Christine Baker, the Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations, has resigned as of Friday March 30.
In a Friday afternoon e-mail to DIR employees, Baker announced that she is retiring. The note does not address whether her retirement is effective immediately nor the factors that led to the decision, be they personal or political.
Baker’s departure will come as a surprise to many within the workers’ comp community. At a lunch last week a well-placed contact told me that he reckoned Baker might well want to stay on in whatever administration follows after Governor Brown.
In retrospect, the recent CWCI conference presentation with Baker and David Lanier, California Labor & Workforce Development Secretary, sounded like a victory lap from someone who might be considering leaving this year.
Baker became acting director of the DIR in 2011 and was confirmed in 2012. Earlier on she was chief of the Division of Labor Statistics and Research, then a deputy director at the DWC in the early 1990s and then the executive officer of CHSWC from 1994 to 2011.
Whether one is a big fan of Baker or one of her detractors, the fact is that she has been a towering figure in the California workers’ comp world. Under her DIR leadership major workers’ comp reforms were negotiated and enabling regulations developed. Before that, in her role at CHSWC, workers comp policy was studied and shaped. In time there will be ample opportunity to reassess her legacy.
Personally, though she and I clashed on some policy matters, I have always respected her tenaciousness, her detailed knowledge of California workers’ comp and labor policy, and her tremendous work ethic.
At the moment this just adds to the uncertainty some of the California workers’ comp stakeholders are feeling.
It is unclear what the future might be for California workers’ comp under the current gubernatorial candidates since most of them have little or no track record on workers’ comp issues. And it is unclear whether the Baker retirement might affect a rumored 2018 legislative push for more reforms during this last legislative session under Brown.
In coming days we may get a better sense as to the whys and wherefores of her departure. But at the moment I think there are likely a lot of stakeholders scratching their heads at this news.