CAPS member explains wage demands


This is a statement of what scientists at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have had to endure, and what some of their issues are.  Written by a  28 year employee for the State of California, and who has been through four recessions in state employ.  During previous recessions state workers had furloughs and pay reductions, but after previous recessions, they  received pay raises.   

From a State Scientist perspective, our current recession began in 1998 and continues to today.

PAY FREEZE

We are now on permanent “Austerity”.  Seriously, the last pay raise we received was a 5% in 1998, when Pete Wilson was Governor.  Since then we had a 12 year Pay freeze, followed by nearly 3 years of a 15% pay cut (August 20, 2010 to July 1, 2013).  A 15% pay cut in gross income works out to nearly 25% reduction in take home pay because the deductions we are responsible for (retirement contributions, healthcare premiums, etc.), are not similarly reduced, they are fixed costs.  A pay cut after 12 years of pay freeze caused extraordinary damage to our families.  Some have gone deep into debt to maintain a semblance of normalcy during a “temporary” pay cut, miscalculating the duration; others losing their homes.   (my understanding is over 30 State Employees committed suicide during the furlough).  Although our wages have been restored from the furlough, the 15 year pay freeze resulted in a 30% loss in purchasing power due to inflation over that time period (gasoline was 99 cents a gallon in 1998).  The “cost of living adjustment” they are offering us now in the current contract negotiations, will not keep us up with inflation (we will actually lose more money and go further behind) and certainly does not return us to where we once were.  Senior Environmental Scientists (like myself) are given what amounts to entry level pay (for recent 22 year old graduates) in any other organization here in the Los Angeles area.   Fourteen years ago when we had our first child, my wife took 6 months off of work to tend to the new child.  I was able to support the family on my pay check alone.  Now that my wife is still working part time, we are no better off than that 6 month period those many years ago.  There is no way we could ever do that again for a new child.    I am now in my Mid-50’s and have never felt so broke before in my life.

During the same 15 year time period, management got 4 double digit pay raises including a 10% raise the month before the 15% furloughs went into effect.  (in essence management got two additional paid vacation days while our salaries were slashed).  BOTH, the Secretary of Cal/EPA got a $32,000 (20%) and Director of DTSC got $16,000 (12%) pay raise in one shot, while our pay was frozen.   Over 1000 legislative Staff members have received 10% pay increases in 2012.  The justification given was these staffers had a 5 year pay freeze and their wages were “devastated”, so it was increased up to $180,000.    (Sacramento-itis)*

We Scientists were asked to sacrifice for the good of the State, but the people doing the asking had no intent in sharing in on the sacrifice as demonstrated above.  Sacrifice demands Reward.  Now that times are better, these same Sacramento managers are not sharing the rewards, and are keeping it all for themselves.  Sacramento management takes our sacrifices and heaps it in their already inflated paychecks.  The Los Angeles Branch chief (Civil Service) makes $30,000/yr LESS than the Sacramento Division Chief (CEA) that he reports to.  (Sacramento-itis)*

One of the great insults is the Needlessness of all this.   It was caused by the absence of planning and lack of sound management.  Which is easily demonstrated by the fact that DTSC alone, for example, hired over 250 new employees AFTER the furloughs began.   (I sent the entire list of 250 employees to my State representatives Toney Strickland and Jeff Gorell including the names, job title, hire date, and position number).  Think about this.  We had our work week reduced and our pay reduced – and so they hired more people to make up the difference.   (this type of insanity is locally known here as Sacramento-itis)*      Some articles I have read hinted that the furloughs actually cost the State money, but that is not something I can confirm.

State Offices in the Bay Area and Los Angeles are devastated by lack of employees. This includes our Environmental Control Laboratory which here in Los Angeles is run by a skeleton crew and we have to wait MONTHS to get our analytical data needed to prosecute polluters. (the same analysis which takes only a week in a private lab).

LIKE PAY FOR LIKE WORK

In the past, we Hazardous Materials Specialists (our former classification) and Waste Management Engineers were paid within $50 dollars per month of each other.  At DTSC the positions were and are still interchangeable, doing the same work in the same units.   Scientists supervising engineers, and engineers supervising scientists.  The engineer’s union, the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG), gave Governor Gray Davis a sizable campaign contribution and received in return massive pay raises for State Engineers.   Currently the engineers at DTSC make $2,000 – $3000 a month more to do the same job at the same level, than scientists.   In fact one Supervising Environmental Scientist here at DTSC took a demotion to entry level engineer for a $2,000 per month pay increase after he discovered people he was supervising made a whole lot more money!

I myself was a Cleanup Project Manager for State Superfund site cleanups for 10 years and reviewed all sorts of  plans (pump and treat systems, groundwater monitoring well systems, Remedial Investigations, Removal Action Workplans) all fundamentally engineering work.  DTSC is attempting to change this situation by hiring more engineers at the higher rate!   (Sacramento-itis)

In defense of the Engineers, they just kept up with inflation and are on par with other agencies pay (federal, county, City, private)

GEOGRAPHIC PAY

The State of California is 829 miles long and 350 miles wide.  If tilted on its side, and Salmon Harbor, California superposed over Atlantic City, New Jersey, the other end of California would extend across the Mississippi River.  And yet over that entire distance there is only one pay scale for all state scientists. It doesn’t matter where you live in California the State pay is the same.  Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco or Modoc!   No one would expect the pay scale to be the same in New York City as Cape Girardeau, Missouri, (or Bugtussle, Tennessee for that matter) but that is the type of insane disparity we see here in California.

The cost of living disparity is well known by Sacramento managers, who award themselves 50% more per diem while traveling to High Cost Coastal areas.  (I get $84 per night when I visit Sacramento, they get $110 a night to visit me and $140 a night to visit our bay area office).  The high cost areas (six counties) are already identified in the State Travel Manual to pay Sacramento Managers more, as they  are always sure to get theirs at the cost of everyone else. (Sacramento-itis) It is said that here in Los Angeles, a person needs to gross $65,000 per year just to pay the rent, after all the taxes and deductions.  With the 65,002nd dollar you can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  Our scientist were making far less than that, necessitating two income families.

The county of Los Angeles pays their employees at my classification 50% more.   The main difference is that I do higher level work, and act as the consultant for the local agencies.   There was a time long ago when I was paid more than the County Employees.   The US EPA pays their employees at my level 20% more at the LA Office.

A 2% cost of living adjustment may zero out Sacramento staff, but leaves Coastal County State employees still $200 month short on paying the INCREASE of monthly rent.  This is an additive effect which is why State employees working in coastal counties after 10 years earn $2,000 / month less than the local agencies pay and can no longer pay the rent.  That is how we got into this mess.  State Scientists in Coastal Counties at this rate may soon be making hamburger flipping pay (we are now paid no more than high school dropouts driving trucks).

Since over half of State Employees live and work in Sacramento, only a small subset of State employees would get the geographic based increase, only effecting employees stationed in six of California’s 58 counties.    There is already precedence for geographic pay differentials for Environmental Scientists, as a friend of mine, an Administrative Law Judge in Los Angeles receives a geographic differential, as do judges in San Francisco.

THIS WILL HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE, SO MAY AS WELL BE NOW!

HAZARD PAY

We are not asking for a long overdue pay raise solely because we are nice people.  We do dangerous work.   Workers at no other State agency are exposed to the wide variety of dangers, nor the deadliness of dangers that DTSC staff are routinely exposed to.   DTSC staff have suffered on the job: broken bones, heat stroke, chemical exposures requiring monthly monitoring, hospitalization, sterilization, and even one death (heat related).   Not to mention the latent effects of cancer not yet appearing.  We have even had guns pointed at us upon occasion.

DTSC is the only environmental organization which does not have some form of Hazard Pay.  Hazard pay is a form of compensation granted to those staff members who have been delegated work assignments where exposures to dangerous conditions or chemicals are possible or probable.  Hazard Pay is above and beyond the compensation of other employees in the same pay grades who are not asked to leave the office.  Other environmental organizations, most notably the US EPA, and the County Haz-Mat teams doing comparable work receive some type of hazard pay.  Typical compensation is 25% per hour of event (fire, explosion, chemical release) and 5% per month “Environmental Differential Pay” for field staff.

Not all DTSC Environmental Scientists routinely leave the office for field work where chemical or physical hazards may be encountered. Environmental Scientists in other agencies may never leave the office period.  While out on inspection, we never know what we may encounter when we turn a corner.  During surprise enhanced surveillance inspections at one facility, we were caught unexpectedly and unprotected in a toxic dust cloud only once in six inspections.  A monthly Environmental Differential Pay, compensates for this uncertainty.

Chemical exposures are difficult to measure.  DTSC field staff are routinely sent to facilities which the chemical species, number of species and volumes are not known.  Unlike a worker who works at a fixed facility with known chemicals, and familiar with the symptoms of exposure, DTSC staff are sent to a myriad of facilities, or contaminated properties where the species of chemicals are not known.   The electronic measuring devices we use are only accurate for that single chemical it is calibrated for.  Often is the time, there is no corresponding number on the meter for that smell our nostrils detect.   Certain chemicals are known as accelerators, meaning they do not cause cancer of and by themselves, but rather act as catalysts with other chemicals to cause harm.  The study of the effects of interactions of different combinations of chemicals is an emerging science and is not fully understood.

The DTSC employees undergo annual bio-monitoring.  However the DTSC bio-monitoring, cannot detect the existence of cancer in employees.  It monitors basic body functions primarily to check to see if an employee is physically capable to wear chemical protective suit ensembles and respiratory protection gear.   Cancer is detected only when things are going really wrong and physical symptoms occur.

When cancer is detected in a DTSC employee, it is not automatically assigned to job duties (unlike police officers or fire fighters which is automatically presumed to be job related illnesses).    DTSC employees are left to their own devices to care for their protracted illnesses.  Monitoring of DTSC employees end when they separate from state service, so there is no way to gather statistics as to how many inspectors contract cancers or the years of lifespan cut short.   Nor are we or our families compensated for the years of lifespan cut short and the resultant loss of income.

Only a small subset of employees would be eligible for Hazard pay, so it is not a big cost item.

WHY DO WE NOT LEAVE?

In the Los Angeles Office, 75% of the DTSC employees are in their 50’s.  (we can’t attract younger employees even in a recession).  We invested our whole careers and whole lives in State Service.   If we were to leave now, we would forfeit the pension that we invested 25 years.   This is the point in our careers where we actually earn our pensions.  (we earn 75% of our pensions in our last 10 years of service – age 55 to 65).   It is a Faustian choice.  Can’t afford to stay, and can’t afford to leave.  Eat now or Eat later!

GREATEST OF INSULTS TO STATE SCIENTISTS:

THE STATE IS SQUANDERING $100 BILLION TO BUILD A TRAIN TO NOWHERE, AND ANOTHER $20 BILLION DIGGING A CANAL UNDER THE SACRAMENTO RIVER, to become Governor Brown’s Legacy projects to shore up his Wikipedia Bio, while at the same time they tell us with a straight face they have no money to give us a reasonable cost of living adjustment after a 15 year pay freeze.    (as if we State Scientist can’t do math!)     (Sacramento-itis)

Sacramento-itis, def: an irrational psychotic confusion caused by close proximity to the political seat of power, where the flow of easy money and incessant clamoring of special interests, combined with the volatile mixture of unproven political theory and political expediency replaces common sense, invariably resulting in loss of moral and ethical judgment.   The two most obvious characteristics of this mental disorder are:  1)  the inability to grasp the simplest of concepts,  2)  stating with the utmost sincerity the most blatantly and verifiably absurd falsehoods.    Sacramento-itis is not confined to the elected politicians but may afflict (and usually does) every manager above the civil service classifications,   commonly known as Career Executive Appointment (CEA).

 

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About Mad Scientist

Member of California Association of Professional Scientists
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