Governor appoints two Berkeley residents to state office positions

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Gov. Jerry Brown appointed two Berkeley residents to state office positions Monday in a maneuver that filled 14 vacancies in the office with new appointees from around the state.

Ellen Widess, a self-employed consultant in the field of occupational safety and health and immigration policy, was appointed chief of the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, while Christine Baker, executive officer of the state Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation, was appointed chief deputy director of the Department of Industrial Relations, according to a statement from the governor's office.

The department's goal is to improve working conditions for the state's workers and to advance their opportunities for profitable employment, according to its website.

"The Governor has called upon the right candidate to lead the (Department of Industrial Relations) through the many challenges facing employers and employees today," Association of California Insurance Companies President Mark Sektnan said in a statement released March 28 by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an affiliated trade association. "Christine has the right experience and know-how to lead (the department) and help employers and employees keep job sites safe and cope with these difficult economic conditions."

Before working as executive officer of the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation, Barker was the acting deputy director at the state Division of Workers' Compensation, according to the governor's statement. Widess was previously a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control on updated child labor standards.

Widess also previously worked as the senior program officer of the Rosenberg Foundation, an organization based in San Francisco that distributes grants to programs promoting social and economic justice, according to the foundation's website. She is also currently a member of the Advisory Council for the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

"She cares deeply about issues of social justice," the center's Executive Director Wilda White said. "I have a great deal of respect for her ... she has been able to appreciate organizations that do work that is critical to the advancement of social justice."

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, works to protect workers and the public from safety hazards and provides consulting services to employers, according to the division's website.

"Both women have had phenomenal careers and are uniquely qualified to serve our state and improve conditions for working Californians, Evan Westrup, a spokesperson for the office of the governor, said in an email. "We are pleased to have them on board."

Contact Damian at [email protected]

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