New Faculty Majority Policy Agenda

  1. Ensuring that Adjunct Faculty Have Access to Unemployment Insurance

Access to unemployment when one is separated from work is a basic right for all workers in this country.  Adjuncts who are hired and fired at will, on contracts that last only as long as a semester or year, should have access to unemployment between terms, just as workers in seasonal industries do.  Current law states that “reasonable assurance of continued employment” — a provision invented to apply to full-time, K-12 teachers with continuing contracts — bars teachers from collecting unemployment during times when academic terms are not in session.  This provision is improperly applied to contingent faculty.

In California, legal action has established adjunct faculty rights to unemployment insurance.   An NFM-initiated request, signed by all the faculty unions, that the Department of Labor issue a guidance letter to the states explaining that adjunct faculty do not have “reasonable assurance of continued employment” and that the provision in the federal statute does not apply to college faculty has not yielded a response.

Securing unemployment compensation for contingent faculty will provide them with critical income during periods without work.  It will begin to hold institutions accountable for the true costs of the employment “flexibility” they currently demand and receive at no cost and by unfairly offloading all of the costs and risks onto employees.

Suggested Actions

  • Help getting an explanation and response from the DOL to the coalition’s efforts
  • If necessary, legislation to change the federal statute.

Actions Taken/Underway:  Ongoing contact with the House Education and Workforce Committee and various legislators; follow-up with Department of Labor

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2: Collecting Accurate Data and Holding Institutions Accountable

Colleges and universities have been able to expand contingent employment practices because they are not required to be transparent about the numbers or the working conditions of contingent faculty.  In 2004, the National Center for Education Statistics discontinued the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, which used to provide important information including about demographics, workload, job satisfaction, and compensation.  This is especially troubling given that women and people of color are disproportionately represented among faculty in precarious contingent positions and underrepresented in full-time positions.

Faculty have had to resort to efforts such as the CAW Survey and the Adjunct Project in order to collect information that institutions should be required to provide. The AFT has produced a pamphlet for students and parents called “Just Ask” providing guidance on how to ask about faculty working conditions and other issues during the college admissions process.

The Department of Labor has recently announced that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will be resuming a survey (the Contingent Work Supplement or CWS) to collect information about the increasingly contingent workforce in the United States.  A group of senators has called for improving the survey in order to collect comprehensive information about the reasons for and ramifications of contingent employment.

Suggested Actions:

  • Reinstate the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty
  • Require colleges and universities to accurately report, and to disclose to the public, the working conditions of all of its faculty, including numbers, compensation, and access to institutional support.
  • Improve the CWS by adding questions about long-term contingent employment, the effect of contingent employment on employees’ additional job prospects and job satisfaction, and the reasons motivating employers to rely increasingly on contingent employment arrangements; conduct the survey at regular intervals beyond the 2017 update.

Actions Taken or Ongoing:  CAW Survey 2010;  Comments to IRS re ACA Rules; Testimony before House Education and Workforce Committee (on ACA), 2013; Testimony before DOE re College Scorecard, 2014; Meetings with various legislative staffers; letter to senators in support of call for improvement of CWS.

Relevant policies or legislation:   Higher Education Reauthorization Act; DOE College Scorecard, Affordable Care Act,  S. 1195  Student Right to Know Before You Go Act (Wyden, Rubio, Warner), Reinstatement of Contingent Work Supplement

 

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  1. Transforming Compensation Policies for Adjuncts Through FLSA and ACA Reform

Contingent faculty are falling through the cracks of wage and hour laws designed to protect workers from abuse and exploitation.  Recent attention to employee misclassification and overtime revision proposals have exposed the degree to which existing wage and hour laws are inadequate for protecting the rights of contingent faculty.  While classification as “exempt,” including designation as “learned professionals,” acknowledges and even safeguards contingent faculty professional autonomy, it does not recognize the massive shift to part-time, low-wage employment that has stricken the professoriate.  The Learned Professional exemption, ironically, blocks contingent faculty access to overtime regulations that would require them to be paid a living wage and to be protected from the widespread wage theft that currently takes place.

Similarly, institutional manipulations of employee status, for example as so-called “part-time,” are used to block contingent faculty access to basic rights and protections, from timely pay to family leave, sick leave, and retirement.  Adjunct faculty need equal pay for equal work, and part-time needs to mean pro-rated to full-time, not full-time work for part-time pay.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act engendered debates about how to count adjunct work hours for the purpose of determining eligibility for health insurance under the Employer Mandate of the Act.  Faculty unions and NFM were able to provide testimony to the IRS rulemaking committee that slightly mitigated college and university efforts to have a 1:1 ratio of in-class to out-of-class hours instituted as the formula by which adjunct work hours would be counted.  The resulting rules called for the use of “reasonable” formulas  that count all work done outside the classroom, including “required” work, though no mechanism has been implemented to determine what counts as required work or to report violations of the rules.

Suggested Actions:

  • Revise existing wage and hour laws to properly recognize the nature of faculty work and ensure that all faculty have access to basic workplace rights and protections.
  • Institute a reporting and enforcement mechanism at the IRS to ensure that adjunct faculty work is being counted and credited accurately and that faculty are offered health insurance according to the federal mandate if eligible.

 

Actions Taken or Ongoing:  Delivery of petition to David Weil; securing meetings with DOL W& H and IRS staff to discuss options.

Relevant Policies or Legislation:  Fair Labor Standards Act http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/; Affordable Care Act — Final Regulations regarding Shared Responsibility for Employers https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/02/12/2014-03082/shared-responsibility-for-employers-regarding-health-coverage

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  1. Alleviating Loan Debt Burdens for Students and Adjuncts

Adjunct Faculty were once students who invested in education, expecting the promised return that did not come, and now have loan debt and are not making enough money from their work as adjuncts to repay them.  They need professional pay and loan debt forgiveness.

Students are  being made to compensate for public disinvestment in higher education by incurring huge debt to cover institutional expenditures that are not going to instruction.  Maintaining a huge contingent workforce has huge hidden costs and so adjunct working conditions increase the overall cost of higher education for students.

Suggested Actions:

  • Support for the Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act and other student loan relief efforts
  • Analysis and exposure of the hidden costs to students and faculty of the contingent employment system.

Actions Taken or Ongoing:  Analysis and dissemination of information about AFLFA, mobilization of support

Relevant Policies or Legislation: Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act of 2015 https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1556 ; DOE Policy:  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

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