This is a guest post by Adriana Bankston, a volunteer with Future of Research and one of the travel award winners for the Advocating for Science symposium in Boston, 2016. Adriana has been collecting data directly from institutions as part of this effort.
UPDATE: This post has been updated, the first figure was previously showing institutional plans, not the percentage of the postdoctoral population affected by each change as described in the text.
On December 1st 2016, postdocs working more than 40 hours per week were due to see salary raises from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) ruling issued by the Department of Labor. At Future of Research, we have been collecting data and documenting the compliance of universities with the FLSA in our online resource. These data were also communicated in a paper published F1000 research in November 2016. To document this compliance periodically, we published subsequent blog posts at one month, 20 days and 10 days prior to the original FLSA implementation date of December 1st. Our data indicated that, at 10 days prior to December 1st, 69% of all postdocs were expected to receive salary raises, 6% of postdocs were to have either salaries raised or hours tracked with no central institutional mandate for either, 3% of postdocs were at institutions focused on allowing hours tracking, and for 22% of postdocs no data had been made publicly available (below).
Complying with the FLSA ruling for such a large percentage of postdocs with 10 days to go was due to have a very positive impact on a historically underpaid population of intellectuals. Perhaps the most important effect of this ruling may have been that postdocs could feel somewhat more appreciated by the scientific community. The decision to raise salaries for postdocs also had the potential to increase their self-esteem and confidence in pursuing future careers in science. We were expecting this percentage to increase as we were getting ready to publish our final update on December 1st.
However, on November 22nd, only 9 days prior to the original date of the FLSA implementation ruling, a preliminary injunction against the Department of Labor was granted nationwide. This injunction delayed the FLSA implementation, causing a lot of turmoil amongst postdocs at the national level. Future of Research is now collecting data to assess the effects of this injunction on postdoctoral salaries nationwide. We are particularly interested in whether institutions planning to raise salaries prior to the injunction are still honoring these plans. Now, at exactly one month following the injunction, 59% of all postdocs are expected to receive salary raises, whereas 5% of them will experience a reversal in salary raises. 2% of postdocs are not expecting to receive raises, regardless of the injunction, as their institutions were not mandating a raise and were allowing or mandating hours tracking. For 33% of postdocs, we still do not know what is happening (below).
Of the institutions who were planning to raise salaries before the injunction, we have found that 48 are continuing with their plans, and 17 have cancelled their plans. 2 of those raising – the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, initially cancelled their plans, but have reversed their plans and decided to go ahead with the raises. A further 9 institutions, whose plans were not yet known before the injunction, are raising salaries, even in light of the injunction. In addition, PIs at some of the institutions cancelling plans are going ahead with raises anyway, including the entire faculty of the biochemistry department at University of Massachusetts Medical School.
We anticipate that the reversal in salary raises will likely have a detrimental effect on the morale of postdocs, and potentially also influence their willingness to continue down the academic route. This decision will also likely carry over into other aspects of their lives, as many postdocs have probably already begun making plans on how to use that money. This raise would also have been critical for those postdocs with families to support. We are submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to public institutions for their postdoctoral salary information as of December 1st, to establish what the cost of salary reversal will be to postdocs.
We are continuing to update our FLSA and Postdocs resource with what is happening, under “How institutional plans have/have not changed since the injunction”. Postdocs around the country have now begun to speak up on this issue. At Future of Research, we have also issued a statement urging institutions to continue raising postdoc salaries in spite of this injunction. This would be an important step forward in helping the postdoctoral population continue to pursue academic work, and thus ensure the advancement of the scientific enterprise.