Union files complaint regarding I-House worker’s death

A union representing UC workers has filed a complaint alleging that UC Berkeley violated various health and safety rules in the circumstances leading to an International House employee’s fatal accident at work in April.

The complaint, filed by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleges that the campus assigned I-House custodial worker Damon Frick duties beyond his typical job description and failed to maintain working equipment. Frick died from injuries sustained after the motorized lift he was operating tipped over.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore  the campus and OSHA have already been investigating the matter for several weeks.

“The campus is fully cooperating with OSHA’s investigation,” Gilmore wrote in an email.

The complaint cites the California Health and Safety Act as well as campus health and safety policies as grounds for the violations. Specifically, it alleges that the job of operating the lift is in the job description of a building maintenance worker, not that of a custodial worker. It also says that the campus did not keep logs of inspection of its equipment.

To address the alleged problems, the complaint requests that a review panel, with seats reserved for representatives appointed by the union, conduct a campus-wide review of “dangerous and hazardous tasks performed by AFSCME employees.”

It also asks that campus immediately stop assigning the duties of building maintenance workers to custodians, and include hands on training with any necessary equipment for assigned work in any future trainings on campus.

According to Gilmore, there is no indication that the lift had mechanical problems, and Frick received hands on training to use the equipment.

“You honor (Frick’s) memory by making sure it never happens again,” AFSCME spokesperson Todd Stenhouse said. “This is an opportunity we hope for us and the university to come together and take corrective steps.”

Just this March, AFSCME — the largest union to represent UC workers — ratified a contract with the University after almost two years of negotiation. Concern about UC worker safety has been a major source of the contention between the union and the university, Stenhouse said.

In addition to the complaint, AFSCME has filed a formal grievance through the University, making similar requests. Frick’s family is also pursuing a wrongful death claim, according to a Friday press release.

Melissa Wen is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.