ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) The announcement came without warning Tuesday morning: approximately 130 Norfolk Southern employees in Roanoke would be, essentially, out of a job.
Workers who spoke with WDBJ7 said the announcement was made during an early morning meeting.
The workers weren't laid off. Instead, they were furloughed. That means workers could be called back, either in Roanoke, or another Norfolk Southern shop.
Union leaders say they doubt that will happen for many.
The furlough comes just months after Norfolk Southern made a similar announcement that affected about 45 workers. The September furlough is the largest in at least a decade at the Roanoke shops.
According to Shannon Spottswood, president for the Local 813 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, it has been a painful time for many.
"Nothing is any worse than having to go home and tell your wife and kids that you're furloughed," he said.
Spottswood says even though employees have a chance of coming back to work for Norfolk Southern, the future, in Roanoke at least, does not look bright.
"What used to be a railroad town, unfortunately, has very little left here," he said.
The furlough caught employees and city leaders by surprise. Roanoke mayor Sherman Lea heard the news on the radio, and was shocked.
"What is this? What memo did I not get?" asked Lea.
Lea says it's important officials get a heads up in situations like this. The city, he says, needs time to prepare to help people find new jobs.
"We want to be there, be ready to go," he said.
Reactions also reached beyond city officials. Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), condemned Norfolk Southern's actions, saying he was "shocked and disappointed" by the announcement.
In response to a request from WDBJ7, a Norfolk Southern spokesperson said the company "continues to focus on ensuring that we have the optimal number of people and assets at every location across our system in order to operate safely and efficiently. As we execute our new strategic plan, we expect that targeted hiring and furloughing will remain components of our operating model."
The furloughs also impacted Norfolk Southern shops in Altoona, Pa. and Pittsburgh, Pa.
According to Shannon Spottswood, the workers who were furloughed Tuesday will have at least a few months of insurance and unemployment to work with. But the threat of future furloughs continues to weigh heavily on the remaining workers in Roanoke.
"It never gets any easier," he said.
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