Posts Tagged ‘Biden administration’

Biden Names PEB Members

July 20, 2022

Three members of a presidential emergency board have been named by President Joseph Biden.
they are Ira Jaffe, as chair, and members David Twomey and Barbara Deinhardt,

The board will investigate over the next 30 days the impasse over a new labor contract between major railroads and their unions and make recommendations for resolving the stalemate.

The railroads and unions can accept or reject the recommendations.

If the latter happens, there will be another 30-day period before the 13 unions can strike or management can lock out its employees. That could occur as early as Sept 18.

If either a strike or lockout occurs, Congress could step in and order an end to the strike or the lockout. Congress could also impose terms of a new contract.

Jaffee is a lecturer in law at The George Washington University who has served as a neutral arbitrator in labor disputes since 1981. He has been named to various PEBs by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Twomey is a law professor at Boston College and the author of textbooks on labor, employment and business law. He has served on seven previous PEBs.

Deinhardt is an independent arbitrator who has chaired the New York State Employment Relations Board and State Workers’ Compensation Board. She served as a member of PEB No. 248 and was appointed to three successive terms on the Foreign Service Grievance Board and one PEB.

The PEB appointed by Biden last week in an executive order will review the wage, benefits and work rules that are in dispute.

CSX is participating in the national contract talks only on fringe benefits and is negotiating separately on wages and work rules with two of its unions, BLET and SMART-TD. Canadian Pacific is negotiating separately with all of its unions.

Shippers Urge Creation of PEB in Contract Talks

July 7, 2022

In a letter sent to President Joseph Biden, a group of rail shippers has asked for the appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board to step into the contract talks between the nation’s largest railroads and the unions that represent their workers.

The contract talks have drug on for more than two years and have reached a stalemate.

The shippers fear the situation will result in a strike later this year that the shippers said would further exacerbate the supply chain congestion of the past year.

A presidential emergency board would not have authority under federal law to impose a contract settlement, but Congress could step in and halt a strike or lock out if it gets to that.

A presidential board would investigate and make recommendations for a settlement.

The shipper coalition includes groups representing agriculture producers, manufacturers, refiners and energy producers.

Their letter said that in past contract disputes, the PEB’s recommendations have led to the parties agreeing to a new contract based on those recommendations.

Among the groups signing the letter were the CEOs of the American Chemistry Council, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Chemical Distributors, National Grain and Feed Association, and The Fertilizer Institute.

Biden Amtrak Nominees Might Not Get Vote

May 5, 2022

Although the nominations announced by the Biden administration to the Amtrak board of directors last week have drawn mixed reviews, it may all be a moot point.

Writing in the newsletter of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners, Ross Capon, the organization’s Washington correspondent, indicated that the nominations may not receive a Senate vote.

Capon once served as executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers – now known as the Rail Passengers Association – and cited the view of The Eno Foundation’s Jeff Davis.

 “If the last few years are any indication, the only way the nominations will move to the Senate floor is if paired with future Republican nominees,” Davis wrote.

Davis said the Senate is unlikely to confirm an all-Democratic slate just as it refused to confirm the all-Republican slate presented by the Trump Administration until mid-2020. 

Even after Trump nominated two Democrats, the Senate still failed to act on the nominations because of objections raised by senators representing states served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) placed a hold on the nominations of Democrat Sarah Feinberg and Republican Todd Rokita.

Moran said he wanted to hear more from Feinberg on her views pertaining to Amtrak’s long-distance trains and that Rokita had failed to answer any of his questions on the matter.

Moran said he wanted to hear that all of the board nominees were supportive of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

Until last year, the 10-member Amtrak board was mandated by federal law to include “balanced representation of the major geographic regions served by Amtrak.”

That changed with approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was approved by Congress last fall.

It contained language requiring that two Amtrak board members must reside along the Northeast Corridor and four must be from outside that region.

That is to include two members from states served by state-supported service and two members from states served by long-distance trains. A single individual cannot fill both a state and long-distance slot.

The Amtrak board currently has two vacancies and the remaining members are all serving on expired terms.

The only Biden nominee from outside the Northeast is Christopher Koos, the mayor of Normal, Illinois, who was nominated for the board by the Trump administration but not confirmed by the Senate.

Among the critics of the Biden nominees was Bob Johnston, the passenger rail reporter for Trains magazine.

In a piece posted on the magazine’s website this week, Johnston argued that the Biden nominations largely fail to comply with IIJA language as to Amtrak governing board membership.

Johnston wrote that having four of the five nominees from the Northeast Corridor region is in contradiction of the law’s goal of strengthening the national network.

Capon made similar comments. “Some rail passenger advocates, remembering the near-death experience of long-distance trains in 2018 under [Amtrak] President Richard Anderson, and concerned about limited capacity (and in some cases frequency) of long-distance trains today, are unhappy with the nominations, including their geographic concentration on the south end of the Northeast Corridor.”

One of the Biden nominees is Anthony Coscia, who has served on the Amtrak board since 2010 and been its chair since 2013. Capon said the re-nomination of Coscia can be viewed as an endorsement of current Amtrak leadership. 

Aside from the four Biden nominations, three more Amtrak board members are expected to be put forth by Senate Republicans.

By law the secretary of transportation or his/her representative sits on the Amtrak board. The Amtrak CEO is a non-voting member.

That leaves eight positions to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

No more than five of the eight presidential nominations can be from the same party. At least one board member must have a disability (as defined in section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102)).

The IIJA requires that the disabilities member must have a “demonstrated history of, or experience with, accessibility, mobility, and inclusive transportation in passenger rail or commuter rail.”

The Biden nominees received praise from RPA, which had in the week before they were announced sought to make an issue out of the lack of nominees to the Amtrak board.

RPA head Jim Mathews issued a statement applauding the White House for taking the group’s concerns seriously.

“We look forward to working closely with these nominees to understand their vision for Amtrak’s future,” Mathews said.

However, RPA issued another statement this week calling for Biden to appoint Amtrak board members who represent a broad geographic region.

The statement said Biden “missed an opportunity” to nominate board members from outside the Mid-Atlantic region.

 SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement the Biden Amtrak board slate “continues to prioritize the concerns of labor as he [Biden] and the DOT pursue an unprecedented and historic transformation of the nation’s passenger-rail network.”

Johnston, though, was not as approving and probably speaks for many rail passenger advocates in saying that none of Biden’s Amtrak board nominees have “hands-on business credentials dealing with inventory pricing, sales management, or hospitality” and that none of them have experience in the passenger railroad industry.

He has a point. The IIJA mandates that Amtrak board members have general business and financial experience, experience or qualifications in transportation, freight and passenger rail transportation, travel, hospitality, cruise line, or passenger air transportation businesses, or representatives of employees or users of passenger rail transportation or a State government.

Johnston’s article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/bidens-amtrak-board-nominations-lack-qualifications-demanded-by-congress-analysis/

Biden Nominates 5 to Amtrak Board

May 1, 2022

The Biden administration has nominated five people to serve on Amtrak’s board of directors.

The nominations are subject to approval by the U.S. Senate. All of the current terms on the passenger carrier’s board have expired.

Among the nominees is current board chairman Anthony Coscia and former board nominee Christopher Koos.

Koos is the mayor of Normal, Illinois, which is served by Amtrak’s Texas Eagle and Lincoln Service trains. He was nominated in 2020 but the appointment was never acted upon by the Senate.

Coscia has served on the board since 2010 and became chairman in 2013.

Other nominees include David Capozzi, former executive director of the U.S. Access Board and former national advocacy director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America; Samuel Lathem, retired Delaware State AFL-CIO president and a former autoworker active in a number of civic organizations; and Robin Wiessmann, executive director and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

By law Amtrak’s governing board is allocated 10 positions. Also serving on the board are U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. Senate Republicans can select the other three nominees.

The board is required to include at least two members each from Northeast Corridor, and areas with state-supported routes, and long-distance routes.

Of the five Biden nominees, only Koos resides outside the Northeast. The remainder live in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Amtrak Drops Face Mask Requirement

April 18, 2022

Amtrak has dropped its facial mask requirement for passengers and employees.

The passenger carrier acted after a federal judge in Florida set aside the mask mandate that had applied to all modes of public transportation.

The Biden administration said following the ruling by Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle that it would not enforce the mask mandate and was still considering whether to appeal the judge’s decision.

An Amtrak official said passengers and employees can still choose to wear a facial mask.

The mask mandate dates to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 and later became a federal rule that has been extended several times.

USA Today reported that many airlines, including United, Southwest, Delta and American, also have dropped the facial mask rule.

The federal facial mask mandate had been set to expire on Monday but the Centers for Disease Control wanted it extended through May 3 to provide more time to study the BA2 omicron variant of COVID-19.

The Florida judge ruled that extending the mask mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority and the federal agency failed to justify the order or follow proper rule making procedures.

Biden Wants Increased Transportation Spending

March 30, 2022

The Biden administration has proposed increasing funding on railroad and public transit programs in federal fiscal year 2023 in a $5.79 trillion budget proposal.

The administration sent its budget recommendations to Congress this week.

Biden proposed spending $105 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation with another $37 billion in advance appropriations provided for by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The budget calls for $4.66 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency received $2.86 billion in the past two fiscal years.

Amtrak would get $3 billion, including $1.8 billion for the national network and $1.2 billion for the Northeast Corridor.

The Federal Transit Administration would receive $16.87 billion, which includes $300 million for rail car replacement.

Some funding in the proposed FTA budget would cover work on the Portal North Bridge replacement project in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and $100 for engineering work on the Hudson Tunnels project between New York City and New Jersey.

Other notable transportation funding includes $2.85 billion for Capital Investment Grants, $500 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, $555 million for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, $245 million for the Railroad Crossing Elimination program, and $1.5 billion for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grants and the new National Infrastructure Project Assistance Grant program,

The figures for those programs do not include funding authorized by the infrastructure act approved last year. All funding proposals are subject to congressional approval.

Class 1s Pause Vaccine Rules, Amtrak Does Not

December 10, 2021

Three Class 1 railroads will delay implementation of COVID-19 vaccination rules but Amtrak said it plans to require the vaccinations.

The action follows a ruling by a federal judge in Georgia who issued a nationwide stay of an executive order from the Biden administration that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated by early January.

Judge R. Stan Baker issued the stay in response to a lawsuit filed by seven states.

The judge said the plaintiffs “are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.”

Baker’s ruling applies nationally because another plaintiff in the suit, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members who do business nationwide.

The Biden executive order had required “federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force.”

Those guidelines require employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 with limited exceptions being allowed for medical or religious reasons.”

Earlier, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF cited the executive order in requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Unions representing workers at all of those carriers have sued in an effort to get the rules overturned. The unions have said they are not opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations but want the carriers to engage in collective bargaining over any rule requiring vaccinations.

Another federal judge in Kentucky had issued a similar stay of the Biden executive order but it only was effective in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In statements following this week’s court actions, NS, UP and BNSF said they have halted enforcing their vaccine rules but Amtrak said it has not.

NS said in its statement that it has encouraged its workers from the start of the pandemic to follow the guidance of public health experts.

The statement said NS is pausing enforcement of its vaccine rule, which means it will not subject unvaccinated workers to disciplinary action.

The Atlanta-based carrier said it is still still encouraging employees to get vaccinated and will observe how the legal challenges play out.

In a memo sent to its workers on Dec. 9, Amtrak said 95 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated. That percentage increases to 97 percent when taking into account workers who have received the first of two immunizations.

However, it said that regardless of the court action, it will continue to require workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

The memo noted that Amtrak announced its vaccination rule on Aug. 11, which was before the Biden executive order was issued.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it is sending “counseling letters” to employees who have failed to present proof of vaccination to advise them they are in noncompliance with company policy.

Those failing to provide proof of vaccination by Jan. 4 will be consider insubordinate and termination of their employment will be imposed.

Amtrak has said it expects to fall short of 100 percent compliance with the vaccination rule by Jan. 4 and expects to reduce service levels accordingly.

In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said long-distance trains will be subject to operating on less than daily schedules through March.

The passenger carrier has not said which trains would be affected but plans to do that next week.

The Associated Press has reported that all three of the Biden administration executive orders mandating workers receive COVID-19 vaccinations have been stayed by federal courts.

Federal Judge Enjoins Vaccine Mandate

December 8, 2021

A federal judge in Georgia has enjoined the Biden administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement on companies that are federal contractors.

The action of U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker applies nationwide because one of the plaintiffs in the case, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members throughout the nation.

Some Class 1 railroads, including Norfolk Southern, have cited the contractor mandate in requiring their employees to be vaccinated.

Unions representing workers at those railroads as well as Amtrak and other carriers, have gone to court seeking to block the vaccine rules.

The unions contend vaccine rules are subject to collective bargaining and can’t be imposed unilaterally by the carriers.

Feds Seeking to Alleviate Port Congestion

November 11, 2021

Action seeking to alleviate congestion at the nation’s ports was announced on Wednesday by the Biden administration, much of it focused on the Port of Savannah.

The federal government will allow the Georgia Ports Authority to fund pop-up container yard further inland in Georgia and North Carolina that will receive containers by truck or rail.

The administration also said it will begin ramping up plans to award grant money contained in the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The infrastructure bill contains $17 billion for improving infrastructure at coastal ports, inland ports and waterways and land ports of entry along the border.

Wednesday’s announcement said there will be increased federal flexibilities for port grants, accelerated port infrastructure grant awards; and new construction projects for coastal navigation, inland waterways, and land ports of entry.

The White House said the U.S. Department of Transportation will seek “creative solutions” to help untangle supply chain congestion by allowing flexibility in port grants.

NS CEO Warns Vaccine Rule May Cause Crew Shortages

October 28, 2021

A Class 1 CEO warned this week that COVID-19 vaccine mandates may result in crew shortages.

James Squares said during his company’s third quarter earnings call that his company has been experiencing higher than normal attrition of operating personnel.

NS is one of three Class 1 freight railroads that have announced that all employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a valid reason for an exemption.

Union Pacific and Canadian National also have issued similar rules. The CN rule only applies to Canadian employees.

 NS and UP are involved in litigation over the issue with labor unions who want the issue to be subject to collective bargaining.

Amtrak also has imposed a vaccination requirement for employees. All of the carriers have cited an executive order signed by President Joseph Biden.

In a related development, the board of directors of the Alaska Railroad has rescinded a previously announced vaccination rule.

The board said in a statement that it will wait for the conclusion of court challenges to the federal mandate to play out.

Squires also indicated during the earnings call that NS has faced challenges in hiring and retaining new conductors and that those who have been hired or are in training have quit at high rates.

He indicated NS expects to lose some employees due to the vaccine mandate, which affects railroads because they are considered to be federal government contractors who are thus covered by the executive order.