Union Pacific car shops in De Soto

Union Pacific car shops in De Soto

The Union Pacific railroad has recalled 125 employees to return to work at its car shops in De Soto.

The employees, who went back to work Monday, were among the estimated 200 to 300 who had been furloughed in De Soto since April 30 because of a decline in the company’s volume of business amid the coronavirus pandemic.

De Soto City Manager Todd Melkus confirmed the recall Oct. 30 after learning the company had notified the employees by letter.

“I reached out to Ben Jones (a regional spokesman) with UP (and) he confirmed the callbacks,” Melkus said. “I asked him if there were additional plans to eventually bring everyone back and he said any future action would be dependent on business volume.”

Another company spokesperson confirmed the recall Monday in an e-mail.

“While Union Pacific does not provide location-specific employee numbers, I can confirm a group of furloughed employees will be reporting back to work at the mechanical shop in De Soto,” said Raquel Espinosa, senior director of corporate communications and media relations. “The number of employees is based on freight shipments on our network and we continue working to provide customers with safe, efficient and reliable rail service product.”

Melkus said he’s not aware of any timetable for bringing back additional employees. “But at least they are starting to bring back some,” he said. “Of course, the city was ecstatic to hear the news that UP had called back (these) employees, and I’m hopeful the rest of them get called back soon as well. Especially heading into the holidays, the last thing you want is for there to still be a large number of furloughed employees.”

Melkus added that he was guessing the employees were recalled based on seniority.

“I could be wrong. It could be a completely different process,” he said. “But you would think that would be the most fair way for them to be bringing people back.”

The furlough and temporary shutdown of the car shops took effect April 30, along with shutdowns of Union Pacific’s Jenks Locomotive Facility in North Little Rock, Ark., and an equipment-maintenance center in Denver. Since then the company passed several dates for reviewing the De Soto situation based on business volume, without taking action.

“Unfortunately, we don’t really find out too much,” Melkus said. “Honestly, my contact at UP, I had to reach out with him to verify (the recall) and he even had to check on it because he didn’t even know about it.”

Union Pacific’s presence in De Soto dates back to 1872, when the city donated 55 acres of land for the Iron Mountain railroad machine shops. Headquartered in Omaha, Union Pacific has 37,000 employees and operates more than 32,000 miles of routes in 23 states. It reported third quarter 2020 net income of $1.4 billion, compared to $1.6 billion in the same period last year.

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