FLSA guidelines will boost postdoc pay at University

University officials said in an email that come December, they will raise postdoctoral researchers’ salary floor to abide national requirements.

David Clarey

With new regulations taking effect this December, the University of Minnesota will raise the salary floor for some postdoctoral students.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was updated in May, increases postdoctoral researchers’ pay in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields from a $23,660 salary floor to $47,476, or require overtime compensation for those previously exempt.

The changes are expected to affect more than million workers nationally, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.

“The [cross-departmental] committee recommended, and the University’s relevant administrative and budget leaders concurred, that the best course of action will be to require that salaries for post-doctoral associates system-wide be raised to the new threshold,” said University Provost Karen Hanson in a emailed statement.

Geoffrey Rojas, president of the University’s Postdoctoral Association, said these changes will be a good “first step” toward improving overtime work conditions.

“Postdocs here are regularly told ‘we expect you to be working at least 60 hours a week,’” he said, adding that they currently aren’t paid for overtime hours.

Rojas said average pay at the University is $16 per hour, and that amount isn’t unheard of.

According to National Postdoctoral Association data, their median salary was $42,000 in 2014.

Rojas said he met with Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs officials in March to discuss possible changes to the FLSA.

“The department of labor realized … the university system has changed so much that faculty, postdocs [and] researchers need to be treated with the same protections as workers in the private sector,” he said.

Despite the widespread support of the changes, Jerry Cohen, horticultural science professor and principal investigator of the University’s Cohen Lab, said there are downsides.

The changes will disrupt research grant cycles, which are the primary source of postdoc salaries. Labs in the middle of a grant cycle will need to find a way to react to these changes, he said.

Labs that pay below the new threshold are required to bump pay by December.

“Those that are paying in the 30 [thousands] will need a lot of money [to keep postdocs in their labs],” Cohen said.

The University will share details on the changes with postdoctoral workers and their employers in the next few weeks, according to the email.