On July 14th at the Biennial AFT National Convention, members of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus will convene to select caucus leaders who, in the face of a post-Janus America, along the increasing threats expanding labor contingency and academic corporatization, must work in conferring with and guiding AFT to more effectively understand and act upon adjunct contingent Issues. To be effective at this task, here are the basic steps and actions it must undertake, or encourage the High Ed. Division of AFT to undertake:
- Define and Recognize the Varying Degrees of Educational Labor Contingency
Adjunct/Contingent teacher plight is in part plagued by a literal soup of job titles from, “part-time” and “adjunct,” to “associate,” “lecturer,” and “non-tenure track.” The wide variety of these terms, none of which are truly understood by a general, non-academic public, only serves to shroud the nature of their exploitation under a false narrative which suggests such teachers/instructors/and professors are “professionals,” in the sense that they are fairly remunerated, enjoy job security, and benefits, and possess collegially equal footing with their full-time, contracted and tenure-track coworkers.
One thing all these adjunct/contingent instructors share is precarity. In this regard, the Adjunct-Contingent caucus should impress upon the AFT that any instructor who consigns to work under these conditions out of economic or professional necessity is in fact a precarious worker, and that at as a central mission, AFT is dedicated to the reduction and ultimately the elimination of academic precarity.
This is itself a first step, which has been partially addressed by resolution. However, working conditions vary from not simply state to state, but from system to system, and sometimes from institution to institution. Most locals, and even larger state federations, lack knowledge of the variances. While certainly some of this is controlled via local contracts, many of limitation/classifications imposed on these workers via state law or code. This often involves, but is not limited to the following:
- Cap limitations (restrictions on teaching above a particular “full-time” percentage at a given institutions or within a given district.)
- Contract limitations (restrictions on how long a person’s term of employment may be before they are given a permanent, or long-term contract.)
- Re-hire rights (do teachers working term-by-term have, provided if classes are available, a reasonable expectation that they will be rehired in a successive term, and entitled to some due process if not.)
- Access to unemployment or retirement benefits.
The Adjunct-Contingent caucus should then work with AFT to create a readily access electronic resource which allows members in one state or system to access and see what is happening in other systems without having to wade through state Ed code or local contracts to do it.
- Facilitate inter-system and inter-Federation discussion of Adjunct/Contingent Issues
Presently, the Adjunct/Contingent Committees of various systems within particular state federations do not interact. For example, in California, UC Lecturers and AFT Community College “Part-timers” only come into contact with one another peripherally and then only really within a Higher Ed. resolutions session within a State Convention which is now only going to be held biennially. Their interaction at the last convention led to the passage of a Cap-raising resolution for Community College faculty, and the passage of a resolution calling for rehire rights language legislation for UC faculty. More could be accomplished in terms of resolution and legislative policy were this interaction to more frequently occur.
Further, there needs to be interaction between Adjunct/Committees from different state federations. While preferably this interaction should be physical and in person, this interaction might be cost effectively achieved through wider usage of Zoom, Blue Jeans, or even Google Hangouts.
AFT needs to take advantage of electronic technology to put adjunct officers and representatives in better contact with one another.
- Provide a Tracking of Individual State Budget or Legislative Campaigns Concerning Adjunct/Contingent Workers
The California Federation of Teachers, generally by late November, is able to list its budgeting priorities, and by early Spring is able to indicate what bills it is sponsoring. Publicization of these priorities, in conjunction with adjunct organizing and mobilization has led to some modest successes. Having an updated, but simple and basic list of these priorities for each federation published nationally would allow other federations to draw inspiration, consider their own priorities, and create greater solidarity. AFT communications could arrange for this data to be reported from the state feds to them, and then posted on a national site.
- Update Contact Information Regarding All Higher Ed Locals and Indicating whether those locals represent exclusively represent adjunct/contingents, full-timers, or are wall-to-wall units.
Presently, much of the information provided on AFT’s main site is out-of-date or vague regarding various locals. Only if this information is up-to-date and complete can it fully facilitate understanding.
- The Creation of Timed, Monitored Discussion Boards focused on Specific Contract or Adjunct Issues
Because of the prohibitive cost of travel and the limited time frame that exists within a 2-3 day conference, or even a week long retreat. The creation of a board focused on, say rehire rights, ancillary duties, or healthcare, may be far more useful, AFT Staffers with specialties in these fields and having and the opportunity to examine and negotiate multiple contracts could serve as moderators.
- Better Outreach to Isolated Locals who are not Active within their Respective Federations
Within the CFT, many locals will not send representatives to either State Councils, CFT committees, or the State Convention. Notably, many of these same locals also have some of the poorest working conditions for Adjunct/Contingent Faculty. Many of these locals are strapped for resources, and may lack the knowledge expertise and generally encouragement to improve their unit members working conditions. AFT should encourage federation staffers to make available to committee members the contact information of adjunct officers within these isolated locals for the purposes of creating greater knowledge support, and solidarity.
- Provide Grant Monies so that Empowered Adjuncts Might Help in the Accomplishment of the Aforementioned Points
Many of AFT’s staffers are already stretched. Providing grant monies for motivated adjuncts to assist in the accomplishment of these tasks would be an effective way to help take the weight off of AFT staffers, and allow Adjunct/Contingent members to engage in greater self-reliance, and for some who are financially strapped, a chance for some small income.
These seven steps would be first points that an Adjunct-Contingent Caucus should strive towards, while at the same time pushing/promoting larger adjunct issues/campaigns that extend beyond Higher Ed. to the general economy and society as a whole. Contingency is itself driven by forces which seek to reduce the human condition to a commodity to be necessarily undervalued and had on the cheap to the advantage of those who learn how to game the system. We simply need to end the game.