Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

House Approves Transportation Spending for FY2023

December 24, 2022

As expected the House of Representatives of Congress on Friday approved a fiscal year 2023 spending bill and sent it to President Joseph R. Biden for his approval.

The bill contains $106 billion for transportation spending in fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and extend through Sept. 30.

That includes $2.45 billion for Amtrak and $21.2 billion for public transit. Passenger and freight rail combined will receive $16.6 billion. Those figures include some funding authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The transportation funding was part of a larger $1.7 trillion federal budget.

Spending Bill has $106B for Transportation

December 23, 2022

An omnibus budget bill working its way through Congress contains $106 billion in federal transportation funding for fiscal year 2023, which began on Oct. 1.

The $1.7 trillion spending bill was approved by the Senate on Thursday with House approval expected to come on Friday.

The transportation budget includes increased funding for Amtrak and public transit agencies.

Amtrak is to receive $2.45 billion, which is $121.6 million above what the passenger carrier was granted in fiscal year 2022.

However, it also is short of the $3 billion requested by the Biden Administration and less than the $3.3 billion requested by Amtrak.

The Amtrak funding breaks down to $1.26 billion for the Northeast Corridor and $1.19 billion for the national network.

The legislation says that up to $66 million can be used to support planning, capital costs, and operating assistance for projects included in the Corridor Identification Program.

The latter is a program stemming from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.  That money can be used to develop new intercity rail passenger routes and/or to improve service on existing passenger rail routes.

An analysis published on the website of the Rail Passengers Association said that Amtrak may face a squeeze from trying to do too much with the funding provided for the national network.

RPA noted that the passenger carrier is having a difficult time getting all of its pre-pandemic service back in service as well as hiring additional personnel. That might not leave much funding to develop new services.

Congress also banned Amtrak from using its operating grant to discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter the route of any long-distance route except in the case of an emergency or a planned maintenance outage.

The Federal Railroad Administration will receive $1.05 billion. That is broken down to $44 million for railroad research and development; $100 million for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Rail grant program; and $560 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program.

The legislation specifies that at least $150 million in CRISI grants shall be used for development of new passenger rail corridors.

Other FRA spending earmarks included $25 million for the development and implementation of measures to prevent trespassing; $5 million for maglev; $30.4 million for Congressionally directed spending; and $5 million for workforce development training.

The Federal Transit Administration was allocated $16 billion of which $13.6 billion is to be used for Transit Formula Grants to address transit state of good repair; and $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants to create new transit routes nationwide.

The latter is a $387 million increase above fiscal year 2022 funding.

CRISI grants may be used to fund commuter rail projects, authorizing the transfer of funds by the USDOT to the appropriate agencies to be administered under public transportation laws.

Senate Votes to Forestall Rail Work Stoppage

December 2, 2022

The Senate on Thursday voted to impose the tentative amended contract on unionized railroad workers thus ending two years of contentious collective bargaining and political wrangling that could have resulted in a national railroad work stoppage as early as Dec. 9.

The Senate voted 80-15 in favor a resolution adopted on Wednesday by the House to impose the tentative contract that members of four railroad labor unions rejected but members of eight other unions approved.

A second resolution to amend the tentative agreement to insert seven paid sick leave days failed to pass.

That resolution received a favorable 52-43 vote, but under Senate rules any measure that doesn’t receive at least 60 votes is subject to a filibuster.

The Senate also turned down on a 69-26 vote a resolution to extend the status quo for another 60 days, which if adopted would have sent the parties back to the bargaining table.

President Joseph R. Biden said in a statement he would sign the resolution imposing the amended contract as soon as it reaches his desk.

Biden and many other lawmakers had expressed fear that a railroad work stoppage would damage the nation’s economy.

Under federal law, labor contracts in the railroad industry never expire but can be amended, which typically occurs about every five years. Negotiations to amend the contract began in January 2020.

The tentative amended contract, which was reached in late September on the eve of another potential national work stoppage, gives unionized railroad workers a 24 percent compounded wage increase over the five-year length of the contract.

They will receive back pay once the amended contract is in force.

Various news reports in the past few months have indicated that work-life balance issues had become a major sticking point in the view of many unionized railroad workers.

They talked often about how they sometimes went to work feeling ill or fatigued because if they “marked off” they would not be paid and they would be subjected to being disciplined under what workers often described as “punitive” attendance policies.

Paid sick days became a focal point of the chatter surrounding the contract amendment process.

The amended contract, which was agreed to by the officers of all 12 railroad labor unions in September, did not include paid sick leave days.

Much of the September amended contract mirrored the recommendations of a presidential emergency board appointed by Biden last summer after federal mediators declared an impasse in the negotiations.

The PEB had recommended that the paid sick leave days issue be negotiated at the local level between unions and railroad management.

A resolution amending the contract to add seven paid sick leave days passed the House by a narrow margin on Wednesday. The voting was largely along partisan lines with Democrats supporting the resolution and Republicans opposed.

House Passes Resolution to Stop Rail Work Stoppage, OKs Paid Sick Leave for Rail Workers

December 1, 2022

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a resolution to impose the September tentative amended contract on railroad workers.

The resolution now moves to the Senate where it faces bipartisan support but also bipartisan opposition.

Senate leadership has not said when the resolution will be taken up by the Senate.

The House also passed by a narrow margin that largely fell along partisan lines a resolution to give unionized railroad workers seven paid sick leave days, something that the tentative agreement did not provide.

The vote on House Joint Resolution 100, which imposes the late September tentative agreement was 290-172. That included Republican “yes” votes and eight Democratic “no” votes.

The vote on the resolution providing the sick leave days was 221-207. Three Republicans supported the resolution while no Democrats voted against it.

The sick leave resolution amends the tentative September contract agreement by adding seven days of paid sick leave.

It gives the unions and management 30 days to reach agreement on implementing the sick leave provision. If they fail to do so, the matter of implementing the sick leave provision would be submitted to binding arbitration to be overseen by the National Mediation Board.

The amended contract affects unionized railroad workers who belong to 12 labor unions.

Members of four of those unions voted to reject the amended contract while members of eight voted in favor of ratification.

The unions that rejected the contract has said they will not strike before Dec. 9.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act, labor contracts in the railroad industry never expire but can be amended. The latest negotiations to amend the contract began in January 2020.

House Vote Expected Today to Thwart Rail Stoppage

November 30, 2022

The House of Representatives was expected to vote today on a resolution that would forestall a national railroad work stoppage that could begin as early as Dec. 9.

Throughout Tuesday members of the House and Senate expressed support for the resolution, which would impose the terms of an amended contract agreed to in late September by leaders of 12 railroad labor unions and the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management.

Some members of Congress, though expressed reservations that the resolution will not address the issue of sick days for unionized railroad workers.

The Politico website reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-California) plans to address that in part by having the House vote on two resolutions.

One resolution will impose the September tentative contract agreement while the other would grant seven sick days to railroad workers.

The sick days resolution was characterized by the Politico report as a way to appease House Democrats who have sided with rail labor unions on the sick days issue, but don’t want to an economy-damaging railroad work stoppage.

The resolution is expected to pass the House and probably will be approved by the Senate although there could be bumps in the road to passage.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Tuesday that Congress needs to act soon, saying that without congressional action shipments of critical freight will halt in preparation for a shutdown.

That includes chemicals used to treat drinking water, feed for livestock, and “just in time delivery” of components used in manufacturing.

On Monday President Joseph R. Biden called for Congress to act, saying that a negotiated settlement of the contract dispute was unlikely to occur.

Members of four railroad labor unions have voted to reject the amended contract while members of eight unions have ratified it.

Secretary of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday about averting a rail strike, Politico reported.

He will reportedly tell lawmakers that the September tentative agreement is the best possible contract that could be achieved through negotiations.

Walsh was involved in brokering that agreement during an all-night negotiating session.

McConnell said Congress needs to head off a railroad work stoppage but said some of his members have mixed feeling about the matter

“I think some may be inclined to vote against it,” McConnell said. “And others are arguing that the economic price of doing that is too great.”

Schumer said he and McConnell both want to see the resolution pass the Senate quickly, but did not say how soon that will likely occur.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont said he will push for a vote on a resolution to give rail workers more paid sick leave.

In pressuring Congress to act quickly, various trade groups representing railroad shippers have said that carriers are likely to begin to embargo shipments of some freight this weekend ahead of a possible work stoppage.

At least one of the railroad labor unions whose members rejected the tentative agreement, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, issued a statement disagreeing with Congress imposing a settlement of the contract dispute.

The statement noted that Congressional action would not resolve the sick leave issue and would deny union members their right to strike.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992 and was ended by congressional action.

Railway Age reported on its website that it had obtained a draft of the joint resolution that will be voted on by the House today.

The resolution cites the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as giving Congress the authority to ensure the uninterrupted operation of essential transportation services.

The magazine’s report said House rules require only 15 minutes of debate on each side and do not provide for “holds” or “filibusters.”

But the Senate does allow for unlimited debate although Senate Majority Leader Schumer is expected to seek unanimous consent  to send the House resolution to the Senate floor for a vote, where it would need only 51 votes for passage.

If even one senator objects to the call for unanimous consent, Senate rules require 30 hours of debate, one intervening day and 60 votes to cut off debate and advance the bill to the floor for a vote.

Railway Age reported that if the bid for unanimous consist fails, there is expected to be enough Republicans in favor of cutting off debate although that might mean the proceedings will linger into the weekend.

The Railway Age report said that as of Tuesday night neither of the two largest railroad labor unions or the National Carriers’ Conference Committee had issued statements on the prospect of congressional action to avert a railroad work stoppage.

Biden Wants Congress to Head Off Rail Work Stoppage

November 29, 2022

The four railroad labor unions that rejected a contract proposal may end up having that very contract forced upon them by Congress.

On Monday President Joseph R. Biden called on Congress to take action to avoid a national railroad work stoppage that could occur as early as Dec. 9 if lawmakers do not act.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) issued a statement that said the House is ready to drafy legislation to head off a railroad work stoppage.

Biden’s statement called Congressional intervention the best course of action, saying unions and railroad management agree with that.

 “This agreement was approved by labor and management negotiators in September,” Biden’s statement said. “On the day that it was announced, labor leaders, business leaders and elected officials all hailed it as a fair resolution of the dispute between the hard-working men and women of the rail freight unions and the companies in that industry.”

Biden’s statement said the secretaries of labor, agriculture and transportation have been in regular touch with labor leaders and management and have concluded that a negotiated settlement is unlikely to be reached.

Members of eight of the 12 railroad labor unions that agreed to the tentative contract in September have voted to ratify that agreement.

In the past couple weeks various trade associations representing railroad shippers have called on Congress to intervene to prevent a railroad work stoppage, saying it would harm the economy.

Biden noted his pro-labor beliefs made him reluctant to “override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case—where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families—I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

Railway Age Washington correspondent Frank Wilner wrote on the magazine’s website that “the behind the scenes chatter is that carriers and labor cannot find a way out of this stalemate” but neither side wants a work stoppage.

Wilner noted that most unionized railroad workers who voted on the contract favored it, including members of the second largest union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Members of the largest railroad labor union, the SMART-Transportation Division, rejected the contract by a narrow margin.

Wilner noted that a Congressional settlement of the contract dispute would insulate the leaders of unions whose members voted to reject the contract.

Another consideration was that Republicans will take control of the House in early January and Democrats want to resolve the rail labor contract dispute while they control both houses of Congress.

In her statement, Pelosi said the bill being drafted in the House  will not contain “poison pills or changes to the negotiated terms.”

Under federal railway labor laws, contracts in the railroad industry never expire. Instead, the contracts can be amended, usually about every five years.

The last national railroad work stoppage occurred in 1992. There have been four railroad work stoppages since the end of World War II with the longest being four days.

In all four work stoppages, Congress voted to end them by imposing new contract terms.

Federal Transportation Spending to Continue Through December 16

October 1, 2022

Federal transportation funding will continue through Dec. 16 after Congress passed a short-term budget extension.

The action was needed because Congress has not yet approved budgets for federal fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1.

Also known as a continuing resolution, the extension continues funding Amtrak and other transportation programs at existing levels.

It is common for Congress to be unable to agree on budget bills by the Sept. 30 deadline. In some instances, federal funding has continued through a series of continuing resolutions.

Rhetoric Continues to Rise in Contract Dispute

September 14, 2022

A ninth railroad labor union has reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management in contract talks.

In the meantime, various shipper trade associations continued to apply pressure on Congress  to settle the dispute to avoid a strike or lockout that could occur as early as Friday.

President Joseph Biden also called top railroad management executives and union leaders to lobby them to settle the contract dispute, which a union president said on Monday is stalled over railroad attendance policies.

The latest union to reach a tentative agreement is the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers.

A news release from the union said the tentative pact implements the recommendations of a presidential emergency board of a 24 percent compounded wage increase over the five-year length of the contract, which covers the period of 2020 through 2024.

Workers would receive retroactive pay to cover 2020 and 2021 and parts of 2022. They also would receive five annual $1,000 lump sum payments.

That leaves three unions, which represent locomotive engineers, conductors and signal workers still at the bargaining table. The 12 railroad labor unions represent 125,000 workers.

The latest agreement came as various parties in the dispute continue to heat up the war of words.

Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, said on Monday that worker attendance policies are the primary unresolved issue in the contract talks.

Pierce said during an appearance on cable news network CNBC that BNSF and Union Pacific in particular are being adamant about refusing to modify their attendance policies.

“We’re just looking for time away from work to address our medical issues,” Pierce said.  “Union Pacific and BNSF attendance policies are assessing [penalty] points to our members when they just want to take time off for their regular medical appointments.”

In response, BNSF told CNBC that Pierce’s claims were false while UP said it was continuing to push for a “prompt resolution” to avoid a shutdown of the national freight rail system. 

In a related development, leaders of the SMART Transportation Division union told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that lawmakers should let rail labor contract negotiations play out.

In a letter to Congress SMART-TD legislative director Greg Hynes said union members would reject a tentative contract based on the recommendations of the PEB by a 3-to-1 margin.

Hynes also said in his letter that the top issue in the contract talks is not wages but working conditions.

He said the carriers “are still refusing to provide our members with minimal provisions to improve their overall quality of life, and to recognize their contributions to the industry and to the American economy.”

The PEB appointed by President Biden earlier this year was largely silent on work rules, saying  only that they should be negotiated at the local level between the railroads and the unions.

Unions have described the attendance policies that railroads have imposed as “draconian.”

“Through egregious and excessive absenteeism policies, the railroads have taken away our members’ ability to be a worthy parent and dependable spouse; and they have eliminated any realistic means for an employee to receive medical services or care for a sick child without being assessed discipline or termination,” Hynes wrote.

The PEB did recommend that workers receive one additional paid day off.

The Association of American Railroads said in a statement that workers have numerous ways to take time off, including paid vacation, sick leave and supplemental sick leave policies through the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.

The AAR statement said crews also can mark off for any reason “if they maintain a reasonable level of overall availability under carrier attendance policies.”

BNSF said its workers generally get three to five weeks of paid vacation and 10 to 14 paid holidays or personal leave days, and received a 25 percent increase in personal leave days.

UP officials said it “understands our employees want a different way and process … to request and receive time off for things like medical appointments. We are in active discussions with the unions to try to address these concerns.”

In the meantime, several trade organizations have called on Congress to intervene to head off a strike and/or lockout.

They include the National Industrial Transportation League, one of the largest and oldest group of rail shippers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“NITL members and shippers of all sizes in all regions continue experiencing dismal freight rail service due primarily to the implementation of precision scheduled railroading. Any disruption in freight rail service will negatively impact our nation’s international competitiveness while making inflation even worse which is affecting all Americans,” Nancy O’Liddy, executive director of the NIT League, wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to congressional leaders.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said a strike would be an “economic disaster.”

On Monday, President Biden and members of his cabinet held emergency meetings in Washington and have been talking with the parties in the labor dispute.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it “is initiating oversight and enforcement efforts to ensure safety during any potential interruption of rail operations.”

Senate Bill Would Increase Amtrak Funding

August 1, 2022

A Senate committee last week released a proposed federal fiscal year 2023 appropriations bill for transportation spending, including Amtrak funding.

The passenger carrier would receive $2.6 billion, a $269 million increase over the current fiscal year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing $2.51 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program; $200 million for the Federal-State Partnership for State-of-Good-Repair for the replacement, rehabilitation, and repair of intercity passenger rail infrastructure; and $535 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program.

The Senate proposal provides higher Amtrak funding levels than a recently approved House budget bill but would grant $355 million less than what the House approved for the federal-state partnership program.

Whereas the House approved $882 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the Senate bill contains $1,135,000. The House approved $1,463,000 for Amtrak’s network whereas the Senate bill would appropriate $,465,000.

Neither the House budget bill nor the Senate proposal contains any funding for passenger rail restoration and enhancement grants. Both chambers also omitted funding for railroad grade crossing elimination projects.

Both programs received no funding in FY2022 although the grade crossing program was authorized to receive up to $500 million and the restoration and enhancement program was authorized to receive $50 million.

In FY2022, Congress approved $875 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and $1,457,000 for the national network.

None of the spending bill amounts include money approved in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is allocated separately from annual appropriations.

In a related development, the proposed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 introduced in the Senate omits funding for high-speed rail programs.

Earlier drafts of the bill contained $10 billion in dedicated funding for electrified high-speed rail.

The Rail Passengers Association noted in a report on its website that much of the focus in the energy bill is funding the transition to electric automobiles, which RPA described as “another in a long line of subsidies for highways.”

FY2023 Spending OKed by House Committee

July 5, 2022

Federal fiscal year 2023 appropriations legislation for transportation continued last week to make its way through the House.

The House Committee on Appropriations moved the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to the House floor where it is expected to be considered later this month.

The THUD bill as it is known provides a 23 percent increase in discretionary spending for transit and passenger and freight rail.

The appropriations made no major changes in funding levels approved recently by the transportation subcommittee of the appropriations committee.

That committee approved $2.3 billion in Amtrak funding, which fell short of the $3 billion recommended by the Biden administration and the $3.3 billion sought by the passenger carrier.

Once approved by the House the THUD bill will move to the Senate. FY2023 begins on Oct. 1. In recent years, the Senate has failed to meet the deadline, which has necessitated a series of stopgap spending bills until final action was taken.