Officials fight Union Pacific lawsuit that threatens East Texas jobs

By Blake Holland | December 18, 2019 at 12:42 PM CST – Updated December 18 at 11:00 PM

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PALESTINE, Texas (KLTV/KTRE) – The City of Palestine moved on Tuesday to file an initial response to a lawsuit involving Union Pacific.

In the suit, Union Pacific requests a court invalidate an 1872 pact that keeps a certain number of jobs (0.52% of total employees) in Palestine.

If the courts side with Union Pacific, more than 60 jobs would be in jeopardy.

“Growing up, I always had friends and close family who were either employed by the railroad or their parents were employed by the railroad,” said Rep. Cody Harris. “You always knew someone who worked for the railroad.”

According to Harris, about 150 people attended a special city council meeting on Tuesday in hopes of urging officials to fight the suit.

“The courts have sided with the city of Palestine several times in the past over this exact same issue,” Rep. Harris said. “And we’re hoping they will do so again.”

Harris Lohmeyer retired from Union Pacific in 2015.

“My uncle walked in one day and said ‘Son, you need a real job’, and I went out to the railroad and worked for 41 years,” Lohmeyer said. “It was a great job, provided me with a good life and good retirement. And that’s what I want for these guys.”

Lohmeyer said to understand the lawsuit, you have to look at the past. At issue, an agreement made in 1872 by a handshake between the then Anderson County judge and the railroad. He added, “In return, he also had them sign an agreement that their headquarters would always be here, and they would always employ ‘x’ amount of employees here.”

Through the years, that part of the agreement has been taken to court several times. Each time, the city won.

“You’ve got to get up to bat, because we may strike out this time, but every time before we’ve hit a home run,” said Lohmeyer. “Every court ruling, be it the Supreme Court or Court of Civil Appeals. They’ve all went our way for 150 years.”

“Union Pacific has made it clear, they want out of Palestine. They don’t want any jobs here,” Rep. Cody Harris said.

Harris said he is willing to fight to keep Palestine a train town.

“My hope and my prayer is that they will continue to exercise judicial restraint and will continue to uphold the precedent that’s already been set in this case several times,” he said.

“The railroad has always been some of the highest paying jobs in the county,” Lohmeyer said. “You take those away and you’re taking away millions of dollars away from the Palestine-Anderson County economy.”

Union Pacific spokeswomen Raquel Espinoza provided KLTV with the following response: “Union Pacific is improving operations to meet customer needs and continue to be a competitive transportation mode. We are seeking relief from an agreement originally made with a predecessor railroad in 1872, which prevents us from implementing modern railroad practices in the City of Palestine and Anderson County, Texas. We have been a part of the community since our merger with Missouri Pacific in 1997 and will continue providing the same level of service to customers.”

Copyright 2019 KLTV and KTRE. All rights reserved.

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