BY PENNYLYNN WEBB for palestineherald.com
Congressman Lance Gooden is going to battle with Union Pacific on behalf of Anderson County and the city of Palestine.
On Friday, Gooden sent a letter to Union Pacific CEO Lance M. Fritz urging him to reconsider closing the Palestine Car Facility.
Union Pacific Railroad 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 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.”
To gain a better understanding of Union Pacific’s decision, and to determine best possible path forward for our constituents and local officials, Gooden then posed several questions to Fritz.
• How many workers of each classification at your facility in Palestine, Texas, have been laid off or forced to relocate? Please include years of service, salary, and what percentage this is of Union Pacific’s total workforce.
• Do you intend to uphold the Transportation Communications International Union Carmen Division Local Lodge 6023 protective agreement for all Union Pacific Railroad employees, which states the railroad will compensate employees with up to 5 years of wage protections, depending on years of service, in order to make up for lost income and help them transition to a new career?
• What job placement activities has Union Pacific Railroad facilitated for workers that have been laid off or forced to relocate? To what extent have the job placement activities resulted in a successful transition into a new job?
• How many people are currently employed by Union Pacific at your Palestine facility?
• What investments has Union Pacific Railroad made in Texas in the last seven years? Have any of those investments been made at the Palestine facility?
In closing, Gooden said. “The State of Texas has maintained a strong relationship with the Union Pacific Railroad for many generations; your decision to slash our rural workforce and close facilities will only undermine this partnership. I encourage you to reconsider recent decisions and allocate adequate resources to our longstanding Palestine facility. I look forward to your timely response.”
Gooden said he is prepared to put up a fight on behalf of Palestine and see it through to the end.
“I will never give up the fight,” he said. “I have no intention of backing down.”
Gooden said he has been involved in this process from day one, working on the state level with Senator Robert Nichols and Representative Cody Harris. With this letter, he hopes to put pressure on Union Pacific’s CEO.
Union Pacific’s argument is that 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.
Gooden said he believes that Union Pacific’s decision to close Palestine is solely for “monetary reasons,” stemming from “dishonesty and greed.”
“I have a hard time buying their sob story knowing that during a global pandemic, the company could afford to pay their CEO $16.6 million, a figure that included an 11% raise,” Gooden said.
He feels they are cutting cost to make profit and looking at Palestine to do it.
Gooden hopes this letter drives home the ramifications of what Union Pacific’s actions mean to the community.
Gooden believes the company to be in violation of this long standing agreement with the city of Palestine.
The original contract that the 1954 agreement is based upon, with the city and the railroad, dates back to the late 1800s when the city of Palestine, Anderson County and its citizens gave the IG&N Railroad $150,000, plus land grants, for them to use as equity to borrow money. That money was used to bring the railroad into Palestine by laying trackage, building headquarters and constructing freight car/locomotive repair facilities, as well as lodging/homes for its executives.
In return, the people of Palestine had the railroad go into agreement with a contract that said they would employee a certain percentage of certain groups of rail employees in Palestine, for as long as the railroad runs through town.
The contract also went as far to say that any successors of the IG&N would be bound by that same agreement, for as long as their tracks run through Palestine.
This agreement has been taken all the way to the Supreme Court twice since then, first by the IG&N and secondly by the Missouri Pacific, with the city, county and its citizens prevailing both times.
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 short, Gooden thinks Union Pacific should want to do right by a community that has been so good and loyal to them.
“They should not need an agreement to do what is right,” Gooden said. “It should not take a legal fight. We were all brought up to do what is right, not because it’s the law.”