UC workers’ union members commemorate 2 UC employees at vigil

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Kayla Baskevitch/Staff

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Marking International Workers’ Memorial Day on Tuesday, 20 students, campus employees and UC workers’ union members held a vigil outside California Hall to commemorate two UC employees who died in workplace accidents over the last six years.

Five participants spoke in memory of late UCLA laboratory worker Sheri Sangji and International House custodian Damon Frick, and also voiced their solidarity with workers worldwide and on campus.

“Service workers who do the most physically demanding work at UC are facing skyrocketing injury rates,” said Kathryn Lybarger, campus lead gardener and president of the UC chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in a press release. “We need stronger safeguards, more training and robust enforcement of workplace safety standards to prevent injuries and save lives.”

At the event, Joan Lichterman, member of the UC chapter of the University Professional and Technical Workers union, said there was a lackluster response from the campus after Frick’s death. Frick, who worked at International House, died last April after falling about 22 feet from a motorized lift.

“This was a totally unnecessary and preventable death that left a family without a husband and a father,” Lichterman said. “Instead of holding themselves accountable, (the campus administration) is basically saying it was (Frick’s) fault.”

The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety’s investigation — which concluded last September — resulted in citations against the campus. The citations alleged several regulatory violations — such as failing to instruct employees on the use of machinery — and leveled a penalty worth more than $26,000.

 

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the administration has concerns about the citation, as Frick was thoroughly trained in the use of the equipment. She said in an email that a prehearing conference is scheduled for June 22.

As a result of the accident, Gilmore said, there are ongoing efforts to ensure all aerial lifts and their users adhere to legal requirements for the use of such equipment.

At the vigil, local Teamsters union member and Boalt Hall employee Toni Mendicino called on the administration to publicly acknowledge Frick’s death in a message to the campus community.

“We hear about awards in campuswide messages, but even after a year, they have not acknowledged my co-worker,” Mendicino said.

Tuesday’s event also marked the beginning of an annual monthlong campaign to raise awareness for youth worker safety. Organized by Diane Bush, a coordinator at the campus’s Labor Occupational Health Program, the campaign aims to educate younger workers.

“Workers under 25 are the most susceptible to workplace injuries,” she said. “It’s essential that they know their rights, and how to stay safe on the job.”

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