Legislative Update May 2012

Ryan Budget Proposal – An Attack on Railroad Retirement, Social Security, Medicare and More

It’s been called “A Roadmap for America’s Future,” and the “Path to Prosperity,” but for whom? Certainly not for the 99%! The FY 2013 Budget Resolution, H.Con.Res. 112, submitted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), is anything but good news for railroad employees. The resolution, which passed in the House on March 29 by a vote of 228-191, is nothing short of another attack in the war on workers. And it contains provisions that attack our Railroad Retirement System. Ten Republicans and all of the Democrats in the House voted against the resolution.

 As stated in a BLET Newsflash released on April 16, 2012:

“Perhaps the most devastating portion of the Ryan Budget are the provisions that sponsors claim ‘would conform Tier 1 so that its benefits would equal those of Social Security, with an estimated savings to taxpayers of $2 billion over 10 years.’ Enactment of this legislation would eliminate the Railroad Retirement Occupational Disability program, as well as the ‘60/30’ provision for allowing early retirement for railroad workers at age 60 if they have 30 years of service. Under the legislation, the earliest these individuals could retire would be age 62. Annuities for spouses of these workers also would be negatively impacted in this manner. These provisions would negatively affect the annuities of almost 120,000 non-disabled employees, almost 90,000 spouses and over 62,000 occupationally disabled employees.

“The Ryan Budget fundamentally misconstrues the relationship between Railroad Retirement and Social Security, and ignores the fact that all Railroad Retirement benefits above Social Security – whether Tier 1 benefits or Tier 2 benefits – are fully funded by railroad workers and their employers; none of these benefits are funded from the general treasury. Therefore, no actual budgetary savings would result from enactment of this legislation.”

To see the BLET Newsflash, comments from the Committee Report, and talking points offered by the Railroad Retirement Board, go to:

http://www.bletauxiliary.net/RRR%202012%20Fight/RRR%20Alert%204-16-12.htm.

As you may recall, we fought hard in an unprecedented coalition of the carriers, retirees, and all but one rail labor union, for the changes that were made to our Railroad Retirement in 2001.  This budget proposal would wipe out all those gains in our retirement system. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) are working in concert with the rail unions and the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees on this attack. EdwardHamberger, President and CEO of the AAR, sent a letter to Chairman Ryan on March 27 expressing the AAR’s concerns about the language in the proposal relating to Railroad Retirement, and the RRB has sent their representatives to Congress to confirm and verify the truth about our retirement system.

In addition to the damaging changes proposed for Railroad Retirement, the Ryan Budget would put an end to Medicare as we know it, massively reduce Social Security annuities, and eliminate almost all nonmilitary discretionary spending. It would effectively shut down the federal government’s ability to set rules for the economy and to provide essential public services, such as air-traffic control, the monitoring of hurricanes and the provision of disaster relief. The House Budget Committee is also proposing to remove the only safeguard we have against the failure of another mega-bank.

According to Jonathan Chait of New York magazine, “[t]he basic elements of Ryan’s plan are this: The tax code would be collapsed into two rates, with the top rate dropping to 25 percent, but eliminating unspecified tax deductions would keep tax revenues at the current level, as set by the Bush tax cuts. Medicare would remain untouched for those 55 years old and older, but those under would be given vouchers at a capped rate. Given that the Medicare savings would not begin to take effect for more than a decade, that taxes would stay level (at best), and that military spending would increase, Ryan would achieve his short-term deficit reduction by focusing overwhelmingly on programs targeted to the poor (which account for about a fifth of the federal budget, but absorb 62 percent of Ryan’s cuts over the next decade). The budget repeals Obamacare, thereby uninsuring some 30 million Americans about to become insured. It would then take insurance away from another 14 to 27 million people, by cutting Medicaid and children’s health-insurance funding.”

Robert Greenstein, founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, summed up the proposal, stating “It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history.”

The good news is that this budget proposal is not going any further than the House during this Congress because the Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won’t allow it. But the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has stated that he supports the Ryan Budget and, for many Republicans in Congress, the Ryan proposals are a very real agenda. If the Republicans gain control of the Senate and the White House in November, some version of the Ryan budget proposal will almost certainly become a reality, returning this country to the way it operated more than 100 years ago, in what Mark Twain ironically labeled the Gilded Age. A few people would do very well; almost everyone else is in for a hard time. In the weeks and months ahead, it is extremely important that we all take the time to educate ourselves and our fellow voters about the candidates.

As President Pierce recently stated in a communication with a BLET member: “America is again headed toward an election in which certain parties and candidates will use social and religious ‘wedge’ issues as a way to get working class people to vote against their economic interest. As a labor organization, BLET’s function is not to give you spiritual or social advice, but to educate and inform members on the voting records of candidates on issues of economic security to BLET members and their families. In the end, we will all make our own decisions about the politicians who introduce and support legislation that hurts working class Americans.”

I stand firmly with President Pierce in stating that it is my duty also as your National Auxiliary LR to ensure that our members know who supports the working class and who is trying to take away the benefits that our brothers and sisters have worked so hard to attain. I urge you to find out how your representatives in Congress actually cast their votes on this and other important issues relating to your financial well being, your future, and the future of your hard working friends and family members. A couple of the websites you can access to find out how your representative in the House or the Senate has voted on a bill are http://votesmart.org/ or http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/M000303/key-votes/.

Locking Cab Doors on Locomotives

The Federal Railroad Administration published a final rule on April 9 updating its railroad locomotive safety standards. One of the most significant changes is the added requirement that new and remanufactured locomotives be equipped with a “securement device” – a lock – to prevent unauthorized intrusions. This change was requested by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen after a CSX conductor was killed and the engineer wounded during a robbery in June 2010 as their train sat in a siding.

Safety Advisory on Restricted Speed

On April 25, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a Safety Advisory to remind railroad employees of the importance of complying with restricted speed operating rules. You may recall from the March Update, the NTSB had issued safety recommendations back in January to the FRA related to five rear-end collisions that occurred in 2011 and stated that noncompliance with restricted speed requirements may have contributed to these incidents. In early March, BLET National President Dennis Pierce sent a letter to NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman encouraging the NTSB to look at other contributing factors rather than focusing on restricted speed requirements in their investigations. He advised the NTSB of carrier operating practices that put crews in jeopardy by placing profits ahead of safety, and he identified ways in which carrier officers intimidate operating crew members who operate too slowly at restricted speed.

The newly published FRA Safety Advisory spells out five recommendations to railroads, asking them to review with operating employees the circumstances of the recent rear-end collisions, discuss the requirements of restricted speed at future instructional classes, evaluate quarterly and 6-month reviews of operational testing data and increase the level of operational testing with regard to the operation of trains on main tracks at restricted speed, reinforce the importance of communication between crew members in the locomotive cab, and reinforce the FRA Federal Recommendations Concerning the Use of Electronic Devices.

President Pierce has condemned the “blame the worker” tone of the FRA’s Safety Advisory and expressed outrage that the FRA recommend that the railroads “expose our membership to even further harassment when they do not toe the line to an “efficiency above all else” mentality. He urges all BLET members to exercise extra caution when operating at restricted speed in order to protect their safety and their jobs. He has also directed all BLET Local Chairmen to immediately notify his office of any incidents in which a BLET member is charged by a carrier with delaying the train or operating too slowly when being governed by restricted speed. For a complete copy of the FRA Safety Advisory 2012-2; Restricted Speed, please go to: http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Safety_Advisory_2012_02.pdf.

Amtrak Ridership Continues to Increase

Amtrak routes nationwide continue to show increases in ridership over the last nine years. Passenger counts for the first six months of fiscal year 2012 (October 2011 – March 2012) are up an average of 3.7 percent nationwide over the same period last year. The largest increase is on the Northeast Corridor, with a 5.2 percent increase, and service on this line is expected to continue this pattern as population grows, highway and airport congestion worsen, and gas prices rise throughout the region.

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman recently stated that it is critical that the right infrastructure be in place to continue to meet the demands of the traveling public and to provide safe, efficient, and reliable transportation for all current and future passengers.

We still have Members of Congress who ignore the successes of Amtrak and continually vote to kill this nation’s passenger rail service. Once again I urge you to find out where your representatives stand on this issue that is of utmost importance on many levels to those of us in the rail industry.

Prescription Drug Coverage

Medco Health Solutions, the prescription drug provider for many BLET Members, has merged with another provider called Express Scripts. The combined company will be known as Express Scripts and will continue to provide pharmacy services to BLET members. There are currently no foreseen changes to the plan or network for BLET members regarding the merger of these two drug companies. Users of this plan will continue to use the same pharmacies, same website and mobile app, same mail order address and procedures, and the same contact information listed on the benefit card. Any questions or concerns regarding this matter should be directed to your prescription drug provider, whose number can be found on the back of your prescription ID card.