Fairness for our Railroaders


By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer
**Click here to download audio of this week’s column**

Everyone hears about the controversial fights in Washington, but they don’t always know the untold stories of true legislating. Practical answers to real problems don’t make headlines, but those solutions make a difference in Americans’ lives. Last week, we made strides toward passing such a bill that would right a wrong done to thousands of Americans and Nebraskans: our railroaders.

On Wednesday, the Senate Budget Committee held a markup to consider my bipartisan Railroad Employee Equity and Fairness (REEF) Act, and I was invited to introduce my bill to the committee. The Budget Committee rarely considers any bill other than the budget — so it was a unique and important opportunity to advocate for railroaders. The committee unanimously approved the REEF Act, another rare victory, and the bill is now ready for a full Senate vote.

Once passed, the REEF Act will end cuts to railroad workers’ unemployment and sickness benefits. A law passed years ago mandates that the Railroad Retirement Board cut its Unemployment Insurance Account each year and use that money to offset the federal budget deficit. These cuts, 5.7 percent annually, are set to continue through 2031. That means the government will cut railroad employees’ benefits repeatedly over the next seven years.

There’s a glaring problem with these cuts. The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, which funds unemployment and sickness benefits for railroaders, is the only federal benefits program entirely funded by one industry: the railroad industry. There’s not one general taxpayer dollar in the fund. The government is essentially stealing money from railroad workers to offset federal debt. It’s a classic case of Washington meddling that punishes working people.

I’ve heard from many railroad workers over the years. They all agree that these cuts are demoralizing, are unfair, and make them want to leave the industry.

That’s a major problem. Railroaders keep our trains moving, whether to transport passengers or freight. In 2021, Nebraska freight rail alone employed 8,436 railroad workers. The same year, freight rail transported 34.5 million tons of products from Nebraska to other parts of the country. That included 19.1 million tons of farm products and 7.2 billion tons of food products. Nationally, corn is the highest-volume grain carried by railroads — and as one of Nebraska’s top exports, transporting corn is vital to our agriculture industry and our economy. If railroad workers suffer, railroads suffer. If workers and railroads suffer, Nebraska suffers.

Railroad employees deserve the benefits they’ve earned by committing their careers to the railroad, in many cases for years or decades. They’ve paid into the Unemployment Insurance Account throughout their careers to contribute to their retirement and other benefits. It’s a question of fairness: that money should be used for its intended purpose rather than by the federal government.

The REEF Act will right the wrong of unfair cuts, ensuring that the people who keep our trains moving receive the benefits they’ve earned. This is a common-sense bipartisan legislative change, and I applaud my colleagues on the Budget Committee for unanimously approving my bill. I look forward to passing it in the full Senate soon.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.