Rail groups pleased with coronavirus stimulus package

Story by Joanna Marsh for freightwaves.com

The Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) said they are pleased that Congress and President Donald Trump have approved a $2 trillion stimulus package that includes provisions for rail workers’ access to unemployment and sickness benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“This aid package will offer vital relief to hardworking rail employees whose jobs are impacted during these challenging times,” said AAR President Ian Jefferies. AAR represents the Class I railroads, Amtrak, and other freight and passenger rail-related interests. “We thank Congress for ensuring railroaders have access to this lifeline. The industry is committed to working in partnership with its employees as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and railroaders will continue to deliver what America needs.”

Rail workers receive unemployment benefits through the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) Railroad Unemployment Insurance (RUIA) Program and not through state-administered programs, according to AAR.

The bill that Trump signed into law on Friday, H.R. 748, includes the following provisions, according to AAR:

  • It waives the seven-day waiting period for filing a sickness or unemployment claim with the RRB and provides $50 million to cover the costs of these additional benefits.
  • It increases unemployment benefits through an additional $1,200 biweekly benefit and provides $425 million to cover the costs of these benefits through July 31.
  • It allows RRB to access approximately $130 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to provide extended benefits through Dec. 31.
  • It provides $5 million to RRB to cover administrative costs.

The bill also provides $1.02 billion in funding for the National Railroad Passenger Corp., also known as Amtrak, with $492 million allocated for the Northeast Corridor and $526 million allocated to the national network. It provides $24.9 billion in grants for transit agencies as well.

Other provisions in the bill are aimed at stabilizing the air industry.

This new stimulus package will “play a central role in stabilizing critical industries and ensuring working families can weather this crisis. We applaud lawmakers for putting workers first and passing this important piece of legislation,” said Larry Willis, TTD president of the AFL-CIO. The labor group is a coalition of 33 unions whose members work in all transportation modes.

“Mitigating the long-term impacts of this crisis will require more, bold action from the federal government. As long as our members are on the frontlines battling this pandemic, we are going to be right there with them, fighting for their safety, their livelihoods, and their rights on the job,” Willis said.

Said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker: “While short line railroads are working hard to avoid any layoffs or furloughs, this Railroad Unemployment Insurance improvement is an important safety net to provide. We were pleased to work with our friends in rail labor and at the AAR to make this request, and we join them in thanking Congress for its quick action in the face of this unprecedented crisis.”

However, BLET said the bill didn’t remove the sequestration requirements in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which are applicable to RUIA benefits and could cause an artificial reduction in unemployment benefits.

“I thank members of Congress and the White House for working together across party lines to help all Americans, especially railroad workers, during the current coronavirus pandemic,” said BLET President Dennis R. Pierce, who also serves as president of the Teamsters Rail Conference. “While I am disappointed that they did not remove the sequestration requirement, we will continue to lobby Congress to overturn this most unjust requirement.”

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