Gov. Jerry Brown supported the principle of equal pay for similar work by signing the stronger equal pay law for women and was in Paris last month promoting our state’s initiatives addressing climate change.
Now, he should follow his lofty words about California as a national leader in economic equity and environmental stewardship by acting on pay parity for all state scientists. At stake is the future of the state’s merit-based civil service system and the scientific infrastructure to sustain California’s public health, environmental protection and economic growth.
Workers represented by the California Association of Professional Scientists earn about 40 percent less than scientists in comparable local and federal government jobs and those represented by the state engineers’ union.
In 2003, the Professional Engineers in California Government negotiated a labor contract with the state establishing pay parity with local agencies. The salaries of its members – engineers, air pollution specialists, geologists and other technical staff – increased about 50 percent.
Gov. Brown has refused to close this salary gap, which has grown from 5 percent in 2003 to the current 40 percent chasm. This imbalance damages morale at state agencies such as Cal EPA where members of the scientists’ and engineers’ unions do work of similar complexity, often on the same projects. For example, engineers’ union members measuring air pollutants earn much more than scientists’ union members using similar instruments and analytical methods to test soil or water for the same contaminants.
In some cases, engineers reported to scientist supervisors paid substantially less. The scientists’ union sued and won over that disparity, arguing that the “like pay, like work” clause in the state Constitution required scientist supervisors be paid comparably to engineer supervisors. The state took six years to act on the court’s decision, but in 2014, most scientist supervisors received raises of up to 43 percent. The “like pay, like work” provision, however, was not applied to rank-and-file scientists.
Union members approved a one-year contract in 2014 only because the state Department of Human Resources promised a comprehensive review of scientist classifications and pay. The state reneged on this promise. Its 2015 offer did little to close the pay gap, while imposing new deductions for retiree health care. It was rejected by 72 percent of union members. Negotiations, which will resume this week, haven’t made progress.
State scientists shared the pain during the recession when the state budget was in crisis. Along with other state workers, we accepted unpaid furloughs and paid more toward pensions and health care. Benefits were reduced for new hires. Recruitment and retention of qualified scientists is more difficult now as salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living in California.
State scientists understand that Californians want an efficient, frugal government. But residents also value the work we do to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals, ensure safe food and water, conserve natural resources and prevent disease.
So, too, should Gov. Brown.
Martin Snider is a research scientist with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control in Berkeley and a member of California Association of Professional Scientists. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.