A National Adjunct/Contingent Caucus: What it Can and Should Be.

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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8 thoughts on “A National Adjunct/Contingent Caucus: What it Can and Should Be.

  1. Excellent post, Geoff — glad to see you posting again. Is this an official Caucus statement or thoughts on what it should include?

    The naming issue has been going on as long as I can remember. I won’t say it doesn’t matter but also don’t think we should let it distract us from what else matters. Naming may once have been considered a divine right, but now general usage determines what will stick. From the perspective of media and searches, we can and should introduce and push better descriptors but are still more or less stuck with for what target audiences recognize and understand for effective tagging and searches….

    Maybe knocking down or at least bridging and communicating across some of those closed institutional spaces (aka IvorySilo™) will help. That, imo, is even more necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While there is much that I like about this statement, I don’t like the fact that it would seem to be a set of brainstorming about what could be done.

    Why not leverage the collective bargaining agreements of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia, Vancouver Community College being the strongest example, where precarity and the two-tiered system do not exist? Extant systems are much harder to dismiss than the mere hypothetical formulations of what should be. In Vancouver, all instructors, full-time and part-time, permanent or temporary, are paid according to the same 11-step salary schedule; there’s no ruling that part-time instructors perform 75 percent of the work of a full-timer so part-timers only deserve 75 of the pay. In Vancouver, a part-time instructor is expected to perform the entire scope of a full-time instructor on a proportionally reduced basis. That is, those who teach at 66 percent of full-time gets 66 percent of the pay, not some discounted amount. Once newly instructors compete a probationary period, they are “regularized” with the sort of job security of civil servants, with the right of accrual and right of first refusal–most full-time instructors become full-time by gradually increasing their load, and such a system does not make a budget impact. The chief factor in workload assignment is seniority, and all faculty accrue seniority. In Vancouver, some part-timers are senior to full-timers.

    Best wishes,

    Jack Longmate
    Adjunct English Instructor, Olympic College, Bremerton, WA

    Like

    • Jack:

      You can advocate for ideal situation such as you propose, and in fact AFT has passed a number of resolutions which to a lesser degree have called for substantive improvement or reduction of the two-tiered (there are actually more tiers). These resolutions get talked about but little is usually done.

      In California, the cost of implimenting a system such as you propose just in the Community College system would conservatively be in excess of 1 billion dollars in ongoing funding. Last year, after a rather dogged campaign against a governor who wouldn’t even approve maternity leave for educators, we were only able to secure 50 million ongoing for more full time positions and 50 million in one-time money for paid part-time office hours. Unless there is serious electoral change, any such state level proposal would get shot down.

      There would also need to be a significant change to title V EEOC hiring guidelines which is a serious and delicate challenge, and would likely face years of lawsuits. We are not Canada.

      Further, such a system does not end adjunctification if administrators choose to lowball instructors by keeping them perpetually under 50%. Granted, present state law for CCs calls for a path to 67%, but woyld that be kept in place, further, it doesn’t necessarily prevent churning of a sub 50% adjunct.

      I would like to at least get adjunct/contingent faculty talking about and addressing their immediate working conditions, and find ways to address immediate issues. A resolution for the Vancouver model is a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t give me the tools to fix issues I need to deal with now.

      Best regards,

      Geoff Johnson

      Liked by 1 person

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