Flash Report: DIR’s Baker Announces Her Retirement

Christine Baker, who successfully led the Department of Industrial Relations during a time of challenge and change, has announced her retirement. Baker, who has worked in DIR for 34 years, the last eight as DIR Director, helped rebuild Cal/OSHA after years of budget cuts. She worked to bring efficiency and accountability to the department, but also saw a steady stream of retirements at Cal/OSHA, which complicated the effort to strengthen the inspection force.

Nonetheless, Cal/OSHA now has more inspectors than it has in many years, and inspections and violations cited are the highest in about a decade. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health is also engaged in several essential rulemaking projects, such as revamping the occupational safety standard for lead in the workplace, albeit at a deliberate pace.

“We have overhauled worker safety regulations at refineries to better protect workers and people in nearby communities,” Baker said in a statement announcing her move. “We instituted heat illness prevention in outdoor workplaces when temperatures are dangerous.” Baker also helped institute major workers’ comp reforms and worked to combat fraud in that system. Additionally, DIR has waged a long campaign to cut the legs under the so-called “underground economy,” which harms honest employers. “I am proud that we have worked with employers and worker advocates to improve the health, safety and economic well-being of Californians.

Baker has been a bright light in Brown Administration, responsible for increasing permanent disability benefits for injured workers while saving employers billions in workers’ comp costs. The Baker workers’ comp reforms have delivered six straight rate cuts, and a seventh is likely to come this week. The Baker reforms also ushered in new anti-fraud provisions has successfully put to use and defended from legal challenges.

Labor and Workforce Development Agency undersecretary André Schoorl will serve as acting director of the department. He was appointed by Secretary David Lanier. Schoorl joined LWDA as a gubernatorial appointee in 2014. Prior to that Schoorl was deputy director at the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services.

“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. [Under her leadership] a first in the nation heat standard for outdoor workplaces and the most protective regulation in the nation for the safety and health of refinery workers and surrounding communities [was developed],” Lanier noted in a message to DIR employees. “Her work has been significant, and she has left her mark by bringing lasting change for the better at the department and for workers throughout the state.”