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Tom Walsh

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Tom Walsh
Tom Walsh. Photo courtesy TriMet, from a 1992 employee newsletter.

Tom Walsh was the general manager of TriMet from 1991 to 1998. He was succeeded by Fred Hansen.

Walsh is the president of Tom Walsh + Builders Inc., a homebuilding company based in northwest Portland. His brother Bob Walsh is the president of Walsh Construction Co. The two co-founded a construction business while college students in 1961, for which they "kept their accounting files in a shoebox and worked out of a ’47 Chevy van."


[edit] Perceived accomplishments and failures

When he resigned in 1998, Willamette Week credited Walsh for proposing the Red Line to Portland International Airport and for making TriMet the first transit agency in the country to purchase low-floor rail cars for its Type II MAX trains.

They also praised him for recognizing the links between public transportation and land use.

Willamette Week faulted Walsh, though, for failing to lead TriMet to meet its ridership targets, saying that in 1993 the agency had predicted weekday ridership of 325,000 by 1998. At the time, ridership was 240,000.

"A private man, Walsh never appreciated the public role a general manager should play in selling transit to the region," Willamette Week wrote. "Nor has he been comfortable enough to accept constructive criticism."

[edit] Chairmanship of 2010 safety task force

In 2010, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane named Walsh to lead a safety task force to consider the agency's responses to the April 24, 2010 TriMet crash.

[edit] Role in 1994 union contract

Walsh has sometimes been criticized for his role in what some saw as an overly generous collective bargaining agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 in 1994. When former TriMet board president Loren Wyss criticized Walsh for pursuing the agreement, Walsh seemingly used political connections to force Wyss's resignation.

According to TriMet's budget for fiscal year 2012, the agency in 1993 increased union pensions from 25 percent of workers' wages at retirement to 45 to 50 percent of workers' wages at retirement.

In the years since the contract was signed, TriMet bus operating costs, which are largely driven by TriMet employee benefits, have grown about twice as fast as the average large transit agency's.

In August 2010, ATU Vice President Sam Schwartz described Walsh's 1994 contract as "the best contract we ever had."

[edit] Disagreements with Wyss

In an August 2010 interview with Portland Afoot, Wyss said his disagreements with Walsh stemmed from attitudes toward labor.

"TriMet had gone through a lot of financial difficulty in I suppose it was the late 80s and early 90s," Wyss said. "The agency had to make a choice between many employees and highly compensated employees.

"The people who led the union were relatively cooperative," Wyss recalled. "We went along with an increase in wages as long as we could take some of those lines away from the agency itself and contract it out to individual bus companies that could do it without hiring union drivers."

By 1993, however, blood was running high between TriMet and its union.

"During one dispute with Tri-Met General Manager Tom Walsh over pension benefits for widows of retired union members, (ATU business representative) Ron Heintzman ordered picket signs with the slogan 'Walsh Welches on Widows,'" The Oregonian reported in November 1995.

Wyss said Walsh feared the unions would interfere with his political career, and that Walsh wanted to neutralize union anger toward TriMet.

"Tom Walsh had said to me once that if there were problems that arose with bus drivers deciding not to drive their buses any more because of contract problems, that the public would then turn aggressively against the agency, and that was to be avoided," Wyss said. "The question, I guess, is how much it would cost to be avoided."

Wyss came to believe that friendly relations with the union would cost the agency too much.

Walsh has not responded to multiple interview requests. In a 1992 employee newsletter, Walsh wrote that he wanted to "abolish the them and us feeling" within TriMet.

[edit] Wyss's criticism of Walsh

By early 1994, while trying to resolve an ongoing pension dispute, Walsh had entered what Wyss described as "really secret negotiations with the union without talking to the board."

In March 1994, according to a 1995 Oregonian article by Gordon Oliver, Walsh agreed that private bus companies working under contract with Tri-Met would have to hire union drivers.

According to a 1994 article by Oliver, Wyss wrote a May 6 memo to Walsh, accusing him of "one-sided accommodation without reciprocity" in union negotiations. Wyss "demanded answers to questions about the costs of the settlements and the benefits to Tri-Met," the Oregonian said.

Walsh responded with a promise to provide cost estimates after he returned from a conference on May 31. Walsh ultimately failed to provide those numbers until August, after Wyss's resignation.

Instead, Walsh secretly wrote a memo to the office of Wyss's boss, Gov. Barbara Roberts, saying that either he or Wyss would have to be replaced.

[edit] Walsh's letter to Roberts

"Loren has become an anchor," Walsh wrote May 16 in a four-page letter to Bob Stacey, then an aide to Roberts. "TriMet either needs a new board president or a new general manager. ... I will respect either decision the governor makes."

According to Wyss, Walsh was at the time dating his future wife Patricia McCaig, a top advisor to Roberts.

After Walsh's letter, Roberts called Wyss for a meeting.

"She said that the board really had no business telling the general manager how to run the agency," Wyss recalled in 2010. "I said that I thought we were there to represent the public."

Wyss said he resigned under pressure from the governor and from Stacey, her aide.

"It was a difficult decision," Stacey told Portland Afoot in August 2010. "To keep the agency moving forward."

"That was the end of my public service career," said Wyss, an investment counselor who had, according to the Oregonian, served on state boards and commissions for 19 years.

After the firing, Walsh told The Oregonian that he had had "no direct or indirect contact with the governor about Wyss" and that such contact would be "absolutely inappropriate." He later conceded to the Oregonian that he had not been telling the truth.

[edit] The union contract

The contract signed by Walsh in late 1994 ended TriMet's outsourcing of some bus routes to private operators, extended all major benefit provisions and offered annual raises of more than 4 percent.

"That was the biggest raise that we can remember getting without any major takeaways," ATU Vice President Sam Schwartz said. "The best contract we ever had. ... It passed overwhelmingly."

Schwartz said in an August 2010 interview, however, that he felt the 2003 TriMet-ATU contract signed by Fred Hansen was more responsible for TriMet's 2010 budget problems than the 1994 contract, because the 2003 contract period lasted six years.

[edit] Friendship with Neil Goldschmidt

Walsh ran for Portland city council in 1970, the same year as Neil Goldschmidt, and narrowly lost.

Willamette Week described Walsh in 2007 as a "pal ever since."

[edit] Personal life

As of August 2010, Walsh is married to Patricia McCaig.

An Oregonian review of Walsh's tenure when successor Fred Hansen took over on Oct. 5, 1998, described Walsh as "an intensely private man."

[edit] External links

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