The State Worker

Jerry Brown and California state scientists reach tentative labor agreement

Daniel Lubin, left, an environmental scientist for the State Parks and Scott Tidball, a seasonal biologist, look at the soil near Lake Tahoe determine a wetland boundary. Their union is considering a new contract offer from the Brown administration.
Daniel Lubin, left, an environmental scientist for the State Parks and Scott Tidball, a seasonal biologist, look at the soil near Lake Tahoe determine a wetland boundary. Their union is considering a new contract offer from the Brown administration. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The rowdy state scientists’ union reached a tentative agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown late Wednesday that provides a total 15 percent in raises but requires they pay new retiree medical-care contributions. The twist: It’s exactly the same deal that the rank and file rejected last year.

If ratified this time, the three-year contract would give the unions’ members a 5 percent bump on each July 1 through 2018, when it expires. It also mandates employees start paying an incrementally-increasing percentage of salary into a retiree health-care fund starting in 2017. That percentage would top out at 2.8 percent of pay in 2019.

State law would keep the 2019 retiree health contribution in effect even if the scientists don’t have a new agreement by that time. The state would match employees’ contributions into the retiree health fund.

It is a take it or leave it offer. We feel like we should take it.

Scott Bauer, bargaining team chair for the California Association of Professional Scientists

Scott Bauer, bargaining team chair for the California Association of Professional Scientists, characterized the do-over agreement as the best that the Brown would offer. Administration officials refused to spend any more than $53 million the governor has allotted for boosting scientists’ pay, he said. The union represents nearly 3,000 scientists who work throughout California’s vast state bureaucracy.

“It is a take it or leave it offer,” Bauer said. “We feel like we should take it.”

Jim Zamora, spokesman for Brown’s Department of Human Resources, said the administration would not comment.

When the same agreement went to members last October, three-quarters of ballots cast rejected it, according to the union. The vote underscored the dissatisfaction of state scientists who have long complained about earning 70 percent or less of pay for similar state, local and federal government jobs.

That first contract also insulted members who believed their negotiated pay increases should be more in line with the raises of up to 42 percent that Brown authorized for the state’s non-union scientist supervisors in 2014. The hefty salary hikes settled a pay-parity lawsuit against the state. The union took it as a sign that their members would be next in line.

Before and after rejecting Brown’s first 15-percent offer last fall, he union staged rallies at the state’s Human Resources headquarters, organized email campaigns and shuffled its bargaining team to put a harder edge on negotiations.

None of it worked. After negotiating for several days in a windowless downtown Sacramento room, Bauer said, the bargaining team unanimously voted to forward the do-over tentative agreement to members.

Other unions have started talks with Brown, including the massive SEIU Local 1000, Bauer noted, and his group concluded that they would soon be pushed aside. If that happened, their members would continue to work under terms of a contract that expired last summer – and its lower pay scales.

“We do hope our members ratify it,” Bauer said. “Getting people some money in their pockets is important.”

Asked whether the agreement, even if ratified, might prod some members to retire or leave for better-paying jobs, Bauer said, “I don’t know, to be honest with you. I hope not.”

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