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Donald Baer, 69; Founder of UTLA

January 17, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Donald Baer, who merged two fractious Los Angeles teacher groups into a single union, United Teachers-Los Angeles, and led members in a landmark five-week-long strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1970 which established the precedent for teachers' collective bargaining rights throughout California, has died. He was 69.

Baer, who served as executive director of UTLA from its inception in 1968 until 1980, died Saturday in Woodland Hills after a long illness. No specific cause of death was disclosed.

"Don Baer changed the relationship between teachers and the school district," Leo Geffner, attorney for UTLA from the time it was formed, said in a statement. "He had the complete trust of the other side at the bargaining table."

Born in Milwaukee, Wis., Baer graduated from the University of Wisconsin and served in the Army. He taught in Milwaukee schools and served as executive secretary of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Assn. before moving to Los Angeles in 1968.

He merged the National Education Assn. affiliate, Assn. of Classroom Teachers-Los Angeles (ACT-LA) and the American Federation of Teachers Local 1021, developing a model for the 1975 state law requiring each school district to select a single bargaining unit.

Baer resigned in 1980 amid a shake-up in which elected union officials complained that he and other staff executives dominated union policy and activities. Baer then joined the staff of the California Teachers Assn., where he remained until his death.

He is survived by his wife, Janis; three sons, Gregg, Chris and Kyle; and one daughter, Julie Milton; a brother, Robert; and two grandsons.

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