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Your decertification questions answered

Editor's Note: The following question and answer session was provided by BLE Vice-President Rick Radek, who heads the BLE's Arbitration Department.

These questions are based on his numerous conversations with BLE members in the field and at various BLE regional meetings. These questions are designed to help you in case of a decertification event.

Similar question and answer sessions will appear in future issues of the Newsletter.

Q: Engineer Certification is one thing that affects virtually every engineer in the U.S. What are the basic services the I.D. provides in connection with Certification?

A: We work at several different levels to assist our members to understand and cope with the regulations.

First, at the policy making (FRA) level, through a joint effort with our Washington Legislative Office, we have gone through a year-long, industry-wide process to revise the Certification Regulations. Our goal was to shift the emphasis of the Regulations from so highly punitive as they are now to something more constructive and remedial. Our feeling was that remedial training after an incident would better enhance safety in the long run than merely getting rid of somebody for a month or a year.

Second, we have the Helpline to communicate with members and their representatives when revocation events have allegedly occurred. We can help people to understand the process and help them prepare their defense against a railroad's charges.

Finally, we will provide representation for members whose decertification appeals reach the trial de novo stage.

Q: What is the trial de novo stage?

A: It is the second appeal step. It comes after an initial appeal by a member to the Locomotive Engineer Review Board, and it is essentially a regular trial conducted in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure before a federal administrative law judge who has been appointed as a full-time hearing officer for certification cases.

Q: What about the initial appeal to the Locomotive Engineer Review Board? Who is responsible for that?

A: Basically, each engineer must ascertain that a petition is filed on his or her behalf within 180 days of the railroad's notice to the engineer of a decertification decision. The I.D. does not file that petition. Perhaps a member's Local Chairman or General Chairman will do it, maybe not. However, it's very important that a LERB petition be filed or an engineer's claim for lost time under the Agreement discipline rules could be jeopardized.

Q: So there are two different sets of appeals one under the Agreement and one for the FRA?

A: Yes. The Organization will progress the usual appeal in accordance with the Agreement, but unless a LERB petition has also been filed by or on behalf of the member, an award of back pay could be offset by the railroad for the period of time the member had been decertified. The rationale for that is that if an engineer has no certificate, he cannot work as an engineer and has no earnings for that period. Since the Certification Regulations went into effect, both the Agreement appeal and the LERB petition must be handled successfully to win full back pay.

Q: What if a member finds out his Local or General Committee does not file LERB petitions? Doesn't the Brotherhood have the responsibility to do that?

A: According to counsel, the BLE's duty to represent engineers is in connection with the collective bargaining agreements. The certification Regulations involve individuals and the Federal Government, much like the federal income tax system. Because the Regulations are separate from the Agreement, the Organization is not required to handle LERB petitions. The policy of the previous Administration was based on those facts, and it has not yet been changed.

Q: Will there be a change, or will individual members still be responsible for LERB petitions?

A: That is a complicated question. The short answer is that individuals will be responsible until there is a policy change at some level, the Division, General Committee or I.D. At whatever level you do them, you have to allocate resources, or, in other words, pay for it. I believe that we should be discussing this problem in our Local or General Committees to determine collectively what it is we should do and how people feel is the best way to go about it.

I know that the present Administration would be very receptive to such a dialogue. In the meantime, we intend to do what we can to help members shoulder the burden of handling LERB petitions. We can advise individuals and their representatives via the 800 Helpline. We have a package of materials and LERB petition samples we can send to someone who needs to file a petition.

Q: Is the Helpline used a lot?

A: Very much so. There have been almost 3,000 calls these first two years, and the reaction of those calling the number has been very favorable. I don't think we'd get much argument about that. The Helpline number is (800) 393-2716.

Q: What's the most important thing for members to do when filing for review of a decertification?

A: The most important thing is not to wait too long to act. Find out early whether you need to file a petition yourself. Help is available if you allow enough time for it.

BLE Decertification Helpline

(800) 393-2716

The industry's first and only decertification helpline, provided exclusively by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.

If you are facing a possible decertification event, call our toll-free number immediately, day or night.

Railroad Retirement annuities on the rise

Railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, are scheduled to increase in January of 1999, based on the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) during the 12 months preceding October 1998.

Cost-of-living increases are calculated in both the Tier I and Tier II benefits included in a railroad retirement annuity. Tier I benefits, like social security benefits, will increase by 1.3 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will increase by 0.4 percent, which is 32.5 percent of the CPI rise. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board are not adjusted for the CPI rise.

In January 1999, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $13 a month to $1,297 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $18 a month to $1,887. For aged widow(er)s, the average survivor annuity will increase $9 a month to $777.

If a railroad retirement annuitant also receives a social security benefit, the increased Tier I benefit is reduced by the increased social security benefit. Tier II cost-of-living increases are not reduced by social security increases.



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