ROANOKE, Va. – Norfolk Southern, a storied railroad company with roots in Roanoke that go back to the 1880s, has announced that it’s letting go of 130 workers in the Star City.
The employees found out Tuesday that they will be furloughed and union leaders believe that the company will not be asking any of them to return.
The cuts affect locomotive repair workers at Shaffer’s Crossing, where about 80 were furloughed, and at the East End Shops, where about 50 faced that fate.
Tuesday’s announcement came after the company laid off more than 40 workers in April.
Local union leaders including Shannon Spotswood said the move is devastating and sad.
“It’s painful,” said Spotswood, who is the vice chairman of the Norfolk Southern branch of IDEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
He said he’s shocked that so many people were cut. He’s keeping his job but he knows their pain.
“It’s devastation. You always hate to hear of anybody losing their job,” he said. “I myself suffered four layoffs to this point and it never gets any easier, going home and telling your family that you’re laid off.”
Roanoke’s deep railroad history could be giving way to a bleak future, and employees say worker morale is down.
“It’s at an all-time low,” Spotswood said. “The railroad is essentially, ever since I started 22 years ago, dying little by little. The future does not look bright here.”
Stockpiled locomotives that aren’t in use are visible across the rail yards in the city of Roanoke. Union leaders said that this year the company has sold or scrapped hundreds of them.
A Norfolk Southern spokesperson said the company doesn’t need as many repair workers because it’s using fewer locomotives now. They added that the furloughed workers could be offered jobs at the company at locations outside of Roanoke.
Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, pointed out that this comes as the company is doing well financially.
“It’s very unfortunate that once again, Norfolk Southern has really punched us in the gut,” he said.
He said he’s tired of seeing jobs, particularly for skilled workers, disappear in his city.
“These are great paying jobs, union jobs, folks who are part of the fabric of our community,” Rasoul said. “Our working families definitely deserve better.”
A company spokesperson said Norfolk Southern now has just over 900 employees in the Roanoke Valley.
“We expect that targeted hiring and furloughing will remain components of our operating model,” the spokesperson said.
One of the furloughed workers 10 News talked to said the employees who were cut will earn 80% of their pay for about six months and will keep their insurance for four months.