PALESTINE, Texas (KLTV) - A group of current and retired Palestine railroad workers are fighting to keep Union Pacific from leaving town.
The railroad announced in April that they would be closing the Palestine railcar shop by June 14, 2021. A Union Pacific spokesperson confirmed that as many as 57 jobs will be eliminated.
The closure announcement comes after a recent federal court ruling that nullified a 1954 agreement which required the railroad to keep a certain number of jobs in Palestine as long as the trains came through town.
“This is going to be a detrimental impact to the economy of Palestine,” said Brad Henry, a carman welder who has worked at the Palestine shop for 15 years.
Since 1872, Palestine has been a train town. But the question is, for how much longer?
“It was devastating not just for myself, but for my family and everyone else. We took pride for having 100 years of service with the railroad, and it’s just like a death in the family,” said Cristobal Rodriguez, a third-generation railroad worker.
Rodriguez said both his grandfather and father retired from the railroad. If the car shop closes as planned, he may not have the same opportunity that he’s worked towards for the past 27 years.
“You always hear about ghost towns because the railroads run away,” he said. “Well, it could possibly happen here in Palestine.”
Many of the workers, both retired and current, say they hired on for careers, not just a job.
“We’re a family,” said Jason Moore, a 17-year railroad worker. “That’s what we started out as, and that’s what we want to end as.”
This family of current and retired workers is now fighting back by raising money to take legal action against the railroad. They’re raising money using GoFundMe in hopes of hiring legal counsel to fight the railroad.
“The railroad has bottomless pockets,” said Harris Lohmeyer, who retired from UP Palestine in 2015. “We don’t, and they (the railroad) know that.”
“We’re fighting a David and Goliath battle,” said Thomas Wall, retired UP Palestine worker. “And we’re David. But we know who prevailed in that fight, and hopefully we can do it again.”
Following the notification of closure to employees on April 15, Union Pacific released the following statement to KLTV.
“This workforce reduction is the result of operational changes across our system and is part of Union Pacific’s continuous effort to provide competitive rail service to our customers.
While Union Pacific is closing our Main Car Repair Facility in Palestine, limited car repair activities will continue in the Palestine area.
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 U.S. We appreciate the support we have received over the years in the communities of Palestine and Anderson County, as well as the hard work and dedication of our employees. We are working with those impacted to help them with job placement activities”.
Current workers tell us those job placement activities aren’t much help to them,
“They’ve had spokespeople for Union Pacific always saying they’re offering us jobs and transfers, this that and the other, and that’s not happening,” said Ryan Pierson, an 18-year UP Palestine worker.
For these workers, there’s only one way to make things right: keep the jobs in Palestine. A fight that’s been fought and won several times before.
“I just hope we’re not the generation that sees it disappear from our history books,” said Lohmeyer. “Because if they do away with this, the railroad as we know it will disappear from Palestine.”