Autumn 2018 Legislative Report

 Autumn 2018 Legislative Report

By Kathleen Bisbikis, National 2nd Vice President, National Legislative Rep, BLET Auxiliary

Below are some of the most recent news items that affect all of us. Please feel free to share these with your local auxiliary. If you have information you would like to share with me for future updates, please send it to me at


The Federal Railroad Administration Awards $200 Million in Grant Money for PTC Completion

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced Aug. 24 that it has awarded $203,698,298 in grant funding for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for 28 projects in 15 states. FRA also released a status update of PTC for the second quarter.

The funds are part of the $250 million that the FRA has available specifically for the implementation of PTC appropriated from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

A Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $250 million was published in May, and solicitations for the funds had to be received by July 2. The FRA expects to publish a second NOFO in the Federal Register for the remaining $46,301,702 available.

As for the state of PTC, 15 railroads have installed 100 percent of the PTC system hardware on their locomotives and their trackage, FRA said. BNSF and KCS are the only two Class I railroads listed as having 100 percent of their track segments installed with PTC while Union Pacific is listed as having 98 percent of installation completed. BNSF, Metrolink, and Northstar Commuter Rail are all listed as having PTC in complete operation. FRA reports that 37,705 route miles or 65 percent of the approximately 58,000 route miles have sufficient revenue service demonstration or are in operation. (Revenue service demonstration is one of the criteria needed to qualify for an extension of the deadline.)

The second quarter has also seen a 25 percent drop in the number of “at-risk” railroads – FRA considers any railroad that installed less than 90 percent of its PTC system hardware as of June 30, 2018, to be at risk. There are currently nine at-risk railroads: New Mexico Rail Runner Express, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, Altamont Corridor Express, MARC, Trinity Railway Express, TriRail, Caltrain, and Florida’s SunRail. Of the nine deemed at risk, all but three (Altamont Corridor Express, New Jersey Transit, and TriRail) were awarded part of the $250 million grant.

“The railroads have achieved some significant improvements over the past year implementing this safety technology,” said FRA Administrator Ron Batory. “While we are seeing progress among a majority of railroads, we want to see everyone meet their requirements.”

All Class I railroads and commuter railroads are required to have PTC fully implemented by Dec. 31, 2018, unless the carrier qualifies for an alternative schedule under the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 (PTCEI Act). Railroads approved for an alternate schedule must contain a deadline that is as soon as practicable, but no later than Dec. 31, 2020.

(Railway Age, Aug 24, 2018)


Erhard Chorle Nominated for position of Railroad Retirement Board Chairman

Erhard Chorle was nominated July 27 by President Trump, to serve a five-year term as chairman of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Chorle’s confirmation would fill a vacancy that was created in August 2015 by the retirement of Michael Schwartz after Schwartz’s 12 years as RRB chairman.

“It’s an honor to be nominated,” Chorle said.  According to his biography, Chorle served the Illinois state government as senior assistant to the director of labor, deputy secretary of state and as the state’s securities commissioner. He served as executive assistant for financial and regulatory affairs in Gov. Jim Edgar’s administration beginning in 1991 and had experience overseeing the state’s major financial regulations department, including banks, trusts and insurance, as well as the state’s various financing authorities and pension funds.

Chorle also was chairman of the Illinois state Board of Investment, a $10 billion fund investing the assets of three Illinois state pension systems. He received his B.S. from DePaul University in 1978 and a juris doctorate from John Marshall Law School in 1984 and joined Pedersen & Houpt in July 2017.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Chorle’s term would run through Aug. 28, 2022.


Operation Lifesaver, Inc. awards $205,525 for rail safety public awareness campaigns in 16 states

Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI), in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), announced that $205,525 in grants have been awarded to 16 state Operation Lifesaver programs. The grants will fund a variety of rail crossing safety and trespass prevention public education projects in conjunction with the nonprofit safety group’s upcoming Rail Safety Week (RSW), which will be observed in the U.S. and Canada from September 23-29, 2019.

Funded by FRA, the grants will be awarded to Operation Lifesaver organizations in Alabama, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and South Dakota; individual grant awards will range from $1,800 to $20,000.

“We must continue to target grade-crossing and trespasser deaths with an unrelenting commitment toward zero tolerance,” says FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “Educating the motoring and pedestrian public about how to be safe near railroad tracks is a never-ending task that will help reduce risk while enhancing safety.”

OLI Interim President Wende Corcoran said, “These grants, which fund innovative community outreach and education projects, are an important part of Operation Lifesaver’s ongoing rail safety efforts in 16 states across the U.S., in support of our mission to eliminate collisions, injuries and deaths at crossings and along rail property. We are grateful to our safety partners at the Federal Railroad Administration for their assistance, which will help raise public awareness of the need for safe behavior around tracks and trains.”

(Operation Lifesaver July 24, 2018)


Senate passes “minibus” with increased transit, passenger rail funds

The U.S. Senate passed a second “minibus” spending package on August 1, which includes increased funding for passenger rail and transit, as well as preserves funding for grant programs utilized by the rail industry.

The $154.2 billion spending package addresses funding during fiscal year 2019 for the Departments of Interior, Treasury, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill includes the following:

  • $2.769 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration
  • $13.514 billion for transit-related activities, which includes $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program and reflects an $800 million general fund increase to FAST Act formula programs.
  • $1.94 billion for Amtrak, $650 million of which is for the Northeast Corridor
  • $1 billion for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants program
  • $255 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants
  • $10 million for oversight of Positive Train Control implementation at FRA

Paul Skoutelas, President and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, praised the Senate’s increase in transit-related spending, saying it will help public transportation address a $90 billion infrastructure backlog.


Mark Gaston Pearce Nominated for Another Term on National Labor Relations Board

Late on August 28, 2018, President Trump nominated Mark Gaston Pearce to serve another term on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board). Pearce was appointed to the Board in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama for a partial term. He then served a full five-year term from 2013 until this week. Due to the expiration of Pearce’s term on August 27, 2018, the Board currently sits at four members, rather than the full five-member contingent.

As with all Board nominations, the Senate must vote to approve Pearce’s nomination before he may begin to serve a new five-year term. As a former union attorney, Pearce may face some opposition from management groups that see him as too pro-union. But the make-up of the five-member Board is traditionally comprised of three members who align with the president’s political party, in the current case, Republican, with the remaining two members aligning with the minority party. Currently, the three Republican members are Chairman John Ring, William Emanuel, and Marvin Kaplan. The lone Democrat, at least until Pearce or another person is confirmed, is Lauren McFerran whose term expires on December 16, 2019.

With the Board revisiting many hot button issues, such as joint-employer status and the use of an employer’s e-mail system for union activities, the Board members wield significant influence on workplace policies and potential employer liability for both union and non-union employers alike. We will keep you informed on Pearce’s confirmation as well as any other Board developments.

(Employerslawyersblog Aug 30 2018)


Former Iowa State Legislative Board Chairman, Jeff Kurtz advances to November Election

Using the campaign slogan “Get Iowa Back on Track” former BLET Iowa State Legislative Chairman Jeff Kurtz is headed to the November general election.  Kurtz is in the running for a seat in the House, representing district 83, after winning the primary election with 56.6 percent of the votes.

In an interview with the Tri States Public Radio, Kurtznoted thatduring his BNSF career he was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, serving as president of the local for nearly a decade and as the State Legislative Board Chairman for ten years. Kurtz touted his legislative experience with the BLET, saying it prepared him to serve in Des Moines.

Kurtz said one of his top priorities if elected would be to reverse the 2017 changes to Iowa’s public employee bargaining law, which allowed local governments to only negotiate wages each year.

Kurtz said another priority for him would be to promote trade programs in junior high and high school and technical schools. He said not every student in Iowa is looking to attend a four-year college after graduation.


Missouri Blocks Right to Work Law

Voters in Missouri have overwhelmingly rejected a right-to-work law passed by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature that would have banned compulsory union fees — a resounding victory for organized labor.

With about 98 percent of the precincts reporting, the “no” vote on Missouri’s Proposition A, which supported the law, was running about 67 percent, with nearly 33 percent voting “yes.”

In 2017, the right-to-work law passed Missouri’s Republican Legislature and was signed by then-Gov. Eric Greitens. However, union organizers gathered enough signatures to keep it from going into effect pending the results of a statewide referendum. The rejection of Proposition A effectively kills the law.

“It’s a truly historic moment,” said Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow we’re getting back to work. We’re going to take this energy and momentum and build more power for working people across Missouri.”

 (NPR, August 8, 2018)