Union Pacific eliminates management jobs as part of plan to speed decision making at the railroad

BY JOSH FUNK for apnews.com

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Union Pacific is trimming the ranks of the railroad’s management employees as part of the new CEO’s push to eliminate layers of bosses involved in decision making.

The railroad, based in Omaha, Nebraska, said Wednesday that it is eliminating less than 5% of its roughly 5,600 management jobs.

Everyone who is losing their job was encouraged to either apply for a job helping operate or maintain Union Pacific’s trains or to stay on for several months to help tackle one of about a couple dozen special projects.

Fewer than 275 management jobs were being eliminated, but the final number of cuts will depend on how many managers take other jobs with the railroad.

CEO Jim Vena made streamlining the organization one of his first priorities after taking the job in August.

“You can’t have nine levels from the CEO to the people who actually do the work and expect that the message is clear, the decisions are made clear and there isn’t some hiccup in the decision,” Vena told investorslast month. “And I want to drive it so that we have way less layers. And that means with less layers, the people out in the field are empowered to make the right decision.”

A spokeswoman for the railroad said Wednesday that the management layoffs are part of the larger effort to change its culture and “focus on empowering employees on the front lines to drive decision-making.”

Before the layoffs announced Wednesday, Union Pacific eliminated about 100 operating jobs recently in response to a decline in the number of rail shipments with the economy in flux.

But both sets of job cuts represent a relatively small part of Union Pacific’s total workforce of about 33,000. The railroad is one of the nation’s largest, operating more than 32,000 miles (51,499 kilometers) of track in 23 Western states.

These latest cuts are also much smaller than the ones Union Pacific made after it started overhauling its operations in 2018 to rely more on fewer, longer trains that operate on a more set schedule. Before those changes began, the railroad employed more than 44,000 people. Those bigger cuts that UP and all the major railroads made over the past six years have been criticized by labor unions who say they left the workforce spread too thin to keep up with crucial preventative maintenance and inspections. The railroads say the cuts simply helped them become more efficient and they need fewer workers today because they’re using fewer locomotives and railcars to haul a similar amount of freight.

The head of the Federal Railroad Administration questioned the wisdom of the recent cuts of train crews and maintenance personnel in a letter to Vena after federal inspectors found hundreds of problems when they visited Union Pacific’s massive railyard in western Nebraska this summer. Safety has been a concern across the industry after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in eastern Ohio in February, spilled hazardous chemicals and caught fire.

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