December 19, 2014

With elections past, our work begins

James Stem

By James Stem, 
National Legislative Director – 

As a new Congress begins its largely partisan struggles, which are sometimes difficult to understand and frequently disturbing, the job of the National Legislative Office is to convince lawmakers that the legislative agenda of SMART members is the ideal recipe.

The education process itself can be brutal, as evidenced by these numbers: In this Congress there are 84 new House members, 11 new senators and 17 new members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, where air, bus, rail and transit legislation often has its beginning.

The job of the National Legislative Office and the state legislative directors is to provide members of Congress with facts and be available as a resource when they have questions or are approached with different points of view by others.

High on the list of issues important to SMART members is a stable and sufficient source of funding for Amtrak and mass transit, which are carrying record numbers of riders and which are expected to swell further with demands from budget travelers, seniors and those frustrated with airline delays and increasing highway congestion.

Of importance to the safety of rail members is preventing further delay in implementation of positive train control, and refining some of the language in the hours-of-service law passed by Congress in 2008.

As discussions proceed on how to deal with America’s substantial debt and deficit spending, we are working with other labor organizations to ensure that middle-class Americans don’t face the brunt of the problem. For example, it is imperative we preserve the home mortgage-interest tax deduction and that Congress does not attempt to require employees to pay income taxes on their health care benefits.

Preserving the financial integrity of Social Security is another issue. Also, we expect conservative lawmakers, who don’t understand that Railroad Retirement is entirely funded by the taxes of rail workers and railroads, to seek again to fold Railroad Retirement into Social Security.

Returning to hours-of-service regulations, among our objectives is to gain new legislative language providing predictable and defined work/rest periods, a 10-hour call for all those in unassigned road service, and a mandate that the 10-hour undisturbed rest period be immediately prior to performing covered service instead of immediately following service. We also want all yardmaster assignments to be covered under hours-of-service regulations and that there be a two-hour limit on limbo time per tour of duty.

Our plate is full, but we are heartened that much, if not all, of the anti-labor conservative agenda expected to be proposed will be defeated either by a more sober-thinking House majority or in the Senate, where the labor-friendly majority was increased in the November elections.

In 2012, UTU PAC played a meaningful role in reducing the anti-worker majority in the House and increasing the labor-friendly majority in the Senate.

Your UTU PAC contributions continue to be a great tool in facilitating face-to-face conversations with members of Congress and helping keep our friends in office.

I urge you to become a PAC member if you are not yet one, or increase your PAC contributions to a minimum of a dollar-a-day level. UTU PAC contributions are one of the most effective investments you can make in job security, improved wages and benefits.