Norfolk Southern Corp. furloughed about 130 locomotive shop employees in Roanoke on Tuesday.
Norfolk Southern said through its press office that it wants “the optimal number of people and assets at every location across our system in order to operate safely and efficiently.” Due to decreased demand for locomotive repair, it said it needed to cut staff in the locomotive mechanical areas. The railroad has revealed long-term plans to operate with fewer locomotives.
About 83 workers lost their jobs at Shaffer’s Crossing and 47 to 50 at the East End Shops, said Shannon Spotswood, a Vinton-based representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union. The furloughed workers, who include electricians, machinists, laborers, pipefitters, engine carpenters and boilermakers, have a “slim” chance of being recalled to work, according to Spotswood.
Workers learned the news Tuesday, when lists of furloughed workers appeared on union bulletin boards, Spotswood said. Workers will be paid for five days and furloughs will start Sunday, he said.
Spotswood estimated the average pay is $33 an hour, plus medical insurance, which he said will continue for five months.
This is Norfolk Southern’s third employment reduction this year in the Roanoke area, Spotswood said. An April cut affected about 45 people, while a May cut impacted 10 to 15 people, he said.
Norfolk Southern will employ about 920 people in Roanoke after the furloughs take effect, its press office said. It had about twice that in 2012.
Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said he conveyed to a railroad official that the announcement felt “like a punch in the gut to Roanoke.” He said in an interview that Norfolk Southern is not in financial distress but was again cutting in Roanoke, which Rasoul called “a city that helped build the railroad.” The prior decisions Rasoul cited were the railroad closing its regional office and relocating jobs to Norfolk and Atlanta in 2015 and the company’s opposition to paying a city stormwater runoff charge.
The company earned $722 million on revenue of $2.93 billion during the April-June quarter this year, compared to earning $710 million on revenue of $2.90 billion during the same period last year, according to financial statements submitted to federal regulators.
Rasoul said that after he vented to Timothy Bentley, a railroad government relations official who called him with the news, Bentley responded by saying he understood but was just the messenger.
The railroad said furloughed workers could find positions elsewhere in the company. Rasoul said he was told at best a “handful” would be able to.
Also Tuesday, Norfolk Southern furloughed about 100 employees from its Juniata shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania, for the same operational performance reasons, the railroad’s press office said.