Christine Baker, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations since 2011, has retired.
André Schoorl, undersecretary of the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency, is now serving as acting director of DIR, an agency spokesman said.
Baker told DIR employees of her retirement in an email on Friday. DIR workers also received an email from state Labor Secretary David Lanier regarding Baker’s departure. DIR provided copies of the emails to WorkCompCentral on Monday.
“Through her thoughtful leadership, the department has worked with employees and employers to achieve what was once thought impossible — a workers' compensation system that has increased benefits, improved medical care for injured workers and lowered rates for employers,” Lanier said.
Baker said she was proud to have collaborated with employers and worker advocates “to improve the health, safety and economic well-being of Californians.”
“We have grown this department and positioned it for continuous improvements for years to come,” Baker wrote.
Neither the Department of Industrial Relations or its parent agency, Labor and Workforce Development, provided any information on the reasons for Baker’s sudden departure.
Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Baker to the position of DIR director in December 2011. She had been acting director since former director John Duncan left in April of that year. The department includes the Division of Workers' Compensation.
While her exit was not unexpected, with Brown’s term in office ending in January, the timing was a shock to some.
“Christine surprised us all,” said Brian Allen, vice president of government affairs for Mitchell International.
Allen said Baker had done “an outstanding job” shepherding in the workers’ comp reforms of Senate Bill 863, which Brown signed into law in September 2012. Doing so involved achieving a “delicate balance” between stabilizing the state’s workers’ comp marketplace and providing good care for injured workers, he said.
Baker’s travels throughout the state to meet with stakeholders, and her open-door policy, helped her gain the confidence of others, Allen said.
Allen said he’s hopeful that the next DIR director will build upon Baker’s legacy rather than trying to undo her accomplishments.
Steve Cattolica, director of government relations for the California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery, said Baker’s career in public service is “unmatched,” and that the organization wishes her well in retirement.
“While CSIMS and the director were occasionally on different sides with respect to many policy decisions affecting access to care and the medical provider community in general, no one can take issue with Christine's work ethic, her influence and her ability to accomplish an agenda,” Cattolica said.
Baker was the first woman to serve as director of the Department of Industrial Relations. Her other experience has included chief of the Division of Labor Statistics and Research from 1984 to 1989, deputy director of the Division of Workers' Compensation from 1990 to 1994, and executive officer of the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation from its inception in 1994 through April 2011.
Her seven years at the department's helm was not the longest tenure for a DIR director, however. According to DIR, others who have served longer in that position include Donald Vial, who held the post for eight years, from 1975-1983; and Paul Scharrenberg, who served under Gov. Earl Warren from 1943 to 1955.
Attorney Julius Young with Boxer & Gerson in Oakland said Baker will likely be remembered for brokering a coalition among employers, insurers and certain labor organizations that resulted in the 2012 workers’ comp reforms. But Young said Baker’s work with CHSWC is also significant, as studies undertaken by Rand Corp. and others during that time were key in the reforms under Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brown.
“Stakeholders may have differing views of the fairness or impact of some of the reforms and regulations, but her role in all of it is undeniable,” Young said.
“She was polarizing at times, but I don't think anyone could say she didn't allow access to all parties/viewpoints,” Mark Pew, senior vice president at Prium, said via Twitter on Monday. “Her replacement may be THE most important choice in CA in 2018.”
Phil Millhollon, executive director of the California Self-Insurers Association, said Baker will be difficult to replace. He said that whenever he saw Baker, she was brimming with excitement about some improvement to the system or the possibility that something could be fixed.
“Christine really knew the workers’ compensation system, and her impact in meaningful legislative reforms and regulations cannot be understated,” Millhollon said. “Christine’s departure will leave a big hole and a lot of uncertainty about the future.”
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