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Legislative Update February 2008

Rail Coalition Reaches Tentative Agreement with Amtrak

On January 18, a coalition of eight Amtrak non-operating unions signed a tentative contract agreement with Amtrak, averting a strike that could have started January 30. The agreement adopts Presidential Emergency Board 242’s recommended wage settlement of 35.2% over the period January 1, 200 through December 31, 2009. The tentative agreement also includes the PEB’s recommendation that employees receive back pay, in the form of retroactive payments, in two installments, to compensate for the eight years they have been without a wage increase.

It was a surprise to many that a PEB appointed by President Bush, one of the most anti-labor presidents in history, decided upon a resolution to the Amtrak contract that awarded most of what rail labor had been fighting for. The BLET-Amtrak GCA Executive Committee is closely studying the recommendations made by the Board as they will influence and shape where and how the BLET will proceed with its bargaining strategy. The details of the tentative agreements will be made public in late February or early March.

FMLA

On January 14, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the favorable decisions obtained by Rail Labor in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) litigation. The carrier’s petition for writ of certiorari (document asking the Supreme Court to review the decision of a lower court) was denied by the Supreme Court and the lower court’s decision stating that the carriers may not rely on the FMLA statute to override BLET agreements was affirmed. The carriers have been requiring employees to exhaust their personal leave and vacation days before allowing them to take unpaid leave under the FMLA. A coalition of 11 rail unions, including the BLET, has been involved in this legal dispute that has dragged on for the last three years.

Although the federal court part of the dispute is over, more work remains to be done. Unless the carriers reconsider their position regarding settlement, individual BLET General Committees of Adjustments will have to arbitrate the various claims that have been filed since the start of the dispute.

ON TIME Act, H.R. 5102

H.R. 5102, Our Nation’s Trade Infrastructure, Mobility, and Efficiency Act, or the ON TIME Act was introduced in the House on January 23 by Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL). This bill aims to direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish and collect a fee based on the fair market value of articles imported into the United States and articles exported from the United States in commerce and to use funds collected from the fees to make grants to carry out certain transportation projects. The funds would be targeted at projects designed to relieve transportation choke points and bottlenecks, including grade separations, publicly owned intermodal freight transfer facilities, freeway expansions, and dedicated truck lanes located within a National Trade Gateway Corridor.

National Commission on Surface Transportation Report Released to Congress

Calling for a “new beginning” to reform the nation’s transportation programs, the bipartisan National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission on January 15 unveiled a comprehensive plan called “Transportation for Tomorrow” to increase investment, expand services, repair infrastructure, demand accountability, and refocus Federal transportation programs, while maintaining a strong Federal role in surface transportation. Policy changes, though necessary, will not be enough on their own to produce the transportation system the nation needs in the 21st century. Significant new funding also will be needed. Amongst its recommendations, the Board calls for a program to enhance global competitiveness with regard to freight transportation and a program to serve high-growth corridors by intercity passenger rail. The bipartisan, 12-member Commission was created by Congress in 2005 to examine the condition and operation of the nation’s surface transportation system and develop a plan and recommendations to ensure that the surface transportation serves the needs of the nation now and in the future. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had scheduled a hearing on the Report on January 17. Mexican Truck Issue According to a letter filed in the 9th Circuit Court on January 7 by the Teamsters, the Bush Administration continues to allow long-haul trucks from Mexico to use U.S. highways. Section 136 of the omnibus budget that was signed into law on December 26, 2007, included a provision that bans funds to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program that would allow Mexico domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the U.S. and Mexico. However, the Bush administration, in its infinite style of arrogance, is acting as if the law does not apply to the existing program, saying it will continue to allow some trucks from Mexico to travel beyond the commercial zones. The case will be heard in the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco on February 12. If you have any doubts about whether or not you feel it’s okay for trucks operated by Mexican drivers to operate their trucks in the U.S., read this article by Charles Bowden, entitled “Holding the Line,” http://www.teamster.org/resources/members/TeamsterMagazine/06August/nafta.htm, about the life of the overworked and underpaid Mexican drivers who keep themselves going by using drugs so they can drive sometimes in excess of 48 hours at a time with no sleep, driving in rigs that are literally falling apart. They have no union looking out for their safety; only the spirit of La Santisima Muerte (most holy death) to whom they pray, asking her to spare their lives as they travel over the road.

We still have important bills pending in Congress and we need to continue to work on them. In light of our current economic climate, it may be harder to get some of these measures through. In addition, the President’s budget for FY ’09 (Oct 08 through Sept 09) is due Monday, Feb. 4.  He is still convinced he can remove the deficit by 2012, which means he will likely be proposing politically difficult cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and virtually freeze all domestic programs.  Every budget year, this President has offered  starvation appropriations for Amtrak and nothing for infrastructure improvement or expansion.

Passage of the Safety Bill is essential to our railroad workers, and our country needs to invest in passenger rail as a realistic alternative to air and highway travel.  Thank you for your help in keeping these bills on our legislators agendas.

S.1889, The Railroad Safety Enhancement Act of 2007 There has been no movement on this bill since it was referred to the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on September 27, 2007. Please continue to call your senators to encourage them to support this bill and move it through the Senate so it can be conferenced with H.R. 2095, The Federal Safety Improvement Act of 2007, which passed in the House on June 14. This safety legislation is of the utmost importance for the safety and well being of our railroad employees as well as the public at large. We don’t want to see this bill die with this Congress. S.294, The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007

S.294 has been passed in the Senate. The bill now goes on to be voted on in the House and was referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on November 1, 2007. Amongst other things, this bill authorizes appropriations for FY 2007 – FY 2012 for: (1) Amtrak capital and operating grants, including capital grants to states; (2) the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA); (3) Amtrak repayment of long-term debt and capital leases; (4) payment into the Railroad Retirement Account that portion of Amtrak’s Railroad Retirement Tier II Tax which exceeds the Tier II annuities paid to Amtrak retirees; and (5) the rail cooperative research program. Authorizes appropriations for FY2008 for: (1) grants to Amtrak and states participating in the Next Generation Corridor Train Equipment Pool Committee; and (2) Amtrak to evaluate improvements necessary to make all existing intercity rail stations readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Please continue to encourage your representatives to take action on this bill.

 S. 184, The Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007 (STARS) This bill, which provides for improved security on our nation’s railways, as well as improved motor carrier, bus, and hazardous materials security, was introduced in the Senate on January 4, 2007. Please encourage your senators to support S.184.

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