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Second NS layoff ‘not a good trend’

The layoff of 95 more workers at the Juniata Locomotive Shop has a local labor leader wondering what’s next.

“I am wondering when the hemorrhaging is going to stop. They told us there were definitely only going to be 50 more, but they went to 95,” said Robert Kutz, president of the Blair Bedford Central Labor Council. “When will it stop? We’ve been taking hits all season long. This is not a good trend. “

Joe Hurd, president/CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce was equally disappointed.

“There’s no easy way to lose that many jobs and not feel extremely sorry for those who suddenly face uncertainty,” he said. “Not just the employees but their families as well. I’m convinced, after having a rather in-depth discussion with Rudy Husband at Norfolk Southern, that the realities associated with a downturn in their industry left them with rather limited options. Based on the data, it could actually have been worse. It’s a helpless feeling to watch a situation unfold and recognize that there’s so little you can do to turn it around.”

Tuesday’s layoffs followed on the heels of a layoff of about 100 workers on Sept. 3.

The latest layoffs bring employment at the shop down to about 555.

In the 1920s, the Altoona shops employed about 17,000.

“Today, Norfolk Southern’s Mechanical Department announced furloughs for 95 employees at its Juniata Locomotive Shop. These furloughs are part of the railroad’s organizational realignment announced earlier this year,” the company said in a statement. “Consistent with our strategic plan and current business levels, our ability to streamline operations and use fewer locomotives has required the difficult but necessary decision to reduce our locomotive mechanical forces due to the decreased demand for locomotive maintenance and repair. Norfolk Southern will continue to evaluate staffing needs as our business evolves. Furloughed employees may have the opportunity to apply for positions, as available, elsewhere on the NS system.”

Republican state Rep. Lou Schmitt, whose district includes the Juniata shop, said in an email, “My thoughts are first and foremost with these railroaders and their families. With the holidays approaching, it is especially disheartening that Norfolk Southern has chosen to take this action at this time.”

He added, “I am bitterly disappointed at the ongoing reductions of the Juniata shop workforce, and I am concerned about the effect of those reductions on the lives of the people in this area and our local economy. My office will again mobilize all available state resources in order to provide what assistance we can to these displaced workers.”

U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, said he was disappointed about the layoffs.

“It is disappointing that Norfolk Southern has chosen to reduce its workforce at the Juniata Locomotive Shop. These hardworking Americans are valuable members of our community. As a skilled workforce, they are an immense asset to the industries that invest in our region, and I am committed to helping those affected by today’s news to find new opportunities here in our community.”

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, was also saddened to hear about the layoffs.

“I have been told they are going through a bit of a downturn; their market is softening. The best thing we can do is direct them (laid-off workers) to CareerLink, which can help them find other employment,” she said. “I was sick to hear about it.”

President/CEO Steve Mc­Knight of Altoona Blair County Development Corp. said this downsizing impacts these workers and families hard, especially at this time of year.

“As with the previous layoffs, ABCD’s priority is to work with our Workforce Rapid Response team, Blair County CareerLink and elected officials to ensure the job placement and retraining resources are directed their way,”

Mc­­Knight said. “This has been one in a series of downsizing decisions made by corporate entities outside of our community. The rail industry especially is going through major changes in order to compete globally.”

McKnight said the local economy does not rely on one business or industry anymore.

“We have greatly diversified over the years. While changes in some industry sectors are tough to proactively address, they do not define who we are or what our future looks like,” Mc-Knight said. “Our message for everyone is that current and future occupations require different skills, space needs, community resources and assets. We must continue to work to ensure we attract people and encourage more businesses to start up and expand locally. Homegrown businesses are always more connected with the community. That approach leads to a more resilient and value-based Blair County economy.”

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