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Legislative Update May 2014

Ryan Budget Passed by Narrow Margin

On April 10, the House passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget, which includes $5.1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years without closing tax loopholes. The measure passed 219 to 205, with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no. A swing of just seven Republican votes would have defeated the measure.

The plan would cut more than $5 trillion over the coming decade to reach balance by 2024. The sharpest cuts would come to health care programs for the poor and uninsured, food stamps, and array of domestic programs, including Pell Grants, education, and community development grants. It calls for total repeal of the Affordable Care Act just as millions are reaping the benefits of the law, and Medicare would be converted into a “premium support” system, where people 65 and older could buy private insurance with federal subsidy vouchers instead of government-paid health care. Not surprisingly, the plan includes increased military spending and provides large tax cuts for millionaires.

Some see the passage of this bill, which rejects compromise in favor of appealing to hard-core Republican values, as a message that Ryan has big ambitions, including running for President in 2016.

The action followed a series of House votes on alternatives, including defeats earlier Thursday of a House Democratic alternative and Wednesday of what Republicans offered as a version of President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget—a depiction Democrats disputed.

Democrats who lead the Senate do not plan to pass a budget at all for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1 of this year, saying that the two-year spending agreement that Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray reached in December with Ryan makes that unnecessary. The Murray-Ryan agreement set discretionary spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year at $1.014 trillion.

Even some Republicans acknowledge that passage of the Ryan budget is more an aspirational declaration of their party’s priorities and vision of government spending; however, the April 10 vote showed that it is not necessarily a reflection of the vision of all House Republicans.

FRA Rulemaking re: Crew Size

In a press release dated April 9, 2014, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced its intention to issue a proposed rule requiring two-person train crews on crude oil trains and establishing minimum crew size standards for most mainline freight and passenger rail operations.  The press release also stated the agency’s intention to advance a rulemaking on train securement, as well as movement of hazardous materials.

Following the FRA announcement, the BLET received numerous requests for comments. Although it is not the BLET’s practice to publicly comment on a pending rulemaking, and no substantive comment can be made on the FRA’s proposal, which has yet to be published, BLET National President Dennis Pierce stated that, based on recent attempts by the rail industry’s lobbying arm to change the debate, he felt compelled to respond.

In his response, President Pierce stated that it is undeniable that the 2013 runaway train catastrophe in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, was facilitated, if not directly caused, by the railroad’s decision to operate that train with a single-person crew. Following that tragedy, the Safe Freight Act, H.R. 3040, was introduced. This legislation requires that “no freight train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight may be operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least two individuals, one of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a locomotive engineer pursuant to section 20135, and the other of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a conductor pursuant to section 20163.” The BLET is working toward the passage of this important piece of legislation, which now has 70 cosponsors.

President Pierce stated that the BLET agrees with the FRA position that “safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple person crew,” and that “a second crew member provides safety redundancy and provides a method of checks and balances on train operations.” He then pointed out that the rail industry is determined to hijack this issue and convert it into a process to “further pad its already historic profit levels” by holding the issue hostage to the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. Although PTC is an upgrade and overlay on existing signal and train control technology that will save lives and reduce accidents and property damage, it should never be the basis for a waiver of the two-person train crew requirement, which is exactly what rail management is hoping to achieve.

President Pierce emphasized that the BLET will continue to oppose the rail industry’s request for a five-year extension of the December 31, 2015 deadline for installation of PTC that was set forth by Congress. He said that the railroad’s response is reprehensible given that they are preying upon the legitimate safety concerns of rail workers and the general public to increase their profits. He went on to say that the BLET views the railroad’s response as “a thinly veiled threat against collective bargaining agreement provisions that address crew size, which would be unaffected by the proposed regulation, and which we will vigorously defend.” He concluded by stating that the BLET will work with all its energy to ensure that the FRA develops a regulation that puts the safety of all railroad workers, and of the American public, first and foremost.

Proposed State Laws to Mandate Two-Person Crew

The BLET and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD) have started a campaign to get state laws passed mandating a two-person crew on all freight trains. The two unions have developed language that both minimizes the potential for a federal preemption challenge and maximizes the likelihood that the legislation will survive any challenge. The model legislation has been provided to members of all State Legislative Boards in both unions with instructions not to deviate from the model when proposing legislation on the subject. Among other items, the legislation stipulates that any person who willfully violates the two-person crew law would be subject to financial penalties.

BLET National President Dennis Pierce and SMART-TD President John Previsich both urged their officers to work with their counterparts to move this legislation forward in their states. On the national level, all members of the BLET and the BLET Auxiliary, and their family members, are strongly encouraged to contact their representatives in the House to ask for their support of H.R. 3040, the Safe Freight Act, which would require a two-person crew on virtually all freight trains, and is currently pending before the U.S. House of Representatives.

Teamsters Offer Disaster Relief to Members in Washington State

The Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund is accepting applications for assistance from members living in certain areas of Washington State who experienced losses due to the flooding and mudslides that caused major damage to homes and property on March 22, 2014. Eligible members can download the “Request for Help” form at: 
www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/WA_disaster_relief_040914.pdf. 
The deadline for application is May 16, 2014. Also available from the BLET website are Teamster “Disaster Relief Alert Notices” and “Request for Help” forms. If you live in the affected area and experienced a loss due to this FEMA-declared major disaster, please download and submit the forms. For questions, contact the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund office at (202) 624-8971. The deadline for application is May 16, 2014.

Members who live and work in the affected areas are asked to help spread the word by printing and posting Disaster Relief Notices at their places of work. Previous notices are archived on the BLET National Division’s website, www.ble-t.org/disaster. This program is administered by the Teamsters, not by the BLET National Division. Questions regarding the application process, pending applications, or other inquiries should be directed to the Teamsters Human Rights Commission at the telephone number provided above.

Another Whistleblower Case

Federal regulators have ordered Union Pacific to reinstate an injured Nebraska worker and pay $85,000 in damages. On April 23, The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration stated that the railroad improperly terminated the North Platte employee after he reported an injury. Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the railroad is reviewing OSHA’s decision and hasn’t decided whether to appeal.

The worker hurt his back in October 2012 after a chair he was sitting on collapsed. Following the injury, regulators say the worker was removed from duty and accused of violating several railroad policies, including workplace violence rules. Regulators say the firing was done in retaliation for reporting the injury.

Few details were released about the employee because regulators consider him a whistleblower.

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