Hinkle Layoffs

Rail cars roll down the hump and into the yard at the Union Pacific Railroad Hinkle Locomotive Service and Repair Facility and Freight Classification Yard near Hermiston. Union Pacific Railroad filed notice with the state on Tuesday that it will lay off up to 195 employees at the Hinkle Rail Yard and close the yard’s supply warehouse and mechanical shop. It stated the 195 layoffs would be completed by July 19 and are expected to be permanent. The bulk layoff is an escalation of the scores of layoffs that have happened incrementally at the rail yard since October 2018.

Union Pacific calls it a “workforce reduction” to quicken its “continuous improvement plan.”

Whatever the massive railroad company wants to call it, though, the fact remains that the massive layoffs announced Tuesday were about one thing: saving money to boost profits.

On one hand we get it. We are a Republic fueled — for good or ill — by capitalism. Businesses, whether small or giant like Union Pacific, exist to generate profits.

The move by the railroad to slash 195 jobs from its Hinkle Rail Yard in Hermiston is another example of the Damocles’ Sword of capitalism. We need firms to invest in our area, and the more jobs the better. But those same companies survive and prosper at the whim of economic factors beyond our control. Which means a company — especially one as large as Union Pacific — can pick up and move, and slash jobs, whenever it wants.

None of those sentiments, though, are going to mean a whole lot to the man or woman who learns they’re going to be out of work soon. Yes, they will surely be able to use state unemployment assistance. That will be a great help, but it isn’t a long-term solution.

The jobs that are going away are not exactly easy to come by in the first place. They are high-paying, good benefit occupations.

While the loss of many jobs by a local employer is difficult anywhere, it is especially acute in a place like Eastern Oregon. In a rural area often fighting poverty, firms in the region face more than their share of obstacles. From punitive state regulations to a shrinking employee base, big companies must contend with issues here in Oregon that are not typical of other states.

Here, every job carries just a little more weight, a bit more importance than an occupation in, say, Portland. The loss of 50 or 200 jobs in Washington County is serious but not a game-changer. The loss of the same number of jobs in Umatilla County is an economic disaster.

While it would be easy to blame Union Pacific, the fact is they are a for-profit company. They’re not a charity.

They’ve decided, and all of us — from the person who is laid off to the local merchant to area politicians — are going to have to live with it. But, more importantly, all of us are going to have to work together to find a way to overcome this economic challenge.

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