UP sues to end employment provision in Texas town

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PALESTINE, Texas — Union Pacific has filed suit to overturn a contract dating to 1872 that guarantees a certain number of jobs in Palestine, an east Texas community of 18,136 located 110 miles southwest of Dallas.

The Palestine Herald-Press reports the suit, filed on Nov. 27, contends the contract should have been invalidated by a number of prior events, including the creation of the Surface Transportation Board as a federal regulatory agency and the 1997 merger of the Missouri Pacific Railroad into the UP.

Palestine Mayor Steve Presley indicated a desire to fight the suit. “The city council will decide the best course of action, once we have a chance to discuss the lawsuit,” Presley told the newspaper. “Personally, I will do everything within my power to keep all jobs possible here in Palestine.”

At risk are more than 60 jobs paying an average of $65,000 per year. The current version of the contract requires the railroad to retain 0.52% of its national workforce of more than 36,000 in Palestine. But Union Pacific recently eliminated 30 of almost 100 local positions, the newspaper reports, after contesting how the contract defined “local jobs.”

Spokeswoman Rachel Espinoza told the paper the contract limits the railroad’s flexibility with its freight car repair shop and “keeps us from implementing modern railroad practices.”

The Associated Press reports the agreement dates to two predecessor railroads, the International Railroad and Houston & Great Northern, which promised to keep operations in Palestine forever. Those railroads merged in 1873 and eventually became part of the Missouri Pacific.

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