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Unions, community gear up as Norfolk Southern announces closure

(WDBJ)
Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 10:48 PM EST
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For as long as there has been a Roanoke, Virginia, there have been the Roanoke Shops, machines and men cranking out locomotives, for well over a century.

But in May, those tracks will fall silent. In a letter released Tuesday morning, Norfolk Southern officials say they'll be closing both the Roanoke Shops and Distribution Center.

The cause, they say: a decline in both the amount of coal shipped on Norfolk Southern's rails, and in the number of locomotives in its fleet.

"That's not the full story," said Machinists Union President Mike Perry.

Perry says 26 of his Union members were affected by Tuesday's announcement. He puts the blame squarely on a new railroad policy called Precision Scheduled Railroading, or PSR.

"The furloughs started very shortly after they started implementing the PSR," he said.

According to Norfolk Southern's release, the Roanoke Distribution Center is set to close around April 18, and the Shops will close around May 18. Perry says the union will be using that time to meet with Norfolk Southern officials.

"Making sure that our members get the full benefits and protection that's afforded to them in the agreements we have in place," he said.

That's not the only help former employees will have.

"They're all eligible to come in and take advantage of our services," said Brad Stephens, business and development manager with Virginia Career Works Blue Ridge.

Stephens says his organization will be there to connect former Norfolk Southern employees with new jobs, or job training. Career Works may also hold upcoming events and job fairs for former Norfolk Southern employees, and has emergency funds available for anyone who can't make rent or pay other bills once the closures go into effect.

"We're here and we're happy to help with whatever those emergency needs might be," said Stephens.

In its Tuesday letter, Norfolk Southern said Roanoke Shop employees will also have the opportunity to transfer to a facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

But with furloughs hitting Norfolk Southern facilities nationwide in the past year, Union President Mike Perry argues that could just be a temporary solution.

"It used to be, when you got hired on the railroad, you had a job until you retired," he said. "From what I see now, it's not gonna be that way anymore."

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