Ellen Widess, chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health at the beginning of Gov. Jerry Brown's administration, has resigned her post mid-term, effective immediately. Widess was widely unpopular with the business and labor communities and not very well respected within the agency according to multiple sources. Most business people in the Cal/OSHA community, which Cal-OSHA Reporter has spoken with, say the positions Widess has taken on AB 2774 as well as on inspections led to her unpopularity.
While no official reason has been given for her abrupt resignation, it did happen on her first day back from vacation. One labor representative told Cal-OSHA Reporter, “We have heard that she was asked to turn in her resignation.” Both employer and labor representatives were practically jubilant at the news. In fact, employer complaints about DOSH to the governor's office are believed to have been a driving factor in Widess' resignation, s/he says.
One highly placed representative of the employer community who asked not to be identified said, “She's broken so many valuable ties with the business community, it had become a problem. As an appointee of the governor, the business community is key.” Another influential member of the Cal/OSHA community sarcastically suggested to Cal-OSHA Reporter that the headline for the news of Widess' departure should be, “DOSH Chief Tomahawked.”
But there's balance - another side. Gail Bateson, executive director of Worksafe, said her organization was blindsided by the resignation. “We were completely caught off guard. We thought Ellen was doing a really good job for the workers of California.” She also expressed hope that the governor's office and state agencies will “consult with Worksafe and other worker organizations as they consider a replacement.”
Juliann Sum, special advisor to Department of Industrial Relations director Christine Baker, will take over as acting chief. Widess will continue as special advisor to Baker.