By Don McIntosh
An era of antagonism between TriMet and its union may have come to a close. On June 16, TriMet’s Board announced that it picked Sam Desue, Jr. to be the transit agency’s new general manager. Desue is a U.S. Army veteran and TriMet’s first Black general manager, and he comes to the job 27 years after starting his transit career as a bus operator in Alaska. After serving in transit management in Kansas City and the Seattle area, he came to work for TriMet in 2019 as chief operating officer, and was named interim general manager on March 6, 2021 when his predecessor Doug Kelsey retired.
Coincidentally, the announcement of Desue’s appointment came the same day ballots were counted in officer elections for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. Members returned incumbent Shirley Block to a third term as Local 757 president.
Block had only positives to say about Desue. Soon after Desue became interim general manager, he dropped his predecessor’s plans to get rid of TriMet’s bus mechanic apprenticeship program, and worked to reach agreement by April 1 on a new union contract. In May, Block and Desue got their first COVID shots together at TriMet in a show of solidarity. They also met jointly with a TriMet bus operator who was injured by a stray bullet, and with several light rail operators who were at the controls when people committed suicide by leaping in front of their trains. Block says she and Desue next plan to work on revamping the way TriMet handles customer complaints to get better outcomes for both operators and passengers.
“We want to build a better relationship,” Block said. “We’re all here to help the community, so we should be working together.”
Another possible sign of future harmony: TriMet labor relations director Laird Cusack—who’s blamed by the union for creating some of the bad feeling—is retiring as of July 9.