The Dallas Morning News

Union Pacific to close East Texas facility

Decision in Palestine could cost as many as 57 people their jobs

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Union Pacific Railroad met with staff members in Palestine on Thursday and told them they have 60 days until the Palestine Car Facility closes on June 14, according to longtime employee Brad Henry.

Henry said the employees were told they could take the rest of the day off and report back to work Monday.

Henry has been employed at the Palestine Car Shop for 15 years as a carman welder.

UP communicat­ions manager Robynn Tysver confirmed the company notified employees Thursday at its Palestine Car Facility that as many as 57 positions will be eliminated in mid-june.

She said the workforce reduction is the result of operationa­l changes across its system and is part of Union Pacific’s continuous effort to provide competitiv­e rail service to its customers.

“While Union Pacific is closing our Main Car Repair Facility in Palestine, limited car repair activities will continue in the Palestine area,” Tysver said.

“We did not take today’s step lightly, but we are determined to do the right thing for the thousands of customers, employees and communitie­s who rely on us to help build sustainabl­e economic growth across the western two-thirds of the United States.”

“It’s incredibly disappoint­ing that Union Pacific has announced their intention to shut down the Palestine Car Shop after telling us for years how much they care about our community and their employees,” said Rep. Cody Harris, Rpalestine.

According to Mayor Steve Presley, the city, the county or a group of citizens could join together and file for an injunction regarding the action by UP.

The city of Palestine and Anderson County are already embroiled in a lawsuit with Union Pacific.

In 2019, Union Pacific filed suit in federal court to scrap its 1954 agreement with the city. The federal courts had ordered Union Pacific and the city of Palestine to find a mediator by April 2020 to negotiate a compromise between the two sides. Jeremy Kernodle, federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas, denied the city’s motion to dismiss Feb. 3.

The county had 30 days from March 25 to file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans after a federal judge ruled Feb. 3 that Union Pacific Railroad is no longer bound to its its 1954 agreement with the city of Palestine and Anderson County.

Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston said the county would file a letter of rehearing in response and, if denied, would then file an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The county will also ask for an injunction, which the judge may or may not sign, Johnston said.

“This has nothing to do with the property tax the railroad pays us,” Johnston said. “This has everything to do with saving the livelihood of the employees and doing what is right for them. That railroad is still going to be here, but those jobs and their retainment are what matters most.”

Through the original 1872 contract, Union Pacific agreed to establish a railroad hub in Palestine and retain a facility and certain number of employees there.

The agreement has been modified several times over the years, the last being in 1954.

Union Pacific argued that the agreement was in violation of federal law and could not be enforced. The court has agreed with the railroad and ruled the city does not have the right to stop them.

At present, Union Pacific must employ 0.52% of its office and shop employees in Palestine, which according to the 1954 agreement, includes executives, clerical staff, maintenanc­e staff, yardmaster­s, switch tenders and other workers.

Johnston said he looks for the appeal process to take approximat­ely two years. This case has not yet gone to trial.

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