No new ruling in Palestine’s Union Pacific railroad case

BY PENNYLYNN WEBB for palestineherald.com

The city of Palestine and Anderson County met Union Pacific in the 369th District Court, presided over by Judge Michael Davis, for a summary judgement Monday, Feb. 7.

The court declined a request by Union Pacific to vacate the 1955 Judgment and instructed the railroad to continue to meet its obligations until further orders by the Court. The federal litigation is pending before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The 1955 Judgment confirms the original agreement between the city, county and the railroad and requires UP to employee a number of employees in Palestine based on a specific percentage the companies total employment, as well as provide employment numbers and payroll reports on a monthly basis to the city.

“Based upon an 1872 agreement and earlier court decisions, Union Pacific railroad is required by a 1955 state court judgment to maintain a percentage of its employees at Palestine,” said James P. Allison, the attorney representing Palestine and Anderson County. “For several years, Union Pacific has been attempting to nullify this obligation in state and federal court. Anderson County and the city of Palestine have contested this litigation and requested that the courts uphold the Union Pacific employment obligation.”

According to Allison, the latest ruling by the state court means that the railroad jobs in Palestine will continue, despite efforts by Union Pacific to terminate some employees. If Anderson County and the city of Palestine prevail at the final hearing, the judgment will provide railroad employment in Palestine as long as the railroad continues to operate.

“We are pleased that the State District Court has continued its order requiring that Union Pacific meet its commitment of approximately 54 employees in Palestine,” said County Judge Robert Johnston. “We continue to seek a final decision to sustain this important economic benefit that was obtained by the contributions of the citizens to establish and support the railroad.”

In the ongoing federal lawsuit, Union Pacific alleges that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 preempts the 1872 Agreement between the company and the city of Palestine/Anderson County and asked the court to void its obligations to Palestine to maintain a facility here and a percentage of employees at that facility.

Union Pacific Railroad met with Palestine staff April 15, 2021 and told them they had 60 days until the Palestine car facility closes. Union Pacific said in a statement it had 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 would result in the abolishment of as many as 57 positions.

In June, Union Pacific was found by Judge Davis to be out of compliance with the 1955 judgment requiring UP to provide employment numbers and payroll reports on a monthly basis to the city. UP had been out of compliance with this since December 2020.

In July, Davis ordered Union Pacific Railroad to stick to the 1955 judgment with the city of Palestine. He said he would strictly interpret the 1955 judgment as it was written.

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