ATU Local 757 blasts TriMet’s pick for general manager

“Do you believe in keeping union jobs, or contracting out?” Local 757 president Shirley Block asks Doug Kelsey at a Jan. 24 TriMet board meeting. Kelsey is the sole finalist to succeed Neil McFarlane as general manager.

By Don McIntosh

Leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 are blasting TriMet’s pick for new general manager in statements online and at a Jan. 24 meeting of the transit agency’s board.

Doug Kelsey

Current general manager Neil McFarlane is retiring this year, and union leaders had hoped the board would hire a change agent from outside who might take the transit agency in a different direction. Instead, TriMet’s current chief operating officer, Doug Kelsey, was named Jan. 17 as the sole finalist after a national search.

“Selecting Kelsey is a clear choice for the status quo: declining ridership, increasingly-unreliable service, and a worsening relationship between workers and management,” the union declared in a Jan. 23 public statement signed by Local 757’s three top officers: President Shirley Block, Vice President Jon Hunt, and Financial Secretary-Treasurer Mary Longoria.

In the statement, the officers said the executive search process was “a sham from top to bottom,” saying it was an open secret after Kelsey’s 2015 hire that he would take over as general manager someday.

Kelsey came to TriMet after working 16 years at TransLink, the regional transportation authority in the Vancouver, B.C. metro area.

We see you as part of the current administration.” — ATU Local 757 vice president Jon Hunt

Block says the union has had no specific difficulties with him at TriMet, but did have trouble with managers under his direction.

At the Board’s Jan. 24 meeting, Kelsey took questions from the public, including Block, Hunt, and Executive Board officer Anthony Forrester, a TriMet light rail operator.

But first the Board heard from consultant Celia Kupersmith, who led the search for a general manager. Kupersmith said input was solicited from 40 organizations, 12 applicants were interviewed, and three finalists were selected from among seven semifinalists. But the requirement that finalists present themselves publicly was a deal-breaker for the other two finalists, Kupersmith said: Without a job offer, they felt that publicly considering a job as TriMet general manager would put their current jobs at risk.

“We see you as part of the current administration,” Hunt told Kelsey — an administration that Hunt said has acted inhumanely toward staff, violated the union contract, prevented low-level managers from resolving union grievances, and routinely lawyered up at taxpayer expense to resolve even minor disagreements.

“I have been in ‘unfair labor practice’ hearings where I spent the entire day listening to gobbledygook from your management staff that is out of touch and is unable to recognize the most basic issues that are happening at the workplace,” Hunt said.

“Do you believe in keeping union jobs, or contracting out?” Block wanted to know.

“I believe in both,” Kelsey replied. “There’s a balance. I believe there’s healthy tensions that keep all of us in checks and balances.”

Forrester said a recent disciplinary crackdown has created a “culture of fear” in the light rail division, and asked Kelsey how he would change that. The goal isn’t to create a culture of fear, Kelsey said, but TriMet has to “true up” some of its practices that are inconsistent with laws and safety rules at other agencies.

The Board was scheduled to meet Jan. 31 and appeared likely to authorize the Board chair to negotiate a contract with Kelsey.

1/25/18 UPDATE: Local 757 expected the Board would authorize its chair to negotiate a contract with Kelsey at its Jan. 31 meeting. But the Board decided to postpone that meeting, and extend its public comment period, saying in a Jan. 25 statement: “The Board would like more time to weigh public feedback before it determines the next steps in the general manager search.” No date had been set as of when this issue went to press.

HOW TO SUBMIT COMMENTS The public can continue to submit comments on the general manager search by:

  • Email at
  • Online comment at
  • Phone at 503-238-RIDE (7433)

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