Despite local efforts, Union Pacific continues to move full steam ahead with its plans to close the Palestine Car Shop.
On Thursday, June 3, Palestine railroad employees were notified they would be furloughed, effective end of shift June 14.
“We’re all in shock,” said Brad Henry, an employee at the Palestine Car Facility. “We all tried, but, it’s over.”
Union Pacific Railroad originally met with Palestine staff April 15 and told them they have 60 days until the Palestine Car Facility closes. Union Pacific said in a statement it has been accelerating its continuous improvement plan and implementing precision scheduled railroading principles undertaking operational changes across its system. One of those operational changes is the closing of its Main Car Repair Facility in Palestine. The closure of the Palestine Car Repair Facility will result in the abolishment of as many as 57 positions.
The company said affected employees will have the right to bid and bump for other positions within Union Pacific, however these are done in accordance with seniority rights. All employees who are unable to obtain a position and who are laid off, will be paid all wages and agreed upon fringe benefits for 60 days after April 15.
The city of Palestine and Anderson County and Union Pacific are currently embroiled in a legal battle that will decide the future of Union Pacifics’ railroad facility in Palestine.
There has been a long standing contract that 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.
Earlier this year, Federal Court Judge Jeremy Kernodle ruled in favor of Union Pacific, citing that state law can be preempted if it has the effect of unreasonably burdening or interfering with rail transportation and determined that Union Pacific presented substantial, undisputed evidence to that effect.
“By requiring the railroad perpetually to maintain office and shop employees in Palestine, despite the railroad's need to adapt in a competitive and rapidly changing market, the agreement substantially interferes with and burdens Union Pacific's facilities related to the movement of passengers or property," the ruling stated.
The city of Palestine and Anderson County filed a motion for a new trial, which was also denied and from that date of denial, they have 30 days to file an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Federal Appeals with regard to Kernodle.
“We’re confident that the 1954 contract will be enforced by the original court of jurisdiction,” said County Judge Robert Johnston.
The county will also file a Show Cause Motion in the Second District Court in Cherokee County, the original court of jurisdiction for the 1954 contract between the city and county with Union Pacific. This motion is to force Union Pacific to say why they should not be held in contempt for violating the contract and not maintaining the specified percentage of employees at the Palestine rail yard.
The Show Cause Motion is designed to put these employees back to work until the outcome of the lawsuit between they city, council and Union Pacific.
County Judge Robert Johnston said the appeal process could take approximately two years.
This case has not yet gone to trial.
On Friday, Congressman Lance Gooden sent a letter to Union Pacific CEO Lance M. Fritz urging him to reconsider closing the Palestine Car Facility.
The letter stated, “Your decision to essentially close the Palestine Car Facility will have a devastating impact on this rural community, which has maintained a strong relationship with Union Pacific for nearly 150 years. The ripple effect of your decisions will affect the local economy in Anderson County for generations to come.”