The State Worker

If Jerry Brown wants a satellite, these state scientists want a raise

Jerry Brown: ‘California will launch its own damn satellite’ if Trump stops climate data collection

Gov. Jerry Brown promised California would continue to vigorously pursue climate science the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. Video courtesy of American Geophysical Union
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Gov. Jerry Brown promised California would continue to vigorously pursue climate science the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. Video courtesy of American Geophysical Union

Gov. Jerry Brown gave California scientists a big hug when they needed one a few weeks after President Donald Trump’s election.

Back then, many of them worried that the new administration would make their jobs more difficult by restricting government-created climate data. Brown assured state scientists that they had his support when he a spoke to a conference in San Francisco.

“And, if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” Brown said. “We’re going to collect that data.

A year and a half later, the state’s scientists want to see if that affection will translate into one last raise from the outgoing governor.

The California Association of Professional Scientists, with about 3,400 members, is one of four unions negotiating new contracts this year. Brown signed a contract for the scientists in 2016 that gave them a combined raise of 15 percent over three years.

The union didn't like the contract at first. It rejected the offer in 2015 and accepted the agreement a year later.

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Now, even with the significant raises, state salary surveys show that total compensation for most California government scientists still lags far behind their peers in the private sector and in the federal government.

In the biggest job category, environmental scientists, compensation is 11.7 percent below market, according to a 2016 report by the state Human Resources Department.

“We’re still behind in pay. Yes. We’re doing important work and hopefully the governor will acknowledge it,” said Patty Velez, the union’s president.

In 2016, state environmental scientists earned average wages of $73,464 and their average total compensation was $120,312. Their federal counterparts earned average wages of $100,716 and collected $151,500 in total compensation.

Local government wages were closer to what the state offers, according to the Cal HR survey.

The union began laying the groundwork for its bargaining a year ago with a promotional campaign that aimed to make Californians more familiar with the work done by scientists in civil service, from the Air Resources Board to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Now CAPS is airing TV and radio ads that highlight the gap in wages between most state scientists and federal scientists. One scene plays on the perception among Democrats that the Trump administration is hostile to science.

A scientist in a white coat lifts up a photo of the White House and says, “Right now, these guys treat their scientists better than the state does, and we all know how these guys feel about scientists.”

The Trump administration did not restrict access to government-created climate data as some scientists feared. It has changed the way government websites present information about climate change, however, and backed out of the pact to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions known as the Paris climate agreement.

Brown, by contrast, since Trump's election has championed climate science in national television interviews and during well-publicized international meetings.

The scientist union is "certainly with the governor when it comes to science, the way he stood up to the federal government, where he is on climate change," said Jon Ortiz, research director for union's lobbying firm, Blanning and Baker. "They’re with him on the science. They wish he would join them in valuing scientists just as much."

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