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 bletauxilliarylr@gmail.com.


Indiana State Legislative Board Chairman Brian Farkas and BLET members in Indiana worked diligently to get The Two Person Crew Bill, HB 1029, heard in the State House; however, they were not able to secure a hearing during the current session. We know that Chairman Farkas will be back at in 2017 pushing again for a Two Person Crew Bill in the state of Indiana and we will all be right behind him giving 100% support! Thank you Brother Farkas for all your hard work.


The state of Colorado is following suit behind states like North Dakota, California and Indiana in an attempt to secure legislation on the state level that would require a two person crew on all freight trains while in motion. The bill is scheduled to be heard in front of the House Transportation & Energy Committee in late February.

We encourage all members in Colorado to contact their State Representatives in support of HB16-1136. You can locate your representative by following this link http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2016A/csl.nsf/DirectoryHou?openframeset

The phone call takes only a few minutes of your time and can be made by anyone who is a resident in the state. Tell your friends, family and neighbors to make the call; this isn’t just for union members, it’s a safety law that affects everyone. Your voice does make a difference and Colorado members this is your time!

Oil Trains in California get a NO vote in Northern California

Valero Oil Company suffered a large setback when the City of Benicia, California planning committee voted unanimously “no” to the oil company’s request to build a rail loading station at the oil refinery located in California’s bay area. In order to reach the refinery located in Benicia, Valero had planned to use trains to transport the crude oil to their refinery. The oil trains would be traveling through several cities including the capital city of Sacramento where trains would pass through large residential and busy business areas. Valero had planned on transporting two trains daily made up of 50 oil tankers per train. The Benicia city commissioners heard arguments for 4 nights before coming to their unanimous decision. “I don’t want to be complicit with what has become a social nightmare across the country,” George Oakes said, referring to oil trains, several of which have crashed and exploded. Valero is expected to appeal the decision to the Benicia City Council.

Do you know when your state primary is?

The presidential primaries are underway but they still have a long road left in front of them. Do you know when your state primary is? Do you know what the deadline is to register in time to vote in your primary? Not all states handle their primaries the same … closed, open, semi-closed, caucus, if you’re not sure what your state does now is a good time to educate yourself. There are several helpful websites out there that can help. The Federal Voting Assistance Program website https://www.fvap.gov/vao/vag/appendix/state-elections can provide you with a good deal of important information including the dates and types of primaries each state holds. I encourage everyone as we go deeper into the election year to educate yourself and to make sure everyone of voting age in your family is registered in time. Voting is a privilege that we should not take for granted. Remember that your vote is your voice, let yours be heard!

Presidential Emergency Board 249

295,000 – That’s the number of passengers who will be affected on March 13, 2016 if New Jersey Transit (NJT) cannot come to an agreement and settle the ongoing contract negotiations between themselves and the Labor Coalition who represent over 4000 employees from 11 different unions, including the BLET. President Obama appointed three neutral arbitrators to the PEB 249 in November 2015 to help settle the conflict between employees and the carrier. New Jersey Transit as well as the unions have submitted their proposals of what they feel is a reasonable contract and the PEB has reviewed each side and determined on January 11, 2016 the following, “wage increases totaling 17% over a six year term; health insurance contributions that will rise to 2.5% of straight time pay by January 1, 2017; modest increases in employee copays for in-network doctor visits and emergency room visits; mandatory mail order for prescription drugs; 20 minute Conductor certification pay; and a five year phase-in of Carrier 401(a) contributions for new hires.” NJT’s proposal to eliminate employee passes was rejected.

The two parties are now in the 60-day “cooling off” phase and if there is no negotiated settlement to the dispute, it is likely that on 12:01 a.m. on March 13, 2016, the carrier could enforce an employee lock out or the unions could call for a possible strike. The employees of the New Jersey Transit have been without a contract for the past five years.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

Sometimes we can get caught up in our own issues and we don’t always see what is going on around us. On January 12, 2016 the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association (CTA). What is at stake in Friedrichs is not just the status of teachers’ unions. A Supreme Court verdict in favor of Friedrichs will open the floodgates to a potential gutting of organized labor in this country. Consider what Citizens United has done for corporate interest. Now imagine if you would that this corporate interest was then able to – with its massive funding ability – specifically challenge any and all elements of the law that protect the rights of unions and those they represent. What should concern us all is not simply the case in itself, rather the precedent it will set that will permit an army of attorneys to do irreparable damage to organized labor in America and the hard-working men and women they represent.

Railroad Retirement Annuities Not Taxable by State

According to Section 14 of the Railroad Retirement Act (45 U.S.C. Section 231m), retirement annuities are not taxable for individual state income tax purposes.

Bruce Rodman, of the Public Affairs/Office of Administration of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board says, “Both of our primary enabling statutes – the Railroad Retirement Act and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act – specifically exempt the benefits paid under them from state income taxes. However, if a person doesn’t know this – and sometimes this might stem from people using free tax-prep software or obtaining volunteer assistance in filing their returns – and declares it as taxable income, the state tax collection agencies probably won’t know any better.”

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) also states on the FAQ section (see #18) of their website that railroad retirement, unemployment and sickness benefits paid by the RRB are not subject to state income tax. However, these benefits are taxable on the federal level.

Many tax preparers and even states are not aware of these statutes and may attempt to tax your annuities. It is up to us to make sure that our annuities are not taxed by the states in which we live.

A railroad retirement annuity is an amount paid monthly to retired (age or disability) railroad employees by the United States Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The RRB also pays annuities to spouses, divorced spouses, and survivors of retired or deceased railroad employees.

Department of Labor 2015 Union Membership

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued the following statement on the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report released concerning union membership in 2015:

“With today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report, we are reminded again that the labor movement continues to be one of the most powerful forces for strengthening the middle class and providing economic stability, for members and non-members alike.

“Median weekly earnings of full-time union workers ($975) were more than 25 percent higher than those of non-union workers ($776) in 2015. That’s not pocket change – it comes to more than $10,000 per year. That goes a long way toward writing the mortgage check, paying down the car loan, or even just keeping the kids in snow boots. And, that doesn’t even account for the superior benefits, safer workplaces and other advantages that come with union representation.

“Plus, strong unions empower all working people, putting upward pressure on wages and labor standards throughout the economy. After all, you don’t need a union card to have benefitted from the advent of the weekend.

“So we all have skin in the game when unions are threatened and collective bargaining rights come under attack. When a larger percentage of workers belong to unions, the middle class grows and thrives. But research shows that a decline in union membership over roughly the last four decades is responsible for one-third of the growth in wage inequality among men and one-fifth of the growth in wage inequality among women.

“The Obama administration continues to push back against these attacks, exploring avenues for strengthening the right to organize and new strategies for giving workers greater voice on the job. We believe this essential to building an economy that works for everyone.

“We’ve made a dramatic turnaround in the last seven years – from a devastating recession to the highest levels of job growth since the late 1990s. But, there is still unfinished business. We must do more to ensure that all working families can share in the fruits of this recovery.

“When more workers are able to stand together and speak up for one another, negotiating for their fair share of the value they help create, it strengthens all of us. To restore balance to the economy and create shared prosperity, we need robust labor unions and powerful worker voice.”