In Historic First, California’s State Scientists Go on Strike

California’s hot labor summer has quickly turned into a hot labor year. And now, a new participant is joining the fold. The California Association of Professional Scientists, which represents 5,600 state employees, will strike Nov. 15-17. This is the first strike by state civil servants in California’s history.

From a press release:

In the more than four decades that California state employees have collectively bargained their wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, none has ever gone on strike. 

Despite their important work, state scientists’ pay for nearly 20 years has lagged by 30% or more than the salaries paid to counterparts in similar state, local, and federal positions. Their wages have also fallen behind those of their supervisors and managers by a similar percentage. CAPS has been bargaining to close the gap for all that time, including the 39 months since its last Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) expired in mid-2020.

In August, CAPS members overwhelmingly authorized their bargaining team to call a strike after talks failed to produce an agreement that members would ratify. The union’s last contract expired July 1, 2020. CAPS continued to meet with the administration but eventually sought and won a declaration of impasse by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) because negotiations were deadlocked.  

The two sides met with the mediator on Nov. 8. After gauging the administration’s position, CAPS informed the state that union members would strike on Nov. 15 to send a clear signal to Newsom that his representatives must come to the next mediation session on Nov. 28 ready to move toward contract terms that value state scientists. The administration filed an Unfair Practice Claim (UPC) against CAPS in an attempt to stop the union from striking. As of today, PERB has not made a decision on the administration’s claim, so CAPS will strike as planned.

Defiance for Science will add to the list of struck worksites for picketing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day from Wednesday through Friday. Actions begin on Wednesday at the CalEPA Building at 1001 I St. in Sacramento and continue through Friday, when all State Scientists will walk off the job.

The union says it is trying to send a message to Governor Newsom.

“We’re tired of this administration’s delay tactics and woefully inadequate offers at the bargaining table,” said CAPS President Jacqueline Tkac. “We’re tired of the governor talking up California’s scientific approach to environmental policies while he fails to adequately compensate the scientists who inform and enforce those policies. But we’re energized like never before to exercise collective power to get a contract that values our members and their crucial work. We are energized to fight for the future of science in California.”

The state’s environmental scientists have long complained about their low wages compared to those with environmental engineering jobs. The pay is the same regardless of where the employees live, which means those in higher-cost areas are unable to make ends meet.

Read more about CAPS’ demands at the Sacramento Bee.