June 9, 2006

CHICAGO (June 9)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board is alerting all members to call their ongressmen and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 5483, the Railroad Retirement Disability Earnings Act.

“I was out in Washington last week working the issue and meeting with staff members of Illinois congressmen,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “The pump has now been primed for phone calls from members and retirees, while the subject is still fresh.”

Szabo stated H.R. 5483 would – for the first time in nearly 20 years – increase the amount of earnings that a member on disability could make from outside employment.

“If you’re injured at work and no longer can perform your railroad job, you’ll be protected by a Railroad Retirement disability annuity that will pay you monthly benefits,” Szabo said.

“The bad news is that if you want to supplement your disability annuity with some other kind of work and it pays you more than $400 a month, you’ll lose your Railroad Retirement disability annuity for that month,” Szabo said. “H.R. 5483 would adjust that figure to $700 per month and provide for annual cost-of-living increases. This is more in precedent with Social Security.”

The key to raising the Railroad Retirement earnings ceiling is simple, Szabo said: Call your congressman and ask him to “cosponsor H.R. 5483.”

“That’s what worked for us back in 2001 when our union pushed for Railroad Retirement reform legislation,” he said. “First, the UTU legislative team hit Capitol Hill with personal visits to congressional aides and lots of handouts and information sheets. Then the phone calls poured in from members.

“The result: Reform passed, the president signed the legislation, and Railroad Retirement was allowed to invest its revenues more productively. Today the Trust Fund is stronger than at any time in its history. It’s worth more than $30 billion.”

Szabo said studies by the Railroad Retirement Board show that raising the outside-earnings ceiling of members on disability will have almost no financial impact on the Trust Fund.

“It would only cost the Trust Fund about $400,000 additional each year—a negligible amount based upon the strength of our assets,” he said.

“Any one of us could become disabled today or tomorrow – without warning,” Szabo said. “The sooner we all call our congressmen the quicker we’ll make sure that any disabled railroader will get the maximum possible benefits. It could happen to you. That means you need to pick up the phone.”

To identify your U.S. representative, go to the UTU Illinois Legislative Board’s home page and scroll down the left column to “Useful Links.” Click “Legislator Lookup” and follow the instructions for entering your address and ZIP-code information. With only one more click you’ll see a list of all your elected officials, with your congressman shown first. Click on the congressman’s name and you’ll see the phone numbers for his Capitol Hill office and his district office.

“Call and tell whoever answers the phone that you’re a railroad employee and you are calling to urge the congressman to co-sponsor H.R. 5483,” Szabo said. “If you are transferred to another office employee, tell that person the same thing.

“But make that call now, while the congressional staff people are still ‘warm’ from the briefing this week. Strike while the iron is hot—and before you find yourself disabled. The benefits you save may be your own.”