By Will Johnson
PALESTINE – While the ongoing feud between Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and the city of Palestine is not close to being resolved, there is a chance some headway might be made next week after area political leaders and senior leadership at UP meet at the bargaining table.
At issue is an agreement between the city of Palestine and Union Pacific which requires the Nebraska-based railroad to keep 0.52% of its total jobs in Palestine. The contract was originally signed in 1872 and guarantees the jobs in perpetuity.
Currently, there are approximately 36,000 employees working for the railroad, nationwide. Layoffs have whittled the number of railroad workers in the Palestine area down to less than 75 and now the company wants out of the contract.
Under the current agreement, the railroad should have approximately 180 employees at its Palestine location.
Raquel Espinoza, a spokesperson with UP said the agreement is limiting the railroad’s flexibility with its freight car repair shop in Palestine.
“Union Pacific is improving operations to meet customer needs. The agreement keeps us from implementing modern railroad practices in Palestine, Texas,” Espinoza said.
With the issue at a stalemate, US Representative Lance Gooden has ventured into the fray in an attempt to find a solution amenable to both parties.
In a letter dated Jan. 15, the congressman – who represents the 5th Congressional District – wrote, “150 years ago, the railroad made an employment agreement with the city of Palestine. When I learned of Union Pacific’s plans to file a lawsuit to break that deal, I knew we had to fight for this community.”
The congressman’s correspondence further stated, “As we work together on this, know that I am fully engaged and supportive of the city of Palestine. I am committed to fighting for Palestine and every single job that has been promised to the community. There is no reason we cannot build upon a 150-year-old relationship and grow our relationship into the future.”
Gooden explained he had helped to coordinate a sit-down next week “… with senior leadership at Union Pacific, (Palestine) Mayor Steve Presley, (Anderson County) Judge Robert Johnston, State Representative Cody Harris and State Senator Robert Nichols.”
With both the city’s and railroad’s interests at stake, the results of the meeting will be closely watched.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.