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BookMarks to Political Issues and Legislative Bills
Update on Railroad Retirement Legislation
RRB Labor Member offers views on pending legislation
Wisconsin State Assembly Bill 404
Railroad's Rebuttal to Assembly Bill 404
The New and Improved Wisconsin Two-Person Crew Bill

Update on Railroad Retirement Legislation
S. 697 up to 71 cosponsors; H.R. 1140 up to 369
As of July 2, 2001, S. 697, the Railroad Retirement and Survivors Improvement Act of 2001, is up to 71 cosponsors and H.R. 1140 is up to 369.

BLE members and their families are urged to continue to contact the Members of the House and Senate whom have chosen not to support this much needed legislation.

Please visit the BLE website for the latest list of co-sponsors:

To contact our legislators, go to the "Legislators" webpage on this website. There you will find links to our legislators and information on how to contact them.

RRB Labor Member offers views on pending legislation
GREENSBORO, N.C. (June 26, 2001)
The three members of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) offered their comments on the board’s operations, its impact on the lives of rail families, and views regarding the pending Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 when they addressed the nearly 1,000 participants attending the keynote session of the UTU’s three-day Regional Meeting held June 25-27, 2001, at the Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Season.

Following is a transcript of RRB Labor Member V.M. “Butch” Speakman’s remarks. 

Thank you for the invitation to be here with you today.

I also appreciate the opportunity to join my board colleagues in an effort to bring you up to date on issues percolating at the Railroad Retirement Board.

Clearly, there is good and bad in going last when speaking on the same subject matter.

Obviously, attention spans would be tested if we were to give rehashed speeches revolving around the Railroad Retirement System. Herein, I think we are going to be able to avoid that.

Our distinguished Chair gave us a well-prepared talk outlining the state of affairs at the Railroad Retirement Board. The Management Member walked us through the components of the pending Railroad Retirement legislation. I, on the other hand, want to try to achieve the good side of going last. My remarks will be limited to three areas of H.R. 1140 and its companion bill, S. 697. And there’s a reason for that.

You are, by now, fully aware of the contents of the Railroad Retirement legislation. If you are like me, however, you also want to know, “How does this affect me?” “How does this affect my family?”

For the next few minutes, I want to talk about the cause and effect - the impact, if you will - of the pending legislation.

In doing so, I want to talk to you about the widows’ benefit, the age-reduction benefit, and the solvency provision, known as the ratchet.

Having worked in this industry, and being currently vested in the Railroad Retirement System myself, I have always felt that we have a strong level of benefits - a level of benefits that allows our retirees to retire with pride and dignity after giving the rail industry their youth and the best years of their lives.

Unfortunately, there is a weak link in a strong chain of benefits as it relates to the Railroad Retirement System.

All too often, retirement with pride and dignity is compromised with the loss of a spouse who worked on the railroad.

At times, our widows and survivors are forced into a state of poverty because their annuity income does not meet the minimum income level that defines poverty in this country.

Rest assured - it is not just rumors when we hear about the elderly being forced to make choices between food or medicine.

Moreover, it’s important that we not forget that too many of our elderly railroaders worked in a era that simply did not provide them the financial opportunities that are available today. 401(k)s and other supplemental opportunities were simply not available to many of our pensioners who are drawing benefits today. For many, all they have is their railroad pension.

When that railroad employee passes away, the surviving spouse sees that pension reduced significantly. As a result, not only must a widow suffer through the loss of her loved one, but for too many - and one is too many - they must suffer through a loss of their dignity as well. That is wrong!! And it cries out for correction.

H.R. 1140 and its Senate companion bill, S. 697, go a long way in the right direction.

Upon enactment, all future widows and widowers will receive increased benefits. Moreover, nearly 50,000 widows and widowers, many of them UTU retirees, will have their benefits recomputed, and a much-needed increase applied.

For this reason, I have always believed that the increased widow benefit is the most important provision embodied in the pending retirement legislation.

Don’t get me wrong - I fully appreciate the need and support for lowering the retirement age. But when you put the needs of a widow side-by-side with the desire to retire earlier, I think priorities become obvious, and true compassion must win out.

On a second issue, H.R. 1140 and S. 697 restore our retirement age back to pre-1983 age requirements. While it is true the pending legislation contains aprovision to reduce full-age retirements from 62 to 60 years of age with 30 years of service, I see it more as a restoration of benefits, rather than a reduction of age requirements.

Many of you will recall, in the early 1980s, the solvency of our system was in question. Our trust fund was in serious financial crisis. Wherein labor addressed the crisis and the potential insolvency of the Railroad Retirement System and agreed, among other things, to increase the age requirement from 60 to 62.

Today, the solvency of the system is not in question. Quite the contrary, we find ourselves in the best financial condition since the inception of the Railroad Retirement System.

As such, the reason for increasing our retirement age in the 1980s no longer exists. It is only appropriate and completely justifiable that the pending legislation contain a provision that restores the age requirements to pre-1983 levels.

That’s a benefit you paid for. That’s a benefit you should have restored. The last issue I want to talk about is the issue of solvency.

I have already made it clear that the solvency of our system is not in question. But the solvency issue will always come with a caveat. As we know, our retirement system is funded on a pay-as-you-go system driven by employment levels. Any unforeseen employment shifts could have a dramatic effect on the trust fund.

As such, it would be unwise, when changing Railroad Retirement laws, to leave the solvency or insolvency issues unaddressed.

Under current law, insolvency and over-funding is left to the discretion of Congress. We have the financial crisis of the 1980s to remind us of how Congress addressed the potential insolvency of our system. And this was done by necessity, consistent with the terms of a labor-management arrangement.

Not only were benefits deliberalized, but Tier II taxes were also assessed employees, wherein, heretofore, no employee taxes were required. Fortunately, H.R. 1140 and S. 697 put the question of insolvency or over-funding to rest.

What has been identified as the “ratchet” is, in fact, a mechanism that addresses any under-funding or over-funding of our system. Basically, it provides automatic correction in either situation.

More specifically, if investment opportunities are not realized, or if employment levels drop below sustainable levels, and the trust fund drops below a set threshold, then the ratchet automatically kicks in.

The bottom line being that the railroads - not the employees - would be obligated to make up any shortfalls, as set by the ratchet formula.

On the other hand, if investments are realized, as actuarially projected, and employment levels remain stable—when the trust fund exceeds six times the annual Tier II benefits - the ratchet would also kick in, and labor and management would share on a 50/50 basis the excess funds. Stated a more simple way, if the trust fund should become flush - fat and sassy, if you will - then the law will give labor and management the opportunity to bring the trust fund down to a more appropriate level, and let labor and management share in the excess funds on a 50/50 basis.

These are but three components of a multi-component piece of legislation.

The leadership of the UTU - its legislative body - and the rank-and-file membership of this great union are to be commended for the foresight and down-right hard work to see this legislation enacted.

I look forward to the day when new and improved retirement benefits are embodied into law.

Until then, never give up! The issues are clear, the needs are apparent and the results are a just reward.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Wisconsin State Assembly Bill 404
Wisconsin's Two-Man Crew Bill
2001 – 2002 LEGISLATURE

Referred to Committee on Transportation.

AN ACT to repeal 192.25 (1); to amend 192.25 (2) and 192.25 (3) (b); and to create 192.25 (3) (am) of the statutes; relating to: the minimum number of railroad employees required to be present in the cab of the lead control locomotive when the railroad train or locomotive is in motion.

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
Current law prohibits any railroad train or locomotive from operating in this state unless the crew consists of at least two qualified persons. A locomotive engineer must operate the control locomotive at all times that the railroad train or locomotive is in motion. The other crew member may dismount the railroad train or locomotive when necessary to perform switching activities and other duties in the course of his or her job. The office of the commissioner of railroads, by rule, may grant an exception to these requirements if the exception will not endanger the life or property of any person. Also, under state law, these requirements do not apply to the extent they are contrary to or inconsistent with federal law.
In Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. Doyle, 186 F.3d 790 (7th Cir. 1999), the federal court of appeals held that these requirements are preempted by federal law except to the extent a train crew of at least two persons is required for over–the–road train operation (hauling train cars between terminals). However, the requirement of a train crew of at least two persons for over–the–road train operation may also be preempted if the federal railroad administration enters into an agreement with a railroad that expressly permits the railroad to conduct train operation 1over–the–road with a one–person crew.

This bill requires that two crew members be present in the cab of the lead control locomotive at all times that the railroad train or locomotive is in motion, except when the railroad train or locomotive is in motion for the purpose of switching. This requirement does not apply to a railroad train or locomotive being operated as part of a rail passenger system providing commuter rail service, high–speed rail service, urban rail transit service, or excursion rail service, unless the railroad train or locomotive is carrying freight only.
For further information see the state fiscal estimate, which will be printed as
an appendix to this bill.

The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows:
SECTION 1. 192.25 (1) of the statutes is repealed.
SECTION 2. 192.25 (2) of the statutes is amended to read:
192.25 (2) No person operating or controlling any railroad, as defined in s. 85.01 (5), may allow the operation of any railroad train or locomotive in this state unless the railroad train or locomotive has a crew of at least 2 individuals. One of the individuals shall be a certified railroad locomotive engineer. The other individual shall be either a certified railroad locomotive engineer or a qualified railroad trainman. A certified railroad locomotive engineer shall present in the cab and shall operate the lead control locomotive at all times that the railroad train or locomotive is in motion. The other crew member shall be present in the cab of the lead control locomotive at all times that the railroad train or locomotive is in motion, except when the railroad train or locomotive is in motion for the purpose of switching. When the railroad train or locomotive is not in motion, the other crew member may dismount the railroad train or locomotive when necessary to perform switching activities and other duties in the course of his or her job.
SECTION 3. 192.25 (3) (am) of the statutes is created to read:
192.25 (3) (am) Subsection (2) does not apply to a railroad train or locomotive, other than a railroad train or locomotive carrying freight only, that is being operated as part of any of the following rail passenger systems:
1. Commuter rail service operated by the state or any local governmental unit, as defined in s. 85.055 (1).
2. High–speed rail service.
3. Urban rail transit service.
4. Excursion rail service provided only for pleasure or recreation and having the same daily origination and destination point.
SECTION 4. 192.25 (3) (b) of the statutes is amended to read:
192.25 (3) (b) Subsection (2) This section does not apply to the extent that it is contrary to or inconsistent with a regulation or order of the federal railroad administration.
SECTION 5.0 Initial applicability.
(1) This act first applies to railroad trains or locomotives operated on the effective date of this subsection.

Railroad's Rebuttal to Assembly Bill 404
April 17, 2001

From: The Wisconsin Railroad Committe
[Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian Pacific (Soo Line), Union Pacific, and the Wisconsin Central]

Re: Please Do Not Co-sponsor LRB 1943/2 relating to two-person train crews

You recently received an email from Rep. Hahn asking you to co-sponsor LRB-1943/2 relating to two-person train crews. With all due respect, Wisconsin railroads ask that you NOT sign onto this bill. Former Governor Thompson vetoed this legislation last year for the following reasons:
* The bill bans operating practices that have long been deemed safe by railroads, railroad workers and the Federal Railroad Administration. The result would be that railroads would either have to add a third crew member, or discontinue those long-accepted practices.
* If railroads had to stop those practices, one result would be that grade crossings might be blocked for longer periods of time. For example, a rail operation in Neenah that now takes about 10 minutes could take as long as an hour.
* As you know, Wisconsin law already requires a two-person crew on trains. Adding a third crew member, as this bill could require, without a proven safety advantage, will put Wisconsin shippers at a competitive disadvantage. Eventually this will move manufacturing jobs to other states where transportation is cheaper.
* This proposal seeks, through legislation, to override contracts negotiated between rail labor and the rail industry. If there needs to be a change, it should come through labor negotiations.
* There is no evidence that this bill would make train operations safer in Wisconsin. In fact, an Amtrak study provides evidence to the contrary.
* It's ironic that the bill exempts the most precious cargo of all people. If this regulation is so critical to safety, why would the bill exempt passenger, high-speed, commuter and urban rail systems?
For these reasons we ask that you refrain from co-sponsoring LRB 1943/2 and to please keep an open mind until all the facts are made available to you.

The New and Improved Wisconsin Two-Person Crew Bill
With attention to the objections given by then-Governor Thompson to signing the last two-person bill into law, the new Assembly Bill 404 has come before the Wisconsin state Assembly. This bill contains exceptions for trains operating as part of a "rail passenger system providing commuter service, high-speed rail service, urban rail transit service, unless the railroad carrying freight only." When Governor Thompson refused to sign the last bill, these were the conditions over which he had concerns, and it is hoped that A.B.404 will, having addressed these conditions, be passed by the legislature (as the last law was) and signed by Governor McCallum. The bill also provides that "One of the individuals [of the required minimum two-person crew] shall be present in the cab and shall operate the lead control locomotive at all times that the railroad train or locomotive is in motion."

The Wisconsin Railroad Committee, representing the rail companies in the state, have issued their response to this bill, which is basically the same as their objections to the last one. Many of their claims are based on misconceptions of current or past operating practices, and have been refuted in a letter sent by Keith Luebke, state Legislative Chairman for BLE, to all members of the Assembly. Be assured that the railroad industry will be active in opposing this bill, so your letters, calls, e-mails or contacts with your representative to the Assembly will be useful to support this bill. It was introduced by representatives Schneider, Lippert, Lassa, Boyle and Breske, among others. Even if your representative was among those who introduced the bill, it's a help to know how many constituents approve of it!


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La Crosse, Wisconsin

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