Legislative Update January 2008

AMTRAK

Funding Cut:  On December 17, the House passed the Omnibus Funding Bill for 2008 appropriations. There were across-the-board cuts for all programs, including a $100 million cut in Amtrak funding. The funding for Amtrak now stands at $1.325 billion.

Presidential Emergency Board: On December 30, the President received the report and recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 242 (PEB), appointed to investigate the contract dispute between Amtrak and nine labor unions. The report recommends adoption of most of labor’s proposals.

The PEB agreed with Labor that the National Freight Agreement serves as a pattern for resolving this dispute. Recommendations include that Amtrak workers should receive the wage increases proposed by the unions, stating that, “In this case, nothing short of full retroactivity is fair and equitable and appropriate to restore to employees lost wages that resulted from their inability to obtain a successor agreement over the unprecedented eight-year period that employees have continued to work without an agreement.” The PEB did however recommend that that the retroactive pay be made in two installments, 40% within 60 days of ratification and the remaining 60% on or before the anniversary date of the first installment. It also recommends that retroactive pay be restricted only to employees on the payroll as of December 1, 2007, the day the PEB was created, excluding workers who retired since the current agreements became amenable.

Noting Amtrak workers’ increased productivity, the Board rejected Amtrak’s proposal for dramatic work rule changes, stating that the evidence introduced by Amtrak in support of proposed changes was weak and, in some cases, non-existent.

The President urges the parties to continue to work in good faith to resolve their dispute, taking into account the Emergency Board’s recommendations. If no agreement is reached by 12:01 a.m. on January 30, 2008, Amtrak workers will be able to strike. The possibility still exists that Congress may intervene in the dispute and impose an agreement.

Amtrak Passengers go Green: Amtrak has recently joined numerous other organizations and companies in the fight against global warming by partnering with Carbonfund.org to create a lower carbon world. Amtrak is now offering passengers carbon offsets for rail travel. To contribute to the initiative, passengers can log onto http://www.carbonfund.org/site/pages/land/amtrak and make either a short-distance contribution of $3.00, which offsets 2500 miles of rail travel, or a long-distance contribution of $6.50, which offsets 5500 miles of rail travel. Just by choosing to travel by train, passengers are already helping the environment. Because it is more energy efficient, the carbon footprint created by rail travel is smaller than most other modes of transportation.

RAILROAD RETIREMENT

The National Association of Retired and Veteran Railroad Employees (NARVRE) is asking BLET members and their families to contact their members in the House of Representatives to support legislation which they are planning to introduce to remedy the inequities in the Railroad Retirement Act as it relates to widows and widowers with the passage of the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001. Although the 2001 legislation benefitted many, it did not allow for cost of living increases (COLAs) for some 25 percent of railroad surviving spouses. Under current law, those widows and widowers will not see a COLA until at least five to seven years after the death of their railroad retiree spouse. NARVRE is working to introduce legislation that will remedy this situation. As of September 2007, the Railroad Retirement Trust Fund has a surplus of $32.7 billion, an increase of $13.3 billion since the enactment of the law in 2001. Another section of the law known as the “Takeback Provision,” introduced in 1983 when the Trust Fund was facing financial problem, allows for Tier II benefits to be reduced by 5 percent, thereby permanently reducing benefits upon the death of the retiree. The widow or widower then had their annuity reduced by 5 percent. Please stay tuned as we keep you updated on the actions taken by NARVRE to correct these inequities in our retirement plan.