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California state scientists begin strike authorization vote as contract talks continue

The union representing California state scientists will vote on whether they want to authorize a strike, should the state and the union reach an impasse at the table. The vote marks an escalation of a nearly three-year contract fight that saw scientists reject an offer from the state earlier this year.

The California Association of Professional Scientists, which represents roughly 5,300 rank-and-file and managerial level scientists in state government, announced its strike authorization vote Tuesday after the board of directors unanimously approved it over the weekend.

The scientists are seeking raises of 30% to 40% to address what they say are longtime pay disparities within their unit and between their counterparts in engineering positions. The union argues that its members are performing similar work to the engineers yet receive significantly less pay.

“The CAPS Board of Directors and CAPS Bargaining Team urge all CAPS members to vote YES to authorize a strike,” the union wrote in its update to members. Bargaining team chair Jacqueline Tkac did not immediately respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment.

The authorization vote does not mean that the union is calling for a strike. Instead, the vote would give the union authority to initiate a work stoppage if the union and the state can’t come to an agreement at the table and declare an impasse. Only CAPS members can participate in the authorization vote, which began Tuesday and will continue through 8 a.m. Friday. Nonmembers who wish to vote must sign up for membership before Thursday, according to the union update.

More than 50 legislators signed on to a letter of support last week calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Human Resources to quickly reach a deal with CAPS. The letter was spearheaded by Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, D-Inglewood, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Employment and Retirement committee.

McKinnor is also carrying a bill, AB 1677, that would commission the UC Berkeley Labor Center to conduct a salary study of the scientists’ bargaining unit. That bill is currently on the Senate Appropriations suspense file, where bills are screened for their potential fiscal impact. Frequently, lawmakers use the suspense file as a tool to kill or quietly amend bills before sending them to the floor.