The District court has ruled Union Pacific jobs must stay in Palestine.
On Thursday in the 369th Judicial District Court of Judge Michael Davis, Union Pacific Railroad was ordered to stick to the 1955 judgment with the city of Palestine.
“We were extremely pleased the judge made that ruling,” said County Judge Robert Johnston. “It puts the ball in Union Pacific’s court. They can decide what they want to do.”
At present, Union Pacific must employ 0.52% of its office and shop employees in Palestine, which according to the 1954 agreement, includes the following classifications: executives, officials and staff assistants; professional, clerical and general; maintenance of equipment and stores; transportation, other than train, engine and yard; and transportation, yardmasters, switch tenders and hostlers.
In June, Davis ordered Union Pacific Railroad to comply with the 1955 judgment and produce payroll records and employment records to the city and county. Union Pacific complied and those documents for 2020 were produced prior to Thursday’s hearing.
“It’s another small victory for us,” said Harris Lohmeyer, former employee of Union Pacific. “Unless Union Pacific holds out for the federal appeal, which could be months/years, their only options is to file a suit in state court to override the 1955 judgment. Their history in Cherokee County isn’t good.”
Union Pacific continues to play the poor card, arguing updating the car shop would be too costly. When the attorney for the city and county countered other jobs could suffice as their mandated 0.52%, Union Pacific argued relocating employees for other positions would also be too costly.
Union Pacific bemoaned the Palestine contract is an “ongoing obligation,” and is an “inescapable obligation” that never ends.
Union Pacific further lamented the way the company does business has changed, noting they no longer outright own all their railcars, and that is why who repairs them has changed.”
Palestine Attorney James P. Allison said it was Union Pacific’s choice not to upgrade the Palestine car shop over the years and at present.
“They never had any plan or intention to move new operations to Palestine,” said Allison. “It was their decision and now they want to say they can’t afford to make changes.”
A citizens committee was involved in all prior hearings and legal actions with regard to Palestine and the railroad. During Thursday’s hearing, Allison argued that any litigation should not go forward without a citizens committee. The citizens granted property right of ways and other concessions. In the 1955 court proceedings, citizens had the legal right and they fully participated.
“The court appointed alternant members in 1955 to the citizens committee because 1914 members were not available,” Allison said. “That still is the standard.”
“The citizens do not have enforcement rights, only city and county,” said Afton Sands, attorney for Union Pacific. “There is no good way to add citizens at this point.”
In his closing remarks, Davis said there is no prior case law in Texas that directly addresses this type of issue and we are in “unchartered territory.”
After hearing both sides, Davis said he would strictly interpret the 1955 judgment as it was written.
Davis noted that he expected Union Pacific to comply with the 1955 judgment by not terminating any jobs and he anticipates compliance.
“I cannot speak for all former and current members of council who have been part of the Union Pacific lawsuit, but I am pleased and optimistic about the recent ruling to uphold the 1955 judgment,” said Mayor Dana Goolsby. “It is my hope that Union Pacific will take this time to reevaluate its relationship with Palestine and honor their commitments and obligations to our community.”
Davis said he would revisit the case if proper pleadings are filed in the future.