A chill in the air, the threat of rain and even an unfair practice charge couldn’t stop California state scientists from going on strike in downtown Sacramento.
In a historic first for a state civil service union, the California Association of Professional Scientists on Wednesday walked off the job and onto the picket line. No state worker union has carried out a strike since civil servants first won collective bargaining rights through the 1977 Ralph C. Dills Act.
“Nobody wants to be on strike, and nobody wants to be the first,” said CAPS president Jacqueline Tkac. “But it feels really inspiring to know that we have people that are so fired up about our situation that they’re willing to go out on strike for the first time and take that risk.”
By mid-morning Wednesday, approximately a thousand people were circling the block around the California Environmental Protection Agency building at 10th and L streets in Sacramento. The strikers carried signs that bore phrases such as, “Pay equity now,” “If science loses, we all lose” and “Defiance 4 science.”
The scientists are fighting for a contract that closes what they say are double-digit pay disparities between scientists and engineers, as well as between rank-and-file workers and their supervisors.
The last CAPS contract expired more than three years ago, in July 2020. Since then, the union has been bargaining with CalHR for a new deal and, in the meantime, the scientists haven’t netted any new annual salary adjustments.
The parties reached a tentative agreement at the beginning of this year, but CAPS membership rejected it. Over the summer, CAPS tried to drum up support through rallies, pickets, letters to the governor and even legislation. CAPS and CalHR hit impasse in September and met with the state in mediation on Nov. 8. Their next session is scheduled for Nov. 28.
The three-day rolling strike will spread to more worksites Thursday, and by Friday state scientists all across California should be on the picket lines.
“We’re hoping that us withholding our labor and using our collective strength will send (CalHR) the message that we’re not going to tolerate unfair pay and unfair treatment any longer,” Tkac said.
CalHR filed an unfair practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board late last week. The department argued that because mediation procedures had not yet been exhausted, the no-strike clause from CAPS’ previous contract was still in effect, and the scientists’ strike would be unlawful.
Still, CAPS lawyers told the bargaining team that because PERB had not ruled on the matter yet, they could still plan on staging their three-day action.
Several workers said cost of living and pay equity were the issues that brought them out to strike.
Forrest Hansen, an environmental scientist with the Department of Water Resources, carried a steaming bowl of chili in one hand and a sign that read, “Governor Newsom’s House = $3.7 million. My House = $Can’t afford one.”
“It’s important for future scientists to be able to afford to do this job so we get good people going into this field,” Hansen said.