The State Worker

Why some state workers are balking at consecutive 5 percent raises

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

There’s a chance that the union representing California state scientists will turn down a contract proposal that would net its members 5 percent annual wage increases for a fourth and fifth consecutive year.

The offer from Gov. Jerry Brown probably sounds generous to most taxpayers, but members of the California Association of Professional Scientists have turned down similar proposals.

In 2015, for instance, they walked away from a contract that offered them a 15 percent wage increase over three years. They later accepted the deal.

Some scientists say the new offer isn’t good enough because their wages remain far below their counterparts in the private sector and in the federal government.

“If you want to get my attention, offer 15 percent a year for three years in a row and then we might actually be getting somewhere,” one scientist wrote on The Bee’s State Worker Facebook group.

Another had some four-letter words to describe the contract on Twitter, and a couple of others shared more measured criticism by email.

Union leaders are aware of that feeling among workers, but they wanted to put the proposal to a vote.

A 2016 salary survey pegged the state’s compensation for environmental scientists at 34 percent below what their peers can earn in the private sector and 26 percent below what they can make working for the federal government.

At the time of the survey, average wages for state scientists were about $73,000 a year.

That doesn’t go unnoticed,” CAPS President Patty Velez told The Bee earlier this year. “They’re very aware of that lag, and (the state human resources department) is very aware of that lag.”

It’s rare for government workers to net a general wage increase greater than 5 percent, but it has happened. In 2014, Brown cut checks for a 2008 lawsuit that ordered state government to increase pay for scientist supervisors. When the money finally came, some of the managers took 42 percent wage increases.

The salary survey and the memories of the big raises that went to bosses remain fresh in the memories of state government’s underpaid scientists.

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CAPS represents about 3,400 workers. The Brown administration estimates the contract would cost about $63.5 million over three years if it’s approved.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office on Tuesday released its assessment of the contract, finding that it probably will cost at least another $10 million if the raises are offered to supervisors.

Analyst Nick Schroeder wrote that it wasn’t clear yet whether the series of raises scientists have received made much of a dent in the gap the 2016 salary survey identified.

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