According to a Nov. 23 email sent by Postdoc Union Representative Jack Yoon (Rutgers AAUP-AFT), Rutgers University has decided not to honor its pledge to raise Postdoctoral Associate salaries on Dec. 1, 2016. The University’s decision follows on the Nov. 22 ruling by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in Sherman, Texas, that prohibits the Obama administration’s update to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) from taking effect. (To read the official court document, click here.)
The 2016 update raised the eligibility for overtime pay from a threshold of $455/week to $913/week ($47,476 per year). Any employee whose salary fell below that threshold was entitled to overtime pay if they worked more than 40 hours/week. This meant that employers, such as universities, could choose between tracking employees’ time to ensure that no employee worked overtime or increasing employees’ salaries to meet the minimum threshold. Many of Rutgers postdoctoral researchers are currently paid below that threshold.
Rutgers University had previously announced its intention to raise Postdoctoral Associate salaries to $47,476/year on Dec. 1, which is when the FLSA rule would have taken effect. According to Yoon’s email, the University has now reversed its position. Yoon’s email reads, in part, “Their claim is [that] due to the [Nov. 22] injunction[,] they lack ‘the legal authority’ to give postdocs a raise. There is no such legal barrier on employers giving their employees a raise, and certainly nothing stopping the institution from honoring what was discussed during negotiations.”
Furthermore, during a Nov. 9 meeting with University administrators, union negotiators, and postdoctoral researchers, administrators made it clear that Rutgers University was concerned only with implementing the FLSA salary increase for Postdoctoral Associates, who are considered to be University employees, and not Postdoctoral Fellows, who are not. As such, any potential salary increase for Fellows would depend on the actions of external funding agencies and individual Principal Investigators, with no system of accountability in place. The result is that Postdoctoral Fellows, who already receive a less comprehensive benefits package than Associates, might also receive considerably less money for performing the same amount of work–assuming the previously discussed salary raise ever takes effect.