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Unintended Consequences of the Affordable Care Act

by Bill Lipkin

I would never have dreamed that the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obama care) would cause a hardship on adjuncts and other contingent faculty. This is supposed to help those who cannot afford health care get some basic coverage. But the “unintended consequences” of this Act can be very detrimental to us. Yes, adjuncts stand to suffer from this Act. Why? Because when it goes into effect in January, 2014 it carries with it a stipulation that if an employer does not supply health care to employees working 30 hours or more a week they have to pay a penalty.

True, many of us have more than one employer since we teach at more than one College, but some schools, in preparation for next year, are cutting back on the work load of adjuncts. From what I hear they want to “play it safe.” Most full time faculty is provided health care coverage but in many schools adjuncts are not. So some schools are already cutting back on the number of credits we can teach per semester.

It is funny that in New Jersey a credit hour is defined as 55 minutes of instruction 3 times a week (or the equivalent). At contract negotiations we have always asked to get paid an extra credit or two to cover the time we spend outside of actual class time with the students. We have been told that “office time” is expected from us and is not separate from the credits we earn for teaching. Well now Colleges are saying that for every hour we teach we do about two hours a week in prep, grading, counseling, emailing, etc. Therefore one credit becomes 3 hours rather than one, even though they will not pay us for it. Therefore if an adjunct is teaching 9 credits the school is considering that to be 27 hours a week (even though we only get paid for 9) and that is too close to 30 hours.

I have been an AFT member for over 14 years and organized the adjuncts in the Community College where I teach about 10 years ago. We have a large core of adjuncts that pushed us to get a load of as many credits as possible so they could teach at fewer schools and travel less. We started with a limit of 11 credits and have worked up to 14 in our current contract. About 35% of our 370 adjuncts do teach between 12 and 14 credits per semester, and are very happy doing that. This is now at jeopardy and one University in the state has already cut down on the number of adjunct credits allowed per semester.

Involving Legislators and Unions

I heard that AFT was looking for a clarification for contingent faculty on how full time status for Obamacare would be determined. I thought that was great news. However, today I found out that the stand AFT is now taking is that “the AFT recommended that 12 credit hours per semester be regarded as the equivalent of full time for the purpose of the employer penalty”… This is not acceptable to my Local Chapter. We earn an average of $650.00 per credit. For 12 credits that is $7,800.00 per semester or $15,600.00 per year. Is that equivalent to full time status? Not in New Jersey.

Doesn’t AFT realize how little most of us make and how difficult it is to survive now, much less recommending we reduce our pay? I have members on food stamps and close to homeless. We had an adjunct last summer that lived in the faculty Lounge on one campus after he was evicted from his apartment for non-payment of rent. Security discovered this toward the end of the semester and he was out on the street. How does this recommendation from AFT help us?

Just like the FACE campaign and the ‘Just Ask’ program it appears that AFT takes actions that do not attack the real problem we have. Those policies pushed for more full-time faculty in schools (yeah that will happen soon) and encouraged parents to ask if tenured (qualified) faculty were teaching their children of if adjuncts (less-qualified) were. Neither of these campaigns helped most adjuncts get better pay, working conditions, governance, respect, etc. On the contrary much of the feedback I got personally from ‘Just Ask’ was negative toward us.

We need to start a nationwide campaign to educate legislators, government agencies, and college and university administrators of this situation and the jeopardy this has put contingent faculty in. We need the National unions to get behind us to get waivers for all adjuncts so that the schools are not threatened by these potential penalties. We need the national unions to see what our everyday problems are and address them on a nation-wide level. We do pay dues to these unions, we need them to understand our plight better, and we need them to push for positive action to help make us whole. We educate most of the college students in the USA; we need to be recognized for our work and not be forced to suffer these “unintended consequences.”

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14 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences of the Affordable Care Act

    • College administrators are lying to the government for fear of tax audits. Even my anarcho-libertarian mind can get behind the idea of Federal thugs investigating community colleges, especially. It’s just funny to watch them all lie to the Federal government as though lying in a potential audit situation ever made anyone’s life easier.

      Colleges micromanage every aspect of human resources, pay a lot of money to track employee work hours by implementing “cost saving” computer systems, record chair and vice-presidential level program reviews, and yet — my Lord — and yet claim they have no way to accurately track the labor hours of adjuncts?

      Please.

  1. This should not come as a surprise. Part-time workers in many other industries have seen the writing on the wall on this one for months; indeed, there have already been reductions in hours in many industries. (See http://m.cnbc.com//id/49362509/Employers_May_Slash_Workers039_Hours_to_Avoid_Obamacare_Mandate).
    The difference is that those workers ARE paid on a true hourly basis, unlike we adjuncts. I can’t imagine how universities can quantify what we do outside the classroom other than office hours-and will they be doing spot checks to ensure we’re there?-and I imagine there is a lot of variability in how much time is spent. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of the school’s definition if our hours because we are not true hourly employees. In Pennsylvania where I teach, legislation has now defining a semester as a week longer than we were teaching, so we’ll all be putting in an extra week for the same pay!

  2. As the president of a newly formed union of part-time community college faculty, I am deeply concerned that government’s attempt to provide health coverage to full-time workers of 30 hours per week will result in colleges and universities, nationwide, increasing the number of part-time faculty so as to decrease our hours to avoid paying health coverage for the majority of their teaching staffs. Thus, the healthcare initiative may have an adverse impact on the “Race to the Top” education initiative.
    The health coverage plan appears to be counter-intuitive to education. My goal is to decrease membership in our fledgling union by increasing the number of full-time faculty from the part-time faculty reserves, thus providing greater consistency and continuity of instruction, contributing to a more stable education environment, and instilling a more profound sense of commitment to and of shared decision-making in the educational communities for whom they work. If employers figure out that it will cost them less to hire more part-time faculty, this goal will not be reached.
    It would seem more logical, when it comes to computing who receives health care coverage in higher education, that, rather than count an individual’s hours per week or credit hours taught over the period of a semester, the percentage of part-time faculty be a factor. For instance, if more than half the faculty at an institution consists of part-time employees, the employer should have to contribute an equal percentage to the healthcare of all those employees. In the case of my community college, 65% of the teaching staff are rehired from one semester to the next. The employer should contribute an equal percentage, or 65%, to a shared account from which part-time members can draw. The intended effect, therefore, may force higher education institutions to reduce the number of part-time faculty and hire on more full-time faculty.

    • I like this idea of factoring in the percentage of part-timers. It would help expose schools (or any other businesses) that are obviously just trying to circumvent the ACA.

      -Josh

      • Even under the suspicion of circumvention of ACA, the offending colleges and universities could trigger an audit. States that tried to opt out as well as corporations, all found themselves greeted by the very state officials they voted in to protect their interests. IRS thugs are an equal opportunity abuser. I won’t lose much sleep should community colleges in NH and VT find themselves audited; the documented abuse of state and federal regulations is astonishing.

    • Hi Kelly – Would you be willing to chat with me privately about your efforts for adjunct faculty? While we in Colorado are not allowed to unionize, I would enjoy hearing some of your efforts.

      Thank you.

      Matt Lit
      Vice President of Adjunct Affairs
      Colorado Mountain College

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  4. I am an adjunct in Indiana and they just sent out an announcement last week about this. It is my understanding that they will be limiting hours to only 12 per semester. I work full time at a biotech company, so I already have health insurance. I have been teaching part-time for over 9 years now. I have come to depend on the extra money as part of my yearly salary. I do hope that they just leave things alone, so at least adjuncts can teach their same hours and thus, get the pay they are use to having. I do agree that we put in more hours and work than what we are paid.

  5. Adjuncts are the new slaves and I am an Abolitionist. Why should the most highly rated professors in the country (generally adjuncts who teach 75% of our college students) be limited to two (2) classes a term and still be forced live below the poverty line without health insurance? Corporate fascism has replaced democratic education in our republic.

    The US Department of Education and has cause to investigate state colleges for evading the intent of the Affordable Care Act. Are you listening Arnie Duncan?

    So, if I were the president of state colleges in the United States I would start promoting the best professors instead of running things like an arrogant incompetent plantation owner. Reform your institutions before we force it to be done. We will rebel and we will be free. Your giant corporate financed buildings will not shield you from the will of the mass of faculty and students. It’s only a matter of time before we fully organize nationally.

  6. I have been an adjunct for almost nine years working a second part time job as well. Like the rest of you, I would love to have a full time teaching job. I am ABD but full time jobs are few and far between more many academics, even those with post docs. My colleagues and I have been talking as well. Most of us are looking for work now outside of academe. It was difficult enough trying to survive on four classes working a part time job, but when the health care law passes (which I voted for) we will be cut back to only three classes or maybe even two. That means teaching will become a part time “past time” if we can afford it because the evening job will have to provide enough money to pay all of one’s bills. How many evening part time jobs will provide that level of income? Most people do not realize that over half of all teaching positions at colleges and universities are provided by contract instructors (adjuncts) and yet society would penalize and/or attempt to discredit our abilities. What we need is some positive propaganda to educate the public as to what adjuncts are and what they do. I have written to President Obama; all I received was a form letter in return. I think many of us were blind-sighted by the repercussions of the new health care act. And, I still find it hard to believe that as low as the pay is that we receive (mine is $17,000 for four classes per semester) they want to reduce it further. The result of these decisions will have long reaching side effects and a very negative impact on education. The message is clear, America does not value upper academic educators; if these instructors were valued, pay would be commensurate with their positions.

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