01-22 railroad meeting

(left to right) Palestine City Manager Leslie Cloer, Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston, State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), U.S. Congressman Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), State Representative Cody Harris (R-Palestine), and Palestine Mayor Steve Presley.

State, city, and county representatives, along with U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), met Monday with Union Pacific officials in an effort to keep the railroad, and its dozens of local jobs, in Palestine.

The two sides, however, remained deadlocked – nor did they agree to meet again – increasing the likelihood the case will end up in court. The railroad argues it has the right to abrogate its 150-year-old contract with the city of Palestine to maintain efficient operations.

As it stands, Nebraska-based Union Pacific is required to employ 0.52 percent of its total workforce in Palestine. After recent cutbacks and layoffs at UP, roughly 65 jobs, earning an average of about $60,000 each, remain in Palestine.

Last year UP filed a federal lawsuit to invalidate its contract with the city and close its Palestine shop.

“This is another example of rural America being bullied and cast to the wayside in exchange for higher stock prices,” Texas state Rep. Cody Harris, R.-Palestine, told the Herald-Press. “A contract is a contract; Union Pacific should stick to their word.”

The meeting called by Gooden, took place in the office of Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston. Aside from Gooden, Harris, Johnston, and representatives of Union Pacific, Palestine Mayor Steve Presley, state Sen. Robert Nichols (R.-Jacksonville), and City Manager Leslie Cloer attended the meeting.

Both sides kept their lawyers away. Unhappily, Presley said, the meeting didn't yield any new information or results: Union Pacific still intends to abrogate the contract.

“We appreciate the opportunity to meet with state and local leaders to discuss potential pathways to workable solutions,” UP spokesperson Raquel Espinoza told the Herald-Press. “However, we have to have the ability to make viable decisions that allow us to modernize.”

Regardless of the stalemate, Presley said the meeting was worth having.

“No effort is wasted when we are trying to help save jobs and taxpayer dollars,” he said. “Besides, you never know how much an impact simply having a meeting might have.”

Johnston agreed.

“Anytime you sit down and meet, you hope to come to a positive resolution,” Johnston told the Herald-Press. “We're fighting to keep jobs in Palestine, and we will continue to fight until the court rules.”

The city and UP have maintained a contract guaranteeing local jobs since an original handshake-deal in 1872.

Railroad officials argue the Palestine contract limits their flexibility with the freight car shop, and is no longer cost-effective.

Gooden remains optimistic.

“There is no reason we cannot build upon a 150-year relationship, and grow that relationship into the future,” he said. “I appreciate Mayor Presley and County Judge Johnston for doing the right thing and fighting this breach of contract.

“Those jobs are important and necessary to our community. I join Senator Nichols and Representative Harris in pledging my full support to their efforts.”

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