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Rail labor unions are uniting in a campaign to overturn what they describe as "unfair" sequestration of Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits, which reduces the unemployment and sickness benefits of railroad workers.
The unions are represented by the Teamsters Rail Conference and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD).
Late last week, the unions contacted U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and asked them to jointly co-sponsor language consistent with the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that would eliminate sequestration. The HEROES Act is a $3 trillion bill that would allocate federal funding to help states struggling with their budgets as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increase pay for front-line workers, extend unemployment measures and provide another round of $1,200 in stimulus checks for Americans.
Specifically, the unions are asking the senators to rescind the sequestration of RUIA benefits by amending the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to include RUIA among other various programs that are not subject to sequestration, according to a press release issued by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
Portman chairs the Senate subcommittee where a decision on sequestration will be made.
"Unlike the average U.S. worker, railroad employees do not receive unemployment benefits through state-administered unemployment insurance programs. Instead, unemployed railroaders receive these benefits through the RUIA program, which is administered by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), RUIA are subject to sequestration. No state unemployment insurance benefits in the country are subject to this unfair treatment," stated Teamsters Rail Conference President Dennis Pierce and TTD President Larry Willis.
Unemployment and sickness benefits payable under the RUIA have been sequestered or reduced since 2013, as part of a package of automatic spending reductions required by the BCA. Currently, RUIA unemployment benefits are being sequestered at the rate of 5.9 percent, as are RUIA sickness benefits.
In the past, these rates have been adjusted annually when the federal sequestration is recalculated. Railroads have seen their benefits sequestered as high as 9.2 percent in the past, union officials said.
As part of the campaign, the BLET will try to mobilize in Ohio to urge Portman and Brown to co-sponsor the unions' proposal.