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.
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.”