The State Worker

California state scientists win travel-reimbursement grievance

An arbitrator has ruled that the Brown administration improperly withheld higher meal and lodging reimbursement rates from state scientists that it began providing to other state workers last year.

Arbitrator Catherine Harris ordered the policy changed immediately and the scientists repaid for expenses covered out of pocket because of the state’s unequal reimbursement policy.

The dispute between the 3,000-member union and the state arose after higher travel reimbursement rates kicked in last fall as a provision of labor contracts other unions negotiated in 2013. But the scientists and two other unions that haven’t yet reached labor deals and continue working under the terms of their expired contracts. The Brown administration didn’t extend the higher reimbursements to those groups.

As a result, those employees have been receiving the former lodging reimbursement of $84 per night while other workers get between $90 and $150 per night for hotels, depending on location.

Meanwhile, hotels that do business with the state learned of the increase and hiked their rates accordingly. That meant employees who were reimbursed at the lower rate paid the difference out of pocket.

“The state is ordered to provide the increased meal and lodging reimbursements retroactive to the effective date of the increases in the [other] bargaining units,“ Harris wrote in the decision issued Thursday. The ruling applies only to members of California Association of Professional Scientists, said Chris Voight, the union’s executive director.

“It’s only fair,” said Voight said. He called the amount of money owed to members “a pittance, but for people on a budget and doing the state’s work, it’s meaningful.”

Click here to see more details about the higher meal and lodging reimbursement rates.

This link opens the scientists’ last contract. Scroll down to Section 6.1 on page 44 to see the former reimbursement rates.