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.

Illinois HB 3755 Two Person Crew Safety Bill

HB 3755 the Illinois Two Person Crew Bill had its third reading in the House of Representatives on April 20, 2016. After just a short debate it was passed with 74 yeas and 39 nays. Congratulations to Brother Paul Piekarski, Legislative Chairman for the State of Illinois for all his hard work on this bill. We will all stand in support HB 3755 as it now makes its way through the Senate.

National Day of Action/Stand with Verizon

May 5 was deemed the “National Day of Action” for the CWA (Communication Workers of America) and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) members who have been on strike with Verizon since April 13, 2016. Approximately 39,000 Verizon employees are on strike fighting to keep strong union jobs here on U.S. soil as the corporate giant threatens to outsource jobs overseas. Workers are also protesting employee layoffs and cutbacks to employee healthcare benefits. Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa encouraged all Teamsters to participate in the May 5 Day of Action. “It’s more important now than ever to show Teamster solidarity in standing up to corporate greed,” he said. “By having a strong Teamster presence supporting CWA and IBEW and helping those unions win their battles, we will help our union win current and future battles against corporate giants.”

Supporting the CWA and IBEW with a show of solidarity from the BLET were Brothers John Tolman, Vice President and National Legislative Representative; Dave Brown, Minnesota State Legislative Board Chairman; Cory Runion, Wyoming State Legislative Board Chairman; Vincent Verna, Director of Regulatory Affairs; and Robert Hagan, Director of Political Affairs. Thank you to all of these gentlemen who marched in the solidarity rally held in Washington D.C. on May 5 letting the striking Verizon union members know that the Brotherhood is with them supporting their fight for a fair contract and against corporate greed. 

Two-Person Crew

As a new deadline of June 15, 2016, approaches for public comments on the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposed regulation requiring trains to have a minimum of two crew members in the cab, BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce wrote a compelling and fact-filled article in the winter 2015 issue of The Locomotive Engineers and Trainman Journal entitled, “Two Person Crews Are the Safest.” I encourage all members to take a moment from their day and read this article. The battle for a two-person crew on every locomotive is not over and we all need to continue to push forward with this important legislation for the safety of all of our brothers and sisters on the rail. An excerpt from the article can be found at: https://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/newsflash.asp?id=5837

Federal Aviation Administration proposed changed that would benefit passenger rail near airports

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently proposed a funding change that could benefit passenger rail near airports. While it may often go unnoticed on your airline ticket, there is a tax labeled PFC (Passenger Facility Charge). This tax collected by passengers of airlines grossed $3 billion dollars in 2015. In the past, this fee was only used to fund projects or improvements on airport property for travelers and employees making their way around the airports. However, because of a challenge in 2014 by the Dulles International Airport in Virginia to use the funds for expansion beyond the airport, connecting passengers to city metro systems, the FAA has proposed a funding change that would potentially allow the PFC funds to be used to build passenger rail that would connect travelers from the airport to larger metro systems such as DC’s metro system. Since Virginia first asked for PFC funds in 2014, Miami, Denver, and New York have also started building rail links around their airports and would benefit from PFC money to help with costs. These PFC funds would prove beneficial in helping cut the cost of providing more passenger rail to and from cities located several miles from the airports and would help travelers get to their destinations cheaper and faster than the current systems in place. If you would like to comment on the FAA proposed funding change, you can do that until June 2, 2016, online at http://www.regulations.gov

Listening Sessions on Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in conjunction with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be holding public “listening sessions” across the country in May to gain information from employees across the U.S. who are considered to be in safety sensitive positions in highway and railroad jobs. Safety consequences for rail and highway workers will be the main focus, in addition to costs and benefits from regulatory actions that would address the risks associated. The sessions will be held on site as well as virtually via an interactive webcast allowing more people to participate at each one. The sessions will provide employees an opportunity to share their experiences and views with representatives from both of the agencies. If you would like to participate in any of these sessions in person or via webcast the dates are:

Washington DC, May 12, 2016, at the National Association of Home Builders, 1201 15th Street, NW

Chicago IL, May 17, 2016, at the Marriott Courtyard Chicago Downtown/River North, 30 East Hubbard Street

Los Angeles CA, May 25, 2016, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, 404 South Figueroa Street

To view the sessions online, the link is: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/mission/policy/fmcsafra-public-listening-sessions-obstructive-sleep-apnea

Supreme Court Decision a Win for Labor Unions

On March 29, 2016, the Supreme Court handed down a deadlock decision of 4-4 in support of labor in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Ten California teachers and one teachers’ group, Christian Educators Association International, presented a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. Abood v. Detroit Board of Education dates back to 1977 and says employees who are represented exclusively by a public employee union but are not union members must pay “fair share” fees for bargaining costs related to wages, benefits, and working conditions. Rebecca Friedrichs and the other parties to the lawsuit claimed that the agency fees were a violation to their first amendment right, saying the CTA does not represent their interest on bargaining issues covered by the fair share fees.

The case was argued prior to the death of Justice Scalia, however he died before a decision was handed down. Upon his death, only eight Justices were left to decide the case. The eight remaining Justices returned with a 4-4 split decision leaving Abood v. Detroit Board of Education in place and protecting the power of the union members.

Federal Railroad Administration Announces it will provide $25 Million in Grants

The FRA announced in April it will distribute $25 million dollars in grants to help with repairs to railroad infrastructure throughout the U.S. The money will be used for safety improvements such as crossings, bridges, tunnels, etc. This funding for improvement, combined with that of the $525 million for TIGER grants from the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, will help to increase the funding for infrastructure passenger rail improvements, thereby helping to provide commuters across the country with a safer, more reliable transit system.

The 15 Most Dangerous Railroad Crossings in America

In the U.S. there are more than 200,000 railroad crossings. It is the job of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to track and determine the potential for injuries and loss of life due to repeated accidents in each location. FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg, in February of 2016, sent letters to state Department of Transportation Secretaries asking for cooperation to improve the safety at crossings across the country. In conjunction with asking the states’ DOTs for cooperation and help, the FRA has also released the list of the 15 most dangerous crossings. The top five listed as most dangerous were all located within Arizona, with the others being spread out between the states of Arkansas, New Jersey, Indiana, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, in that order. Each of the 15 crossings listed have had at least 10 incidents happen, not necessarily fatalities, in the last decade. “I urge our state partners to join FRA in taking additional actions to improve crossing safety. I know that, together, we can do more to save lives,” Administrator Feinberg wrote to states in a letter. “FRA is ready and willing to help our partners in any way we can.” The link below provides the listing of the top 15, with their specific location and number of incidents in each state.


Railroad Retirement Board News:

RRB Appropriation Request for 2017 – Call to Action: Our Brothers and Sisters at the National Association for Retired and Veteran Railway Employees (NARVRE) have put out a Call to Action and requested support of the Railroad Retirement Board’s appropriation request for 2017. The Railroad Retirement Board has requested that their administrative budget be increased for the fiscal year 2017 by approximately $11 million. The increased funds would be used to update computer mainframe systems for better service and also for the protection of information of all railroad retirees they serve. Secondly, the funds would be used to maintain the level of staffing that they currently have in place, as well as any additional staffing that is needed, so that they might maintain their reputation for superior customer service. The Railroad Retirement Board currently serves over 558,000 beneficiaries. The importance of their continued success and ability to service all retired railroaders cannot be ignored. To support the RRB request for additional funding, please contact your Representative in Congress and urge them to support this fiscal increase.

The Effect of Buy-Outs on Railroad Retirement Benefits: Railroad employees frequently ask the Railroad Retirement Board how the acceptance of a buy-out from a railroad employer affects their future eligibility for benefits under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts. A list of questions and answers providing information on this subject can be found at: https://www.rrb.gov/opa/qa/pub_1604.asp

RRB Change in Service Hours: Effective at noon on June 1, 2016, Railroad Retirement Board field offices around the country will be closed to the public on Wednesday afternoons. Field office representatives will not be available to assist walk-in customers or to answer the phones during Wednesday afternoons only. All RRB offices will remain open from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays, and during their usual hours of 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the remaining weekdays, except for Federal holidays. These changes are being made as a result of reduced staffing levels and increased workloads, and will allow the field office staff to focus on processing applications for benefits, conducting necessary verifications for pending applications or claims, resolving complex cases, and reducing backlogged workloads.