Senate Budget Committee passes Fischer’s bill to protect railroad employees

Legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) to support and protect railroad workers by ending cuts to their unemployment and sickness benefits was unanimously approved by the Senate Budget Committee on March 6.

The senator’s bill, the Railroad Employee Equity and Fairness (REEF) Act, S. 1274, would end mandated cuts to the Railroad Retirement Board’s Unemployment Insurance Account. She introduced the bipartisan legislation in April 2023 along with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Railroad unemployment and sickness benefits are funded solely by the contributions of railroad employers and railroad workers, according to Sen. Fischer. But Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits are being sequestered for federal budget cuts, which means that the funds railroad workers and employers pay into the RUIA for unemployment and sickness benefits are used to offset federal spending instead of going back to the individuals who pay into it.

Under current law, the Railroad Retirement Board must reduce railroad unemployment and sickness benefits by 5.7 percent annually, the senator’s staff said. Sequestration cuts began in May 2023 and are set to continue through Fiscal Year 2031.

During the Budget Committee meeting, Sen. Fischer testified in support of the REEF Act, calling it a common-sense, bipartisan legislative change that is long overdue. “Railroad employees play an indispensable role in keeping our trains moving, whether to transport passengers or freight. The network is a significant contributor to our economy. On a practical level, we don’t want to hinder workers from entering or remaining in the industry,” Fischer said.

“But more importantly, we must protect our railroad employees and their livelihoods. They deserve the benefits they’ve earned by committing their careers to the railroad, in many cases for years or decades. Rail workers shouldn’t be penalized for doing work that is necessary to our economy and transportation network.”