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The Almighty Buck Science Politics

Scientist Union's Talks Stall Over Pay 80

HughPickens.com writes: The Sacramento Bee reports that the labor contract between California's state government and the 2,800 employees represented by the California Association of Professional Scientists expired this week, spotlighting yet again the long-running feud over whether the tiny union's members should earn as much as their peers in federal and local governments and private industry. "It's a challenge to keep people motivated," says Rita Hypnarowski. "We talk about retaining the best and the brightest, but I can see that's not going to happen." A recent survey by the Brown administration found that the total compensation for half of state-employed chemists is less than $8,985 per month ($5,715 in salary, plus $3,270 in benefit costs). That's 33 percent less than the median total compensation for federal chemists, nearly 13 percent less than the midpoint for local-government chemists and almost 6 percent below the private sector.

Members of the union perform a wide variety of tasks, everything from fighting food-borne illnesses to mopping up the Refugio State Beach oil spill. For example, Cassandra McQuaid left a job last year at the Department of Public Health's state-of-the-art Richmond laboratories where she tracked foodborne illnesses. It's the kind of vital, behind-the-scenes work that goes unnoticed until an E. coli outbreak makes headlines and local health officials need a crack team of scientists to unravel how it happened. "It really came down to money," says McQuaid. "I just couldn't live in the Bay Area on a state salary."
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Scientist Union's Talks Stall Over Pay

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  • If you work for the state, where do you HAVE to live in the bay area? Shouldn't the state alleviate the issue by having offices for these people in other, less expensive, areas of the state? You could attract a lot of people at a lower salary using quality of life as an attraction if you locate somewhere outside the major cities... there's a lot of California and all of it is not as expensive as the bay area.

    • In fact a lot of the state jobs are in Sacramento, the capitol, which is a very affordable area. Not sure why they can't move these jobs there. Perhaps the problem is that the top talent would rather live in the bay area so they have to hire there.

    • If only California could move its capital to a cheaper location like Sacramento, that would solve all its problems.

      • How pithy. So explain the very quote from the article then complaining about housing pricing IN THE BAY AREA. It's obvious the scientists jobs are NOT IN SACRAMENTO or there would not be a problem, capiche?

  • In 10 occupations, the state’s total compensation was at or above the market. In four occupations, the state’s total compensation was below the market.

    So California needs to cut (or not change) the compensation of ten occupations and increase it for four. Seems reasonable.

  • From the summary

    nearly 13 percent less than the midpoint for local-government chemists and almost 6 percent below the private sector

    .

    So, while this particular group is complaining that they are relatively underpaid, it seems,on average, government employees are overpaid.

    Let them train some H1-B visa holders to replace themselves and help get the government average down to the private sector average.

    • Yeah, this is really the amazing thing in science. There are a few high paying private sector jobs, but the best early-to-mid career positions are in the government.

      When I worked in government, there was no understanding that while it was necessary to pay early career engineers well, there was no need to offer high salaries to scientists to recruit good people. The lab I worked at paid engineers and scientists on the same scale, which was great (for me, a physicist).

      Retaining scientists is a different mat

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "So, while this particular group is complaining that they are relatively underpaid, it seems,on average, government employees are overpaid. "

      No. Private sector scientists are woefully underpaid for their skills and contributions. I've worked alongside chemists and biologists for the last 15 years. Staff Scientists (the equivalent of a career software developer, whatever they're calling themselves these days) typically make $60-80k in the private sector. These are people with advanced degrees (lab techs, tho

  • Newsflash!

    Scientists strike! They say "No working science until they're paid better!"

    In other news!

    *BOOM!*

  • Am I reading this right? That private sector chemists are paid less than government sector chemists?
    • "...and almost 6 percent below the private sector." How does 6% less come out to being paid more than the private sector?
      • You're right. It's just local government and federal government-level chemists that are paid more than private sector.
        • To make sense of this, you need to figure out what the real job mix is. "Chemist" covers a lot of things. In some fields, the Feds tend to contract out the lower-level jobs, and keep the higher-paid people on the payroll. If Fed chemists pretty much all have ten years of experience, then they could make less than their private sector counterparts while Federal chemists as a whole made more than the average.

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