Christine Baker, Director of California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), unexpectedly announced her retirement on Friday, March 30.
With no immediately apparent reason for the sudden departure, many in the workers’ comp community are surprised — and left to speculate on the well-regarded Director’s timing.
Known as a tough-minded reformer, Baker ran the DIR from April 2011, when she was named Acting Director. Governor Brown later made the full appointment to Director, unanimously confirmed by the California Senate in 2012.
Prior to that, Baker served as Chief of the Division of Labor Statistics and Research (DLSR), Deputy Director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), and Executive Officer of the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation (CHSWC).
She is the first woman to serve as DIR Director, and her tenure was among the longest in the position. That tenure included implementation of the game-changing Senate Bill 863, which radically altered the workers’ compensation landscape.
Most experts, stakeholders, and commentators reacted to the news of Baker’s departure with shock, and some with fear that an abrupt transition to new leadership comes at a delicate time. Most acknowledged her formidable expertise and efficacy, even when recalling clashes over policy and disagreements about the direction of California workers’ comp under her leadership.
According to workcompcentral, Undersecretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) Andre Shoorl now serves as acting director of the DIR. Where Baker is headed next — and why she suddenly stepped down — remains to be seen.