Hundreds of scientists working in the state of California to protect water supplies, respond to oil spills, study wildlife and track foodborne outbreaks marched in Sacramento today in what is being called the first ever strike by civil servants in the state.
Today is the first day of a three-day “Defiance for Science” rolling strike by more than 4,000 rank-and-file state scientists, who seek to close pay gaps with their counterparts at local, federal and other parts of the state government.
“This is something that needs to happen. And it’s sad that the state has put us in this position,” recently elected union president Jacqueline Tkac, 29, a state scientist who works on water quality on the Central Coast, said to the din of those sing and rattle. “We want equal pay for equal work.”
Many of the workers picketing the headquarters of the California Environmental Protection Agency carried signs reminding Californians of what they do behind the scenes: “I’m a scientist and I give you safe food,” read one. “No science? No salmon!” Others called on the Newsom administration to “Smash the sexist gender pay gap!”
The strike comes after more than three years of negotiations between the California Department of Human Resources and the California Association of Professional Scientists union, which represents about 5,600 scientists in the state, including about 4,600 subject to collective bargaining. , according to union spokesman Jon Ortiz. Their contract expired in 2020.
Last week, the California Department of Human Resources filed an Unfair Practice Charge with the Public Employment Relations Board, seeking to end the strike, according to a document shared with CalMatters.
“These pranks constitute an illegal pressure tactic,” the human resources department said in the indictment, calling the strike unlawful “because the evidence shows that it was in fact an economic strike for with the sole purpose of putting undue pressure on the state at the bargaining table.”
The governor’s office referred CalMatters questions to the human resources department. Camille Travis, the department’s deputy communications director, said the state will continue to negotiate in good faith and work with the union to reach a fair agreement.
He said the state “has taken steps to ensure that public services continue with as little disruption as possible” during the strike.
“The state views the strike activity with dismay,” Travis said. “(The union) asked for mediation and then called for a three-day rolling strike before the mediation ended.”
In 2020, the members of the cabinet of Gov. Gavin Newsom the human resources agency that scientists in their agencies are severely underpaid. Environmental scientists, in particular, earned less than the market average that year, although other positions earned more.
One of the union’s major concerns is that scientists are inferior to engineers, even though they both require specialized skills and education and sometimes do similar work.
Full-time, rank-and-file state scientists earned an average of $83,586 in 2020, 27% less than state engineers, who earned an average of $114,012, according to one assessment. in the state published last year. About half of the state’s scientists are women, while more than three-quarters of the state’s engineers are men. (No other gender options are included in the state data.)
In the strike, scientists working for state water agencies, the public health department, pesticide regulators and many others described the economic pressures they face in their daily lives. .
The president of the union, Tkac, broke down in tears when he said that he had to ask his girlfriend for help to buy a plane ticket to visit his father who has cancer.
“I’m 29 years old, I think I’m over that. And it’s embarrassing,” he said.
Christina Burdi, who assesses how water use in California affects vulnerable species and ecosystems, works as a dog walker on the side so she can afford to live in Sacramento.
A state scientist who asked not to be named because she worries about retaliation said on her current salary, she can’t afford childcare for her children while she juggles parenting and working. for state pesticide regulators, despite his PhD. She also said the lack of a fully paid family leave program meant she returned to work part-time on a Monday, after giving birth on Friday.
Kaylynn Newhart, an environmental scientist who has worked for the state for more than 30 years and hopes to retire soon, said she lives paycheck-to-paycheck and doubts she will be able to stay in California after she retires.
“It’s really made it impossible to have that ‘American dream,'” said Newhart, who monitors the water for pesticide contamination.
Many said they were worried about the three days without pay during the strike because according to Ortiz, they could not use vacation time or sick leave.
“We’re worried about what we’re going to buy for groceries,” said Brandon Adcock, who investigates foodborne illness outbreaks and contamination at a state agency.
Others carried children on shoulders or pushed them to sleep in strollers while marching workers chanted: “Lead with science, it’s not too late!”