|ONLINE VERSION||MAY 2001|
|NEWS IN BRIEF|
|Railroad Retirement Update
On March 21 the Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act of 2001 was introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 1140 which replaced H.R. 180 which was introduced by Congressman Bud Shuster in early January. Shuster's sudden retirement a few days later left H.R. 180 without a major sponsor and the Rail Labor coalition supporting the measure felt it would improve the legislation's chances for passage if it were re-introduced.
The bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee which re- introduced the legislation included Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK), Ranking Member James Oberstar (D-MN) and Jack Quinn (R-NY), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads.
As this JOURNAL goes to press, H.R. 1140 has 280 co-sponsors. At the close of business on April 4, the House adjourned for the "Spring District Work Period" and were scheduled to return in session April 23.
Late on April 4, the action moved to the Senate, where the jointly-sponsored bill (S. 697) was introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Max Baucus (D-MT). The next morning the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers reported that the bill already had 34 co-sponsors. As this JOURNAL goes to press, S. 697 has 40 co-sponsors.
The Senators left Capitol Hill for Easter Recess on April 6 and were not scheduled to return until April 23.
New Southwest Region Grand Lodge Officers
On April 6 E. R. "Richard" Spears was elected as Southwest Region Vice President to fill the vacancy created by the untimely death of Larry Borden on February 5. Bill R. Palmer was elected to succeed Spears as Executive Board Member from the region.
Spears has been a member of the BMWE since 1966 when he went to work for the Frisco (now BNSF) railroad as a trackman. He served in a number of BMWE positions prior to his election as general chairman of the Frisco System Federation in 1979, which made him the senior general chairman in the BMWE at the time of his election as vice president.
Palmer joined the BMWE in 1980 after going to work for the Missouri Pacific as a trackman. He was elected as general chairman of the Missouri Pacific System Federation in 1994 and will continue to serve in that position in addition to his Grand Lodge office.
Rail Labor Criticizes ARC Amtrak Report
"Today, the congressionally-created Amtrak Reform Council issued yet another disappointing report about the future of Amtrak and national passenger rail service in this country," said Ed Dubroski, Chairman of the Rail Labor Division of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department on March 20.
"ARC had a chance to make a clear, bold show of support for Amtrak, but instead offered up a complicated series of recommendations that further underscore ARC's anti-Amtrak bias.
"ARC could have issued a rallying cry for making our national passenger rail service a long-term success but instead missed another opportunity to convince the American people that it performs a worthy function. After reviewing ARC's latest report, we deeply regret that American taxpayer dollars were wasted on the work of this misguided panel and vow to continue our effort to zero out federal funding for this unnecessary oversight panel.
"ARC has rolled out a murky series of options and rationales for its ideological agenda, when it should have called on Congress and the President to fully fund Amtrak and give it a real chance to be viable. Then — and only then — can responsible policy leaders examine options for Amtrak into the future. The restructuring proposals put forth in the report are radical, unnecessary and could cause more harm than good to the cause of intercity rail passenger service.
"One investment measure that has wide bipartisan support is the High Speed Rail Investment act. We had hoped that ARC would have realized the innovation behind this legislation and believe the Council missed an opportunity by failing to join in support of this bill.
"For all the global jet-setting ARC members did at taxpayers' expense, you would think they would have noticed that no nation in the world allows its intercity passenger rail service to wither on the vine. Every nation subsidizes passenger rail to ensure it can deliver first class transportation services.
"From their globe-trotting journeys, we would have hoped that ARC members understand that other countries, particularly England, are reeling from the dire consequences of privatization, including the degradation of safety and service. Instead, ARC would steer America down that road as well.
"Clearly, Amtrak and its 20,000 employees are at a crossroads. Long term and sustainable financing, not ideologically driven proposals to break up Amtrak, will ensure a strong and viable national passenger rail system. The ARC should heed that call or cease to exist."
Social Security and Medicare Reports Contradict Bush Positions
The social security system is stronger than ever, said the Alliance for Retired Americans in a news release issued March 19. The ARA is a nationwide organization of more than two million union retirees, members of the former National Council of Senior Citizens and other older and retired Americans working together to make their voices heard in the laws, policies, politics and institutions that shape our lives.
ARA said last year's Social Security Trustees Report estimated that social security would have sufficient funds to remain financially sound through the year 2037. Because of the strong economy of the last eight years, that date has now been moved up to 2038 (2040 for the retirement and survivors program), after which social security will still have 73 percent of the revenues needed to pay benefits. Under one of the Trustees' projections, very small changes in economic and population estimates would mean that social security would remain solvent for the entire 75-year projection period.
The announcement of these findings on March 19 by the Social Security Board of Trustees, including Bush appointees (the Secretaries of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services), exposes the fallacies of the Bush Administration's claims that social security is in crisis and needs to be "saved" by turning social security over to Wall Street. The recent behavior of the stock market also dramatically demonstrates how unwise it would be to divert social security contributions into high-risk stock investments. If any changes in social security's financing are needed, they would be minor and we have almost 40 years to decide what they would be, ARA said.
The Bush Administration has also been misleading the public by talking about Medicare having a "surplus" they can use to reduce taxes for the rich. The so-called "surplus" is actually a reserve needed to guarantee future Medicare benefits. The Medicare Trustees report shows that in truth Medicare faces a deficit by 2029. It is irresponsible for the Bush Administration to include the Medicare Trust Fund reserves in the calculations they use to justify their bloated tax cut for the wealthiest part of the population. Spending the Medicare Trust Fund reserves on help-the-rich tax cuts, as the Bush Administration wants to do, would not only cripple the present Medicare program but make it impossible to add desperately needed prescription drug coverage for America's senior citizens.
The Alliance for Retired Americans adamantly rejects the Bush Administration's plan to rob the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds at the expense of working people's retirement and health security. Social Security must remain America's foundation for financial security, and Medicare must be improved by the immediate addition of prescription drug coverage.
Campaign Finance Reform Bill
At a time when workers' voices are being drowned out in the political arena more than ever by big business and millionaire contributors, the AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions commended members of the United States Senate who voted the evening of March 21 to defeat the Hatch amendment attached to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill earlier that day. This amendment was an extreme attempt to silence the voice of working families and knock them out of the political arena altogether.
The anti-worker Hatch amendment called "paycheck parity" would prohibit unions from collecting any membership dues or fees from any union-represented employee who has not filled out a form authorizing his/her union's political activities. As a result, this amendment would impose substantial barriers to union collection of dues or fees — even for collective bargaining purposes.
Although the amendment purports to forbid corporations from spending their general treasury funds for political activities if they fail to get the authorization of individual shareholders, it would still allow them to retain money that would have otherwise been spent on political activity in their general treasuries. As a result, under this amendment, corporations would still be able to make the same amount of political expenditures they make now simply by changing their internal accounting practices.
The Hatch amendment also would require duplicative and burdensome union reporting, but only very limited corporate reporting. Under the Hatch amendment, corporations would be required to report only on expenditures from their own general treasuries and from the general treasuries of their subsidiaries.
Unions, however, would be required to report on expenditures from all of their affiliates. For example, a local union would be required to report on expenditures by its national union and the national union would be required to report on the local union, even though neither the local nor the national unions have control over the others' financial records.
As additional amendments are added to McCain-Feingold, the AFL-CIO said it hoped that members of the U.S. Senate stand firm against any poison pill dubbed "paycheck protection" that not only undermines union democracy, but deters the growing participation of working families in the political process.