FLSA fiasco

FLSA fiasco

On Dec 1st (today), the threshold at which salaried workers receive overtime payment for working more than 40 hours per week was due to increase from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, under updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), affecting all postdoctoral researchers in a non-primarily teaching role regardless of visa or fellowship status.


We had been keeping track of how institutions were implementing the update in our FLSA and postdocs resource and started releasing analyses of the data from late October (see this blogpost in Addgene), published a paper with one month to go at F1000Research, and most recently with 10 days ago, we presented a summary of the latest timepoint in our information-gathering efforts. At the last timepoint, 220 out of 341 institutions with postdocs had no decision on what they were doing available for us to report. However, 69% of the estimated postdoctoral workforce was due to see a salary raise. Some postdocs may have been due to receive a raise depending on their department/PI; and some institutions were moving postdocs over to non-exempt status by giving them timesheets and asking them to track hours.


On November 22nd an injunction was granted to the updates that applied nationwide. We issued a statement that included a recommendation that institutions follow the example of the National Institutes of Health and their NRSA stipends, and continue to raise postdoctoral salaries as they had planned. We have since been gathering information on institutional responses in the tab on the FLSA and postdocs resource, “How institutional plans have/have not changed since the injunction.”


When we began the FLSA and postdocs resource, we anticipated that there might be some information still missing on December 1st. What we did not anticipate was the chaos that exists as of this morning. Keeping track of what institutions are doing has been frustrated by the fact that several institutions who had declared they were maintaining their plans to raise salaries have, this morning, reversed that decision. Some institutions, like the University of Minnesota, who had such an excellent rationale for why they were raising salaries in the first place, appeared to reverse that decision, but have now talked in the press about how they are raising postdoc salaries, but have apparently not informed postdocs of this, and so we, like their postdocs, have no clear idea of what is happening (a request for confirmation of their plans had not been answered at time of writing). We have ended up informing many postdocs – and, indeed, faculty – of what is happening at their institution before their own institution does. Some institutions are claiming that the injunction stops them from implementing the FLSA plans, which is not the case. One institution we have contacted does not even seem to be aware of the injunction. More stories of this nature can also be found at Drugmonkey’s blog in the comments section.


Postdocs are an essential part of the academic enterprise. However, it is perhaps becoming clear the value that many institutions place on the postdoctoral position. As discussed in more detail in our paper, institutional opposition to postdocs being included in this ruling was clear and coordinated from the outset, despite recommendations across a wide consensus in academia for many years that postdoctoral salaries should be raised. When the salary threshold was not lowered below the NRSA stipend levels (which would still have meant a raise for many postdocs) and postdocs were not exempted from the ruling, it seemed clear that the Department of Labor was not in agreement with institutions that postdocs should be exempted, and that their inclusion was within the spirit of this ruling.


As the date for implementation approached, it seemed likely that even if the injunction were granted, it would be too late, and against the spirit of improving the postdoctoral position to cancel salary raises. This assumption has turned out to be quite wrong. It has been striking to see that even on the date of planned implementation, institutions are delaying or cancelling their plans.


Ironically, some of the postdocs who were most protected from the injunction tended to be at institutions were postdocs had taken matters into their own hands. At the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, postdocs had previously successfully advocated for salary increases separate from the FLSA update. Of course, more than 6,000 postdocs in the University of California system will still get their raise as it was negotiated by a contract, through the postdoc union. It is interesting, given the high level of anxiety about postdoc organization and unionization, that institutions would then feel it appropriate to change and communicate their plans in the way that they have done in the last 10 days, making it clear that postdocs have little to no control over their situation.


To gauge the effect of plans to raise salaries being cancelled, we are making a series of Freedom of Information Act requests at public institutions to find out exactly what their postdocs are actually being paid as of Dec 1st 2016. This will form part of our ongoing analysis. Any salary information that can be safely provided, and indeed any other information that you have, is very gratefully received, and we are very grateful to everyone who has reached out and sent information so far to info@futureofresearch.org


Our resource may likely have changed by the time you are reading this. For the moment, below are a series of lists of who is doing what, as far as we can tell. We have not included institutions for which we have not heard any news. These lists will likely form the basis of a series of tiers for future efforts in informing potential postdocs around the world which institutions may provide valuable training experiences, and which may not.


Institutions continuing in their plan to raise salaries:

Boston Children’s Hospital (Massachusetts)

Boston University (Massachusetts) – see here.

Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Massachusetts)

Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center (Missouri)

Duke University (North Carolina)

Harvard Medical School (Massachusetts)

Johns Hopkins (Maryland)

Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (salaries already exceeded FLSA minimum and negotiated by postdocs already).

Stanford University (California) – salaries already exceeded FLSA minimum

Tufts University (Massachusetts)

University of Alabama Birmingham

University of California – already negotiated in contract with postdoc union.

University of Central Florida

University of Colorado Boulder – see here.

University of Colorado Denver

University of Delaware – see here.

University of Florida

University of Louisville (Kentucky)

University of New England (Maine)

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

University of South Florida

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

University of Texas Southwestern

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin Madison

Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri)


Institutions who have cancelled plans to raise salaries

Iowa State University

Loyola University (Illinois)

Michigan State University

Purdue University (Indiana)

Rutgers University (New Jersey)

University of Illinois system

University of Maryland

University of Massachusetts Medical School

University of Michigan

University of North Carolina Wilmington

University of Texas Medical Branch – with some exceptions (see above).

Wayne State University (Michigan)


Mixed signals

University of Minnesota: unclear. We have heard they are cancelling plans to raise salaries, but a press story suggests they are not. They do not seem to have informed postdocs of decision as of Dec 1st.


Institutions who were previously encouraging salary raises but allowing hours tracking/leaving the decision to departments/PIs

Brigham Young University (Utah)

Brown University (Rhode Island)

Idaho State University

Michigan State University

Michigan Tech

Mississippi State University

New Jersey Institute of Technology

North Dakota State University

Northern Arizona University

Rice University (Texas)

University at Buffalo, State University of New York

University of Colorado Boulder

University of Maine

William and Mary (Virginia)

Wright State University (Ohio)


Institutions who were moving postdocs to timesheets:

Colorado State

Florida Atlantic

Miami University (Ohio)

New York Medical College

Ohio State University

Oregon State University

Texas Tech

University of Cincinnati (Ohio)

University of Massachusetts Boston

University of North Dakota

University of Southern Mississippi

Utah State University

Washington State


Institutions who attempted to declare postdocs on fellowships exempt from FLSA

Brandeis University (Massachusetts)

Brown University (Rhode Island)

Rutgers University (New Jersey)



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