The Obama raise (for scientists)

My dad, being my dad, sent me an article claiming that Obama was about to change overtime rules so that more salaried workers will be covered. Would I get paid more? Psh, yeah right, I said. But then I looked a bit more closely and it wasn’t so clear. The new proposed rules state that anyone making under $50,400 $47,892 would be eligible for overtime (whereas previously the limit was a measly $24,000). That is: most postdocs will, technically, be eligible for overtime money if they work more than 40 hours per week.

So I decided to ask the Twitter hivemind and set off a predictable storm of WTF’s. The summary is: yes, it looks right now like postdocs will be eligible for overtime pay but there is a commentary period to propose exceptions to these rules (I don’t think graduate students will because they are “students”). No, no one thinks this will actually end up happening; somehow the NIH/NSF will make postdocs exempt from these rules (see a bit more here). Here are the full proposed rules. If you have opinions about these rules, please send in comments:

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published on July 6, 2015 in the Federal Register (80 FR 38515) and invited interested parties to submit written comments on the proposed rule on or before September 4, 2015. Only comments received during the comment period identified in the Federal Register published version of the NPRM will be considered part of the rulemaking record.

I was asked to do a storify of all the twitter responses but, uh, there were a lot of them and I wasn’t 100% paying attention. So here are some salient points:

  1. What are the job duties of a postdoc? Does going to a lecture count, or will that not count toward “work time” (if it does, do I get credit for reading a salient paper at home? At lab?)
  2. Is a fellow an employee, or are they different somehow? Is this technically a “salary”? This seems to be a point of confusion and came up repeatedly.
  3. calling PDs “trainees” while also claiming them as exempt “learned professionals” is a joke.’
  4. This may increase incentive to train PhDs and decrease incentive to hire postdocs (“For my lab, min PD cost would be $62k/yr, PhD cost $31k/yr all-in.”). Similarly, the influence may be most felt on small labs with less money, less on large “prestige” labs.

#1 is the most interesting question in general.

Functionally, if enforced at all (hmm), this would be functionally like a decrease in NIH/NSF/etc funding. But let’s face it, I think we can all agree that the most likely outcome here is an ‘exemption’ for postdocs and other scientists…

Edit: I meant to include this: currently in the overtime rules, there is a “learned professional” exemption that describes scientists – and is why they do not get overtime pay. In order to qualify for that exemption, there is some salary floor that they must make ($455 per week, or ~$23,660 per year). The new proposed rules will state:

In order to maintain the effectiveness of the salary level test, the Department proposes to set the standard salary level equal to the 40th percentile of earnings for full-time salaried workers ($921 per week, or $47,892 annually for a full-year worker, in 2013)

The NIH paylines are currently at $42,480 for a first year postdoc, increasing yearly, and passing this threshold in year 4. The fastest way to avoid overtime rules would be to simply bump up the first year salary to $47,893.