Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) announced this week it would lay off almost 200 employees in eastern Oregon as part of a series of cuts the railroad is making in order to boost profits.
The bulk of the layoffs are taking place at a railyard in the city of Hermiston. The yard will close. Additional layoffs will take place at a supply warehouse and mechanical shop that will both stay open.
"The workforce reduction is the result of accelerating our continuous improvement plan and implementing Precision Scheduled Railroading principles," Union Pacific spokesperson Amanda Treiber said in an email to FreightWaves.
In October 2018 Union Pacific announced layoffs impacting various locations across its system. The railroad also indicated it was the first of what likely will be additional workforce reduction initiatives through 2020.
These steps, Treiber said, "are part of Unified Plan 2020, which streamlines operations as we ensure Union Pacific remains a strong and competitive company."
According to the The Oregonian, Oregon's two U.S. senators on May 22 sent a letter to Union Pacific criticizing the layoffs.
"We are deeply concerned about rural Oregon economies and your company's actions as it appears to risk destabilizing already fragile communities," senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley wrote. "While the company has substantial resources to reinvest and modify operations over time, many of these workers and their families are not so fortunate."
Wyden and Merkley said the Hermiston layoffs "create potential safety risks for the remaining employees" given hazardous materials that move through rural Oregon, often during difficult weather. They said closure of Union Pacific's mechanical shop would reduce oversight and inspection.
Union Pacific will respond directly to the senators' letter, Treiber said.
Umatilla County, where this week's layoffs took place, employs only 36,400 people. In April the county's jobless rate was 5.3 percent.
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