to all of you who have made my career so enjoyable. Farewell.
James A. Stem Jr.
National Legislative Director SMART?Transportation Division
Railroad employees who are planning to retire should be aware of what steps to take and what documents are required when applying for an annuity from the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Being prepared can prevent needless delays and ensure that payments from the RRB begin as soon as possible after retirement.
The following questions and answers describe the application process and other related items that retiring employees, as well as their spouses or survivors, should be aware of.
1. How are railroad retirement annuity applications filed?
Applications are filed through the RRB’s field offices. Applicants may file in person or by telephone and mail. Those filing in person may do so at any RRB office or at one of the office’s customer outreach program service locations. Applicants filing by telephone receive the same information and instructions that are provided to those filing in person; forms requiring signatures and other documents are then handled by mail.
The addresses of all the RRB’s field offices are available on the agency’s website at www.rrb.gov, or by calling the RRB’s toll-free number at (877) 772-5772. This number, which provides access to the agency’s field office representatives, also provides automated menus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. RRB field offices are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.
2. Can an application be filed prior to a person’s actual retirement date?
The RRB accepts annuity applications up to three months in advance of an annuity beginning date, which allows the RRB to complete the processing of most new claims by a person’s retirement date. An employee can be in compensated service while filing a disability application provided that the compensated service is not active service and terminates within 90 days from the date of filing. When an employee files a disability application while still in compensated service, it will be necessary to provide a specific ending date of the compensation. Compensated service includes not only compensation with respect to active service performed by an employee for an employer, but also includes pay for time lost, wage continuation payments, certain employee protection payments and any other payment for which the employee will receive additional creditable service.
To expedite the filing process, applicants should contact their local RRB field office to schedule time for a pre-retirement consultation and also to confirm their eligibility and be advised as to the required documents. The consultation can be conducted in person, or by telephone, with an RRB representative who will provide an annuity estimate, explain a retiree’s benefit rights and responsibilities, and answer related questions.
Railroad employees can also get estimates of their future annuities over the Internet by visiting the RRB’s website. To do so, employees must first establish an RRB online account at www.rrb.gov. For security purposes, first-time users must apply for a Password Request Code (PRC), which they will receive by regular mail in about 10 business days. To do this, they should click on “Request Password Request Code (PRC) be mailed to your home address” in the “Benefit Online Services Login” section on the home page. Once they establish their online accounts, they will be able to get an estimate of their annuities, as well as conduct other business with the RRB, over the Internet. Railroad workers are encouraged to establish online accounts while still employed so the accounts are ready when needed. Employees who have already established online accounts do not need to do so again.
3. What are some of the documents required with an application?
All applicants have to furnish proof of their age.
All applicants should be prepared to furnish the notice of any social security benefit award or other social security claim determination.
An employee may be required to submit information regarding any other federal, state or local government pension for which he or she also qualifies, as well as certain other payments not covered by railroad retirement or social security, such as from a non-profit organization or from a foreign government or a foreign employer.
An employee or survivor filing for a disability annuity is required to submit supporting medical information from his or her treating physician, as well as any reports or records from recent hospitalizations. He or she may also be asked to go for one or more specialized medical examinations given by a doctor named by the RRB. If an employee disability applicant is receiving workers’ compensation or public disability benefits, notice of the amount and beginning date of such payments must be submitted.
An employee will have to furnish proof of any military service claimed.
A spouse, divorced spouse or widow(er) applying for a railroad retirement annuity must furnish proof of marriage to the employee. A divorced spouse must furnish proof of a final divorce from the employee, as well as proof that any subsequent marriages have terminated.
A spouse, divorced spouse or survivor also qualified to receive a pension from a federal, state or local government must submit information regarding that pension.
All applicants have to provide banking information necessary for their enrollment in direct deposit.
A booklet, “Furnishing Evidence to Support Your Claim” (Form RB-3), gives detailed information as to the types of proofs that are required when filing for an annuity, as well as sources from which these documents can be obtained. The booklet is available free of charge at any RRB office or at www.rrb.gov.
4. Can proofs be filed in advance of retirement?
Railroad employees are encouraged to file proofs of their correct birth date and their military service well in advance of retirement. The information will be recorded and stored electronically until they actually retire. This will expedite the annuity application process and avoid any delays resulting from inadequate proofs.
If employees do not have an official record of their birth or military service, their local RRB office will explain how to get acceptable evidence. All evidence brought or mailed to an RRB office will be handled carefully and returned promptly.
5. What is the retroactivity of a railroad retirement application?
The retroactivity of a railroad retirement annuity application is limited to one year for disability annuities and six months for full age annuities. There is generally no retroactivity for reduced age annuities.
Retroactivity of a survivor annuity application is one year for disabled widow(er)s and six months for full retirement age widow(er)s, mothers (fathers), children and parents. Retroactivity for widow(er)s ages 60-61 is six months if it does not increase the age reduction (this does not apply to surviving divorced spouses or remarried widow(er)s). Otherwise, there is generally no retroactivity for reduced age widow(er)s’ annuities.
6. Are retiring railroad employees required to relinquish their rights to their railroad jobs?
An employee annuity based on age cannot be paid until the employee stops railroad employment and gives up any rights to return to work for a railroad employer. While an annuity based on disability is not paid until an employee has stopped working for a railroad, employment rights need not be relinquished until the employee attains full retirement age. However, in order for a supplemental annuity to be paid by the RRB, or for an eligible spouse to begin receiving annuity payments, a disabled annuitant under full retirement age must relinquish employment rights. And, regardless of age and/or earnings, no railroad retirement annuity is payable for any month in which a retired or disabled employee annuitant, a spouse annuitant or a survivor annuitant works for an employer covered under the Railroad Retirement Act, including labor organizations. Such work includes service for more than $24.99 in a calendar month to a local lodge or division of a railway labor organization. Also, work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums, regardless of the amount of salary, is railroad work which must be stopped.
Railroad retirement annuitants may work in nonrailroad employment, but benefits may be reduced if a beneficiary under full retirement age works after retirement and earnings exceed annual exempt amounts. Additional earnings deductions are assessed if a retired or disabled employee annuitant, or a spouse annuitant, works for his or her last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer, regardless of age or the level of earnings.
Special restrictions also apply to any earnings by disabled employees.
7. How soon after filing can an applicant expect payment?
Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if an applicant filed for a railroad retirement employee or spouse annuity in advance of the beginning date of the annuity, the RRB is expected to make a decision within 35 days of the beginning date of the annuity. If an applicant did not file in advance, the RRB is expected to make a decision within 60 days of the date the application was filed.
If an applicant filed for a railroad retirement survivor annuity and was not already receiving benefits as a spouse, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer the application to the Social Security Administration within 60 days of the beginning date of the annuity or the date the application was filed (whichever is later). If an applicant is already receiving a spouse annuity, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer the application for a survivor annuity to the Social Security Administration within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death. If an applicant filed for a lump-sum death benefit, the RRB will make a decision to pay or deny the application within 60 days of the date the application was filed.
After the RRB has made its decision, applicants should receive a notice of award or denial within two weeks. If entitled to benefits, it is generally expected that the payment will be deposited in an individual’s bank account within one week of the RRB’s decision.
For disability annuities, processing applications is more complex than for other benefits because of the need to develop medical evidence. Under the Customer Service Plan, if an applicant filed for a railroad retirement disability annuity, the RRB is expected to make a decision within 100 days of the date the application was filed.
If it is determined that an applicant is entitled to disability benefits, the individual’s first payment will be received within 25 days of the date of the RRB’s decision, or the earliest payment date, whichever is later.
Of course, claims for some benefits may take longer to handle than others if they are more complex, or if information from other people or organizations is needed. If this happens, the RRB will provide an explanation and an estimate of the additional time required to make a decision.
8. How are railroad retirement payments made?
The Department of the Treasury has eliminated the vast majority of paper checks for Federal benefit payments. New recipients of federal benefits now receive their payments by electronic means. The most common form of electronic payment for railroad retirement, social security and veterans benefits is through direct deposit, in which the amount is automatically transferred to an individual’s bank account. Those without bank accounts can enroll in Treasury’s Direct Express® program, which electronically transfers Federal payments to an individual’s Direct Express®-issued debit card. The card can then be used like an ordinary debit card. While agencies can still grant waivers from electronic payment, they can do so only in very limited cases.
9. How can individuals find more information about filing for railroad retirement annuities?
More information is available by visiting the RRB’s website, www.rrb.gov, or by calling an RRB office toll-free at (877) 772-5772. Persons can find the address of the RRB office servicing their area by calling the agency’s toll-free number or at www.rrb.gov.
The Railroad Retirement Act provides disability annuities for railroaders who become totally or occupationally disabled. Medicare coverage before age 65 is also available for totally disabled employees and those suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or chronic kidney disease.
The following questions and answers describe these disability benefits, their requirements, and how to apply for them.
1. How do railroad retirement provisions for total disability and occupational disability differ?
A total disability annuity is based on permanent disability for all employment and is payable at any age to employees with at least 10 years (120 months) of creditable railroad service and, under certain conditions, to employees with five to nine years (60-119 months) of creditable railroad service after 1995.
An occupational disability annuity is based on disability for the employee’s regular railroad occupation and is payable at age 60 if the employee has 10 years (120 months) of railroad service, or at any age if the employee has at least 20 years (240 months) of service. A “current connection” with the railroad industry is also required for an occupational disability annuity. The current connection requirement is normally met if the employee worked for a railroad in at least 12 of the last 30 consecutive months immediately preceding his or her annuity beginning date.
If an employee does not qualify for a current connection on this basis, but has 12 months of service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the current connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the employee did not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after the end of the last 30-month period which included 12 months of railroad service and before the month the annuity begins or the date of death. Full or part-time work for a non-railroad employer in the interval between the end of the last 30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the month an employee’s annuity begins, or the month of death if earlier, can break a current connection.
2. Under what conditions can disabled employees with five to nine years of service be eligible for railroad retirement disability annuities?
Employees with five to nine years (60-119 months) of service after 1995 may qualify for an annuity based on total and permanent, but not occupational, disability if they have a disability insured status under social security law. A disability insured status is established when an employee has social security or railroad retirement earnings credits in 20 calendar quarters in a period of 40 consecutive quarters ending in or after the quarter in which the disability began.
Unlike the two-tier annuities payable to a 10-year employee, disability annuities payable to five-year employees are initially limited to a tier I social security equivalent benefit; a tier II benefit is not payable in these cases until the employee attains age 62. And, the employee’s tier II benefit will be reduced for early retirement in the same manner as the tier II benefit of an employee who retired on the basis of age rather than disability at age 62 with less than 30 years of service.
3. How do the standards for total disability and occupational disability differ?
An employee is considered to be totally disabled if medical evidence shows a permanent physical and/or mental impairment preventing the performance of any regular and gainful work. A condition is considered to be permanent if it has lasted or may be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or result in death.
An employee is considered to be occupationally disabled if a physical and/or mental impairment prevents the employee from performing the duties of his or her regular railroad occupation, even though the employee may be able to perform other kinds of work. An employee’s regular occupation is generally that particular work he or she has performed for hire in more calendar months, which may or may not be consecutive, than any other work during the last five years; or that work which was performed for hire in at least one-half of all the months, which must be consecutive, in which the employee worked for hire during the last 15 years.
4. How does the amount of a railroad retirement disability annuity compare to a social security disability benefit?
Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry at the end of fiscal year 2012 were awarded almost $2,900 a month on the average, while awards for disabled workers under social security averaged about $1,190.
5. When is early Medicare coverage available for the disabled?
In general, Medicare coverage before age 65 may begin after a disabled employee annuitant has been entitled to monthly benefits based on total disability for at least 24 months and has a disability insured status under social security law. There is no 24-month waiting period for those who have ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The fact that an employee is initially awarded an occupational disability annuity does not preclude early Medicare coverage, if the employee’s physical and/or mental condition is such that he or she is totally and permanently disabled.
Medicare coverage on the basis of permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant is available not only to employee annuitants, but also to employees who have not retired but meet certain minimum service requirements, as well as spouses and dependent children. For those suffering from chronic kidney disease, coverage may begin with the third month after dialysis treatment begins, or earlier under certain conditions.
6. Do the railroad retirement disability annuity requirements include a waiting period similar to the one required for social security disability benefits?
Yes. A five-month waiting period beginning with the month after the month of the disability’s onset is required before railroad retirement disability annuity payments can begin. However, an applicant need not wait until this five-month period is over to file for benefits.
The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) accepts disability applications up to three months in advance of an annuity beginning date which allows the agency to complete the processing of most new claims before a person’s actual retirement date. An employee can be in compensated service while filing a disability application provided that the compensated service is not active service and terminates within 90 days from the date of filing. When an employee files a disability application while still in compensated service, it will be necessary for the employee to provide a specific ending date of the compensation.
Compensated service includes not only compensation with respect to active service performed by an employee for an employer, but also includes pay for time lost, wage continuation payments, certain employee protection payments and any other payment for which the employee will receive additional creditable service.
7. What documentation is required when filing for a railroad retirement disability annuity?
Employees filing for disability annuities are required to submit medical evidence supporting their claim. Applicants should be prepared to furnish dates of hospitalization, names and dosages of medication, names of doctors, etc. Applicants may also be asked to take special medical examinations given by a doctor named by the RRB. If a disability applicant is receiving workers’ compensation or public disability benefits, notice of such payments must be submitted.
Sources of medical evidence for railroad retirement disability purposes may include, but are not limited to, the applicant’s railroad employer, personal physician and hospital, the Social Security Administration or the agency paying workers’ compensation or public disability benefits. This evidence generally should not be more than 12 months old. In addition, proof of age and proof of any military service credit claimed and a description of past work activity will also be required.
8. What is the best way to apply for a railroad retirement disability annuity or early Medicare coverage?
Applications for railroad retirement disability annuities are generally filed at one of the RRB’s field offices, or at one of the office’s Customer Outreach Program (CORP) service locations, or by telephone and mail. However, applications by rail employees for early Medicare coverage on the basis of kidney disease have to be filed with an office of the Social Security Administration, rather than the RRB.
To expedite filing for a railroad retirement disability annuity, disabled employees or a family member should call, write, or send a secure message via the RRB’s website, www.rrb.gov, to the agency’s nearest field office to schedule an appointment. For the appointment, claimants should bring in any medical evidence in their possession and any medical records they can secure from their treating sources, such as their regular physician. Employees who are unable to personally visit an RRB office or meet an RRB representative at a CORP service location may request special assistance, such as having an agency representative come to a hospital or the employee’s home. RRB personnel can assist disabled employees with their applications and advise them on how to obtain any additional medical evidence required or any other necessary documents or records.
9. Can an individual continue to receive an employee disability annuity even if he or she does some work after it begins?
Special earnings rules apply to disability annuitants and they are more stringent than those that apply to annuitants who have retired on the basis of age and service. Disability annuities are not payable for any month in which the annuitant earns more than $810 in 2013 in any employment or self-employment, exclusive of work-related expenses. Withheld payments will be restored if earnings for 2013 are less than $10,125 after deduction of disability-related work expenses. Failure to report such earnings could involve a significant penalty charge.
These disability work restrictions cease upon a disabled employee annuitant’s attainment of full retirement age (age 65 for those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later). This transition is effective no earlier than full retirement age, even if the annuitant had 30 years of service. Earnings deductions continue to apply to annuitants working for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer.
If a disabled annuitant works before full retirement age, this may also raise a question about the possibility of that individual’s recovery from disability, regardless of the amount of earnings. Consequently, any earnings must be reported promptly to avoid overpayments, which are recoverable by the RRB and may also include penalties.
10. Does employment with a rail labor organization affect eligibility for a disability annuity?
Payment of an employee’s disability annuity cannot begin earlier than the day after the employee stops working in compensated service for any railroad employer, including labor organizations. Such work includes service for more than $24.99 in a calendar month to a local lodge or division of a railway labor organization. Also, work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums, regardless of the amount of salary, is railroad work which must be stopped.
11. Must an employee relinquish employment rights in order to receive a disability annuity?
An employee can be in compensated, but non-active, service while filing a disability annuity application as long as the compensated service terminates within 90 days from the date of filing. However, in order for a supplemental annuity to be paid or for an eligible spouse to begin receiving benefits, a disability annuitant under full retirement age must relinquish employment rights.
12. How can individuals get more information about disability annuities?
More information is available by visiting the RRB’s website, www.rrb.gov, or by calling an RRB office toll-free at 1-877-772-5772. Persons can find the address of the RRB office servicing their area by calling the agency’s toll-free number or at www.rrb.gov.