Legislators ask Gavin Newsom to give California scientists a contract addressing pay parity

California legislators are backing another state worker union in the hopes that Gov. Gavin Newsom will swiftly deliver them a new contract.

Assemblywoman Tina McKinnor, an Inglewood Democrat, authored a letter that calls on Newsom to provide a contract that delivers pay parity for state scientists. Fifty additional lawmakers, including Sacramento Democrats Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and Sen. Angelique Ashby, signed onto the letter in support.

The roughly 4,000 scientists represented by the California Association of Professional Scientists have spent nearly three years bargaining over a contract that they say should include raises of up to 43%. Those pay bumps would address long-standing salary disparities both within the scientists’ bargaining unit and between themselves and the state engineers.

Earlier this year, CAPS rejected a proposal that fell far short of those numbers. Some members even called the offer “pitiful.”

“We recognize that it’s beyond time for us to get these people some better salaries,” McKinnor said. “I wanted to make sure that I reached out and let the governor know that we’re concerned and that we support them.”

State scientists oversee a wide variety of public duties, such as ensuring food safety, protecting air and water from pollution and stewarding the state’s natural resources. McKinnor’s letter argued that without competitive wages, California won’t be able to retain highly qualified scientists to perform these critical functions. McKinnor cites state data that found new scientists generally leave state service after five years — about the minimum amount of time it takes to develop expertise in a particular field.

“This will hurt California, as the projects and policies that are overseen by State Scientists are unable to keep up with the turnover rate,” the letter read.

McCarty signed the letter because many state scientists call his district home, he said, and they deserve to be fairly compensated.

“We’ve asked a lot from them during the pandemic to keep California going, and we need to do right by them,” he said. “They’re not trying to get rich — they’re public servants.”

Jacqueline Tkac, chair of the CAPS bargaining team, was using sticky notes to mark the days since the union submitted its economic proposal to the state in May. She stopped counting this week after 105 notes overwhelmed her desk.

“I feel really inspired by how many signatures we were able to gather,” said Tkac of the letter. “It definitely boosts morale at the bargaining table.”

For Tkac, a victory at the bargaining table looks like the state acknowledging the salary disparities and laying out a solution to fix them — nothing less.

If we accept anything less than equal pay, who wins here?” she said. “It’s up to us to stand up to the state until they provide equal pay for equal work.”

McKinnor, who chairs the Assembly committee on Public Employment and Retirement, is also carrying a bill that would commission a study of the salary structure within the scientists’ bargaining unit. AB 1677 is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s suspense file awaiting judgment next week.