Adjunct News

Taylor Fontes

Counting, Not Curtailing, Adjuncts’ Work

Posted on: May 10th, 2013 by Taylor Fontes 1 Comment

In a commentary piece written for The Chronicle today, Kenneth H. Ryesky, an adjunct assistant professor at CUNY Queens and former IRS lawyer, reports on his testimony at an IRS rule-making hearing regarding the impact on adjuncts of the Affordable Health Care Law and potential solutions which could be negotiated between adjuncts and their administrations.  In a nutshell, universities are finding ways to avoid steep tax impositions by cutting adjunct hours in order to bring them under the 30 hour per week threshold.  Professor Ryesky asserts that at universities where the same union represents adjuncts as well as full-timers, adjuncts ought to go it alone when it comes to this issue.

Editorial Comment:

We joined this discussion a week or so ago on the Hofstra AAUP website and this commentary echoes the sentiments and concerns that we have here, too.  In the commentary, Ryesky laments that adjuncts have a dilemma to deal with: they can tally up their hours spent preparing courses and working with students outside of class in order to meet the 30 hour criterion and thus risk being furloughed, or they can continue to work with unaccounted for hours, keep their courses and forgo health care.  Put this way, it appears to be lose-lose situation.

Mr. Ryesky delineates three proposals raised at the hearing to keep administrators accountable to their adjunct workforce that might serve to mitigate the healthcare law loophole:

  • Prohibiting the allocation of teaching schedules for the primary purpose of evading healthcare coverage responsibility, together with a presumption that courses which could be taught by a full-timer, if split up among adjuncts, are being split up to evade obeying the law. This includes the use of multipart serial courses (for example, Business Law I, Business Law II, and Business Law III) for which the qualifications to teach all the courses in the series are substantially the same.
  • Prohibiting the practice of keeping an adjunct idle for a semester for the primary purpose of classifying her as a seasonal employee.
  • Requiring full and open disclosure of total hours of work, and how they were determined.

Professor Ryesky’s last but-not-least, albeit ambitious, solution requires Congressional action – two words that are rarely used in the same sentence these days  – by way of amending the law to provide pro-rata health care contribution to part-time instructors.

Amending the law in order to cover more people is not likely to happen – at least not within an acceptable timeframe.  Therefore adjuncts need to take this matter on with their respective administrations.  However, contrary to Mr. Ryesky’s advice that adjuncts tackle the issue alone, we believe that all faculty bear the responsibility of ensuring that their colleagues are not discriminated against by an administration that aims to evade legal mandates.

We have made solidarity among ALL faculty regardless of employment status a top priority since 2010 when we began to prepare for negotiations for our current contract.  We are all one union and we are stronger when we stand together. At the end of the day this is not just an adjunct issue, it is a faculty issue.

Please go to the Hofstra AAUP website to view two methods discussed in this article to determine adjuncts’ hours.

To read the full commentary by Kenneth H. Ryesky go to:

Taylor Fontes

Georgetown U. Adjuncts Vote to Unionize

Posted on: May 6th, 2013 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

On Friday, The Chronicle reported that Georgetown University has joined American University and George Washington University in unionizing its part-time faculty members.  70% of voting members of the adjunct faculty voted to form a collective bargaining unit.  This constitutes yet another victory for SEIU Local 500, who set out to organize all Washington DC area universities in order to create the kind of “market pressure” necessary to improve pay, benefits and working conditions for adjuncts across universities.  Now three-quarters of DC area adjuncts are unionized.  A spokesman for the SEIU Local 500 credits Georgetown’s cooperation as making the process easier.  The SEIU began a campaign to organize Boston-area adjuncts last month and plans to take their cluster model of organizing to Los Angeles next.

Editorial Comment:

This is extremely heartening news, and adjuncts should be hopeful about their in light of this tremendous victory.  The employment of a critical mass tactic appears to be the linchpin of the SEIU’s success.  Isolated organizing by individual university campus has many inherent challenges, one being the question of which national union organization to affiliate with.  Each university is different  – (e.g.: faculty composition, average class size/student-teacher ratio, instruction vs. research emphasis, university resources, relationship to administration, relationship between among faculty members, etc.) and therefore a union affiliation is not one-size-fits-all.

Organizing requires leadership, funding and human resources, and motivation on the part of individuals to work together and forge a mission toward solidarity.  This is particularly difficult in academics when they are often analogized by others as “herding cats.”  In other words, unlike manual laborers who are more apt to see themselves as having a collective interest, professional workers are more likely to view themselves and their careers as too complex and nuanced to coalesce around a common cause.  This doesn’t mean that they oppose unions or unionization, it just means that the efficiency and efficacy with which union activity is carried out among faculty unions is perhaps less developed than, say, that of a steel or autoworker’s.

Unionization requires individuals to transcend their needs as individuals in order to maximize benefits for the whole.  This is why we always sign off on our communications to our members with “In Solidarity”: it is a reminder that we must stand together, that we work with and for one another, that we have power in numbers.

To read the full article by Peter Schmidt go to:

Taylor Fontes

As Adjuncts See Their Hours Cut, Some Are Fighting Back

Posted on: May 2nd, 2013 by Taylor Fontes 2 Comments

The Chronicle reported today that faculty unions and advocacy groups across the country are protesting in various ways the cuts in adjunct faculty’s hours resulting from the new healthcare laws.  The new law mandates that large employers provide healthcare benefits to anyone working 30 or more hours a week.  Therefore, as a way to avoid paying out benefits they are simply barring adjuncts from working more than 29 hours.

The union that represents part-time faculty at Kalamazoo Valley Community College has filed a complaint on the grounds that this is a violation of their collective bargaining agreement.  Other schools, particularly those without collective bargaining units, are finding more creative ways to draw attention to these cuts.  Their hope is that in doing so they will develop more open relationships with the administrations of their respective institutions and be able to negotiate for more fair labor standards, including the provision of health care.

Editorial Comment:

Why does this tactic sound familiar?  Oh, because this is what Wal-Mart has been doing for years in order to avoid having to pay their employees benefits, too.  This is what happens when policies are implemented as the products of political compromises rather than based on sound research as to cost-effectiveness, efficiency and outcome.

While there is considerable debate, and has been for decades, over whether or not the United States should adopt a universal healthcare policy with a single payer system, there is no denying that the attempts to win over some in order to give the impression of reform has serious backfire potential.

Public universities that are experiencing funding cuts and are being forced to impose austerity measures across their budgets are obviously not going to gladly comply with the new healthcare law.  Even though it is termed the “Affordable Healthcare Act,” many do feel that the word “affordable” is not universally applied.  But the solution is not to penny-pinch faculty who already struggle to make a living.   Rather, it takes policy interventions at multiple levels in order to make affordable healthcare accessible to adjuncts (or any part-time worker in the labor force) without jeopardizing the financial health of the institution, corporation or whatever economic subsidizer thereof, whether real or imagined.  Public universities are already being stretched too thin, so it’s no wonder they are balking at yet another exorbitant expense.  Government funding to public institutions of higher education must be restored to sustainable levels if they are to be expected to capitulate at the bargaining table.

To read the full article by Sydni Dunn go to: