Two big wins for post-docs

Two big wins for post-docs

Why we are organizing with SEIU
May 19, 2016
Faculty unions & excellence: the evidence
July 19, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued updated rules pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This is an incredible victory for millions of hardworking people in the United States. Millions of salaried professionals, including postdoctoral researchers, will soon be eligible for overtime pay, if they make less than $47,476 annually. For more information on the improvements to salaried compensation, this fact sheet is quite useful.

It was a postdoctoral researcher from the U of M, along with SEIU, who took the opportunity to represent postdocs from across the country in a meeting with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the White House to ensure our inclusion in these new federal overtime rules.

This is a big win for our unique profession, one where we are often driven to work long, unpredictable hours for low salaries. This change opens the possibility of both increased financial support and clearer job expectations to fit within a 40-hour workweek. The decision institutions will have to make is to raise postdoctoral researchers to $47,476 or pay overtime compensation for any hours over 40 weekly.

The overtime rules received praise from several postdoc allies:

  • President Obama called the changes “one of most important steps we’re taking to help grow middle-class wages.”

  • The U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said the new rules would “enrich the future of our research enterprise.

  • The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) called it “a positive step towards achieving our goal of increasing compensation for postdoctoral researchers nationwide.”

  • SEIU President Mary Kay Henry called it a “huge victory for higher education, and beyond.”

  • The California Faculty Association said the changes will “revive the spirit of the FLSA.”

This rule change is a huge step forward, but as you know there is much work left to be done. We cannot wait for government action, and we cannot count on the University’s central administration to do the right thing. We need to continue to organize – just as many researchers at the U of M did when we were threatened with eviction from our university housing.

In April, postdoctoral researchers at the U of M received an eviction notice from Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative (CTC), the on-campus housing complex where University postdoctoral researchers, research associates and medical residents have lived in affordable family housing for the past 45 years. As you may know, CTC housing provides a diverse, safe community with access to great public schools, day-care and playgrounds, all conveniently located near campus.

The 60 families impacted by the eviction notices did not take the news lying down. We worked with MN Academics United/SEIU, in conjunction with the Postdoctoral Association, to fight the unexpected eviction notices – and we won!

We started signing union cards for our union, collected family pictures and stories  for a massive social media campaign, drafted a petition letter and came to a Housing Authority meeting armed with a list of demands. It was encouraging to see Faculty also email the Housing Authority on our behalf.

On May 11, we won every single demand that we raised with the Housing Authority, including:

  • All researchers currently living at CTC have the right to remain in our homes,

  • We can stay for the originally specified period of 7 total years,

  • Our rent will not be raised, and

  • Researchers at a second housing complex will be given the same rights.

As University of Minnesota postdoctoral researcher Dr. Sunny Chan said, “The University and CTC tried to force us out of our homes. But by standing together, we pushed back against these heartless attempts to destabilize our families.” Dr. Xiaofei Zhang added “By coming together we won the right to stay in our homes at an affordable price.”

This was an incredible victory against enormous odds, this is a perfect example of why now is the time for all postdoctoral researchers to come together on campuses across this country. We have to be willing to fight for ourselves and for each other.

We want to hear more about your experiences as a postdoc. Fill out this quick survey from SEIU Faculty Forward  let us know the circumstances that impact you the most.

If you haven’t yet taken the first step to making real improvements at the U, do so now by signing a card for our union by scrolling to the bottom of our  webpage. Together we will keep winning.


In solidarity,


Geoffrey Rojas Ph. D, Characterization Facility and President of the PDA

Sunny Chan, Ph.D., Pediatrics, Medical School

Satish Desai Ph.D, Researcher, Physics

Adria Fernandez Ph. D, Postdoctoral Fellow, Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Ben Frederick Intoy Ph. D, Postdoctoral Associate, Physics

Li Lei Ph. D, Research Associate, Population Genetics and Bioinformatics, Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Joel Lewis Ph. D, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Mathematics

Hemant Kumar Mishra Ph.D, Researcher, Veterinary Biomedical Science

Senait Senay Ph. D, Research Associate, Applied Economics