$1.5 million gift will help LERC establish job safety programs

The Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) of the University of Oregon will receive a $1.5 million gift from SAIF Corp. (State Accident Insurance Fund) so that it can develop workplace safety and training programs for union members.

The gift, which LERC officials said was the largest ever to the labor center, will allow the university to hire two full-time instructors to serve as primary liaisons to unions to develop and organize safety and training projects over the next three to five years. Those instructors will be located in Eugene and Portland.

"This funding comes with very few strings attached. Organized labor and LERC will fashion what the programs will look like," Steve Hecker, an associate professor at LERC, told the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board last month.

An advisory board consisting of union members and some SAIF staff will oversee the program and set policy. LERC also hopes to leverage the financial gift - which will be paid in one lump sum - into grants from other agencies.

Hecker said safety training projects likely will be targeted toward major sectors of the workforce, such as labor's Safe Hospital Campaign, which involves a large number of workers from several different union locals.

Ken Allen, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Oregon Council 75 and a member of the SAIF board of directors, was instrumental in attaining the financial contribution.

"SAIF is always looking for ways to prevent injuries from happening, and who is there better to tap for experience on improving safety and health conditions at work than unions," Allen said. "I'm pretty excited about the program."

Cecil Tibbetts, a former executive director of Council 75 who is now vice president of external affairs and human resources at SAIF, worked with Allen in obtaining the money. Initially the pair approached the Oregon AFL-CIO with their idea. After a few meetings there was agreement that LERC would be the perfect venue to make it happen.

"This is all untested territory," Tibbetts said. "We feel we have the ability at this point to invest more heavily on the prevention end. And once programs are developed they can be made available to other, non-union, environments."

A final contract between SAIF and the University of Oregon is expected to be signed sometime this month.

January 5, 2001 issue

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