The Department of Labor ruled Wednesday that UC postdoctoral scholars making less than $47,476 are now qualified for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, with the ruling coming despite a petition from the University of California to exempt them from the act.
According to Lydia Majure, an executive board member of UAW Local 5810, the union that represents all UC postdoctoral scholars, there are roughly 6,000 postdoctoral scholars within the UC system, of which 2,986 are currently under the salary threshold of the Fair Labor Standards Act. On campus, there are about 1,100 postdoctoral scholars and more than 500 of them earn a salary below the threshold.
Postdoctoral scholars are estimated to bring in $6 billion in grants to the UC system each year, according to a Wednesday press release from the union. Carly Ebben Eaton — a postdoctoral scholar and executive board member of the union — said that postdoctoral scholars are the “driving force” for much of the research at UC Berkeley.
“We’re contributing a lot to the bottom line of the UC system,” Eaton said. “Postdocs aren’t going to have to be quite as stressed out about how to make ends meet.”
In the university’s petition to the Department of Labor, it requested that postdoctoral scholars be exempt from overtime pay on the basis that raising their salaries would decrease the total number of postdoctoral positions within the UC system. The petition further states that such overtime pay would put serious financial strains on the UC budget.
The university has until Dec. 1 of this year to either allow postdoctoral scholars in its system to be paid for overtime or increase their salaries. UC spokesperson Claire Doan said that, at the moment, the university is still “carefully assessing the final rule.”
The union has been at the forefront of the battle to ensure postdoctoral scholars receive higher pay. Several of its members have lobbied Congress and the Department of Labor, reached out to the press to receive publicity and written op-eds to ensure that postdoctoral scholars were included in this ruling.
According to campus professor of economics Michael Reich, the ruling will have a relatively low impact on the university’s budget while compensating postdoctoral scholars more appropriately for their level of education.
“The approximately 500 postdocs who will be eligible for overtime will welcome the additional pay for their long hours,” Reich said in an email. “The impact on UC’s budget will be minimal, especially since many postdocs are paid from external research grants.”
Majure said that this ruling is one step toward the broader goal of ensuring more workplace rights for postdoctoral scholars, calling it “a victory for all 60,000 postdocs in America.”