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Rail Labor urges Senate leaders to support bill ending RRB benefit sequestration

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, November 12 — The Teamsters Rail Conference and the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO are urging leaders of the United States Senate to support a bill that would end the unfair sequestration of Railroad Retirement Sickness and Unemployment benefits.

Called the Railroad Unemployment Equity and Fairness Act (“REEF Act”), S. 4860 would ensure that unemployed railroad workers receive fair and equal unemployment benefits by removing the harmful sequester that singles out railroad workers. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in late October 2020.

In a November 9 letter to all United States Senators, TTD President Larry I. Willis and Teamsters Rail Conference President and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce wrote: “The REEF Act ends the unfair sequestration of Railroad Retirement Sickness and Unemployment benefits for railroad workers who become unemployed or sick on the job. Unlike traditional state unemployment insurance benefits, the Railroad Retirement Board’s unemployment insurance benefits are subjected to sequester as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Without a legislative fix, railroaders and their families will continue to be unjustly shortchanged and face a 5.7% reduction rate to their benefits.”

As background, unemployment and sickness benefits payable under the RUIA have been sequestered or reduced since 2013, as part of a package of automatic spending cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), which was passed in August 2011. Currently, RUIA unemployment benefits are being sequestered at the rate of 5.7%, as are RUIA sickness benefits. In the past, these rates have been adjusted annually when the federal sequestration is recalculated. Railroaders have seen their benefits sequestered as high as 9.2% in the past.

It is especially important to address the issue now due to the high number of railroad workers who are furloughed due to the COVID pandemic.

“It is an important to remember that these sickness and unemployment benefits are funded by railroad employers. No part of these contributions are made up of taxpayer funds or government subsidies and there is no harm to taxpayers by ending the sequester on the benefits. The only reason the RRB UI funds are sequestered currently is the lack of a distinction between Railroad Retirement benefits and other tax-subsidized benefits in federal budgeting rules. This is a 9-year-old mistake that is long overdue for correction and, in the context of the COVID pandemic, the urgency to correct the mistake has been put into a stark perspective. The REEF Act would remedy that for railroad workers, including those who have lost their jobs, have been sickened by COVID-19, or are caring for sick family members.”

Teamsters Rail Conference President Pierce and TTD President Willis concluded their letter by urging all Senators to cosponsor the REEF Act and to support its passage in this Congress. BLET has also activated its internal mobilization network asking all BLET members to contact their U.S. Senator in support of the legislation.

A copy of the joint BLET/TTD REEF Act letter to the Senate is available for download as a PDF from the BLET National Division website.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

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