Monday Memo: news & views about working at UC
For the Week of January 09, 2012

Felony charges have been filed against UCLA professor Patrick Harran by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office for “willful violation” of safety requirements in the January 2009 death of Sheri Sangji. Sangji was a 23-year-old research assistant who died from burn injuries sustained in a preventable accident during her work at UCLA.

Occupational safety advocates are watching the case closely. The charges against UCLA and Harran include failure to correct unsafe conditions, or to provide proper training and equipment. Harran could face 4 ½ years in state prison and UCLA could face a fine of $1.5 million. The campus was earlier found guilty of three serious Cal/OSHA violations in the Sangji case and paid a fine of $31,875. UCLA’s chancellor says the campus has improved its safety procedures, and called the criminal charges “unwarranted.”

UC Berkeley professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes has published an analysis of UC budget cuts in the Chronicle of Higher Education, with a reprint in the Berkeley Blog.  “Public higher education is dying,” she writes. “As senior faculty retire, their positions and programs are going with them, not to be replaced.”  Making staff and student voices heard is key, according to Scheper-Hughes, because “now is not the time for accommodation.”

A state lawmaker is proposing a tax break of up to $500 per year for each student from a family earning $80,001 to $140,000.

California’s independent Legislative Analyst’s Office says that California's public colleges and universities – including UC -- are changing too many rules unilaterally and should be more accountable to the public. In a report released last week, the office said California should create a system for higher education oversight to make sure the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education is being followed.

Democrats in Indiana are proposing new “work-share” programs to help both employers and employees weather the economic crisis. The programs allow workers whose hours are cut are allowed to use unemployment funds to make up the difference.

Republicans in that state and elsewhere have instead favored so-called “right-to-work” laws, which aim to undercut unions. Such laws “dilute their bargaining strength by making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially,” according to a new report issued by the Economic Policy Institute.
In a big victory for workers nationwide, the National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that employers could not prevent workers from filing class actions. The board’s ruling reinforces existing federal law that strongly protects the rights of workers to engage in concerted, collective actions.

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