The State Worker

Unhappy California state scientists plan pay protest

Daniel Lubin, left, an environmental scientist for the State Parks and Scott Tidball, a seasonal biologist, determine a wetland boundary near Lake Tahoe.
Daniel Lubin, left, an environmental scientist for the State Parks and Scott Tidball, a seasonal biologist, determine a wetland boundary near Lake Tahoe.

Fed up over wages well below market and what they say is salary-sparked turnover in their ranks, a group of California state scientists is planning something unusual for state workers in professional classifications: a rally to air grievances.

While some unions regularly gather on the statehouse grounds to protest and promote, it’s unusual for scientists, attorneys and engineers to engage in such tactics. Indeed, the event planned for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 isn’t sanctioned by the scientist’s union, California Association of Professional Scientists.

But with the Brown administration offering just a modest pay raise in contract talks instead of something closer to what similar positions earn in local and federal governments or in the private sector, the displeasure in the scientists ranks has been mounting.

“I don’t know if I should say this,” said Rita Hypnarowski, a senior environmental scientist at Cal EPA who is organizing the rally at CalHR headquarters at 16th and S streets, “but I’m upset with my union.”

CAPS spokesman Ryan Endean said that although the rally is not formally backed by the organization, “it speaks to the level of frustration among state scientists. They're fed up after years of having the salary equity issue ignored. They're looking for ways to have their voices heard.”

The union has long sought larger pay raises to close a considerable salary gap with the private sector an state, local and federal government workers who perform similar work. Last summer the rank and file rejected a contract with a modest raise and then ratified a deal with less money but a much shorter term.

Union leaders promised that taking the deal would quickly restart talks with the Brown administration and lead to substantial pay increases after the 2014 election.

That hasn’t materialized at the bargaining table, however. If a deal isn’t done and cleared with the Legislature before Sept. 11, the scientists face the prospect of a long winter with no pay raise at all.

We’re tired of being let down and screwed.

Rita Hypnarowski, Cal EPA senior environmental scientist, on the state’s failure to significantly increase wages.

Hypnarowski said uncompetitive pay has turned the state into a farm team for other employers, which in turn increases the workload for scientists who remain, damages their morale and impacts the work they do.

“The state has lost millions of dollars training us,” she said, “and then they watch us leave.”

The rally has been promoted via email and flyers, Hypnarowski said, and expects “250 to 300” employees to come out, including some scientists who have committed to come from the Bay Area and Bakersfield region.

“We’re tired of being let down and screwed,” she said.

Editor’s note, Aug. 31: This post has been changed to reflect the change in the rally’s location.