Coalition of Rail Employees for Improved Pensions launches 2001 campaign

(BLE Editor's Note: A coalition of 17 labor unions, including the BLE, have joined forces to campaign for passage of the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act of 2001. All have agreed to issue the following press release.)

CLEVELAND, January 18 -- The 2001 campaign to pass the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act is off and running.

National officers and legislative representatives from each rail union in the Coalition of Rail Employees for Improved Pensions (REIP) met on January 16, 2000 in Washington, D.C. with representatives of every major railroad and retiree organization to plan strategy to enact railroad retirement improvements this year.

Every union and railroad at the meeting pledged that achieving railroad retirement reform would be their top legislative priority this year. Leaders discussed in detail how to build on last year's campaign that came very close to succeeding. Last year, our bill passed the House of Representatives by the overwhelming vote of 391 to 25, 83 Senators signed a letter of support and the Senate Finance Committee voted for it, but it never came up for a vote in the full Senate due to the opposition of a handful of senators.

Leaders at the meeting agreed that broad bipartisan support continues to exist in both houses of Congress, but that the opponents of reform are on record that they will once again do everything possible to block legislation. Further complicating matters is the fact that there will be new Committee Chairmen in several of the key committees of jurisdiction: House Transportation and Infrastructure, House Ways and Means, House Budget, and Senate Finance. And, perhaps most importantly, the incoming Bush Administration has not yet had a chance to study the issue.

Therefore, it was agreed to use the next two months to meet with the new Committee Chairmen, their staffs, and key members of the Bush Administration to educate them on the merits of our proposal. Meetings are already being scheduled. This is an ideal time for such meetings to take place, because Congress has very few legislative days scheduled before March 1.

The goal is to have a bipartisan bill essentially identical to last year's introduced by the end of March, co-sponsored by the appropriate House and Senate Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, with the acknowledged support of President Bush.

Thanks to the unprecedented outpouring of letters and phone calls last year by rail workers and retirees, the groundwork has definitely been laid. There is not a returning member of Congress who is not familiar with our issue. For that reason, the Coalition believes now is not the time to begin bombarding Congress with calls and letters. That time will come, probably when a bipartisan leadership bill is introduced.

Many of you know that retiring Representative Bud Shuster (R-PA) already submitted a bill -- HR 180 -- that mirrors the bill that passed the House last year. Because of the retirement of its key sponsor, there is a strong chance that it will not be the ultimate bill that the Coalition advances. Rail labor and management all agree that whatever the ultimate bill is, it will include all of the elements agreed to last year. That means the bill will: reduce the age to receive a full annuity from 62 to 60 with 30 years of service; improve surviving spouse benefits so that surviving spouses would inherit the full Tier II annuity of the deceased retiree instead of the current 50 percent of the retiree's annuity; reduce vesting from ten to five years; remove artificial caps on benefits that penalize long-term employees who left the industry; reduce carrier taxes by an equivalent amount; and require the carriers to insure that the Railroad Retirement Account maintains a sufficient fund-to-benefit ratio in the future by agreeing to automatic future tax hikes if necessary. In addition, the carriers represented by the National Carriers' Conference Committee stand by the agreement that when such legislation is enacted, they will provide retiree health insurance at age 60 instead of the current age 61, and annually increase the existing $75,000 cap on benefits by the rate of medical inflation.

These increased benefits and reduced taxes will be made possible by allowing the money contributed to the fund in excess of social security to be invested in non-governmental securities, using prudent investment standards, as every other pension plan already does. The Railroad Retirement Board Actuary has already updated the projections based on the year delay, and concluded that fund solvency will be unaffected.

All of the unions in REIP are pledged to work together with a common voice and common goal -- passage of railroad retirement reform this year. To that end, BLE members will receive regular updates through all BLE media sources.

Unions participating in REIP are: Amalgamated Transit Union; American Train Dispatcher Department - BLE; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union; International Association of Machinists; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; International Longshoremen's Association; Iron Workers International; National Conference of Firemen and Oilers - SEIU; Seafarers International Union; Service Employees International Union; Sheet Metal Workers' International Association; Transport Workers Union; Transportation Communications International Union; United Transportation Union. No unions are opposing the campaign.

 

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January 18, 2001
bentley@ble.org

 

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers