UC strike: Here’s what’s at stake in America’s largest ever higher education labor action

This Sacramento Bee editorial, in speaking to what is the largest strike in US public university history underscores these points:

Universities across the country rely on low-wage, part-time, temporary workers, often construing student workers and postdocs as trainees or apprentices to justify low-quality employment. But the system these workers are supposedly being apprenticed into is broken. Despite their hard-won expertise, graduate students and postdocs look forward to a market made up mostly of adjunct faculty gigs that don’t provide health benefits or enough pay to cover their student loans.

American colleges and universities are failing their workers.

UC strike: Here’s what’s at stake in America’s largest ever higher education labor action


AFT-ACC Campus Equity Week 2022 Statement: Ending Ignorance, Precarity, and the Two-Tier System

This past week, October 24-28 marks Campus Equity Week, a time of education and activism that draws attention to the working conditions of faculty working on temporary, low-paid contracts, who now constitute the majority of college instructors.

To the larger public, there has been a longstanding misunderstanding of academic labor, fueled by movie and media depictions of professors as mainly working at rich and exclusive colleges, enjoying an affluent or upper middle-class lifestyle, driving mid-range luxury cars, or summering in Europe in private villas. This rarefied lot exists only within realm of perhaps 5%-10% of full-time tenure-track faculty.

A much harsher truth is that 73% of American college faculty are not full-time tenure track employees, but adjunct/contingent faculty working on often term-by-term contracts for a fraction of the wages of their full-time tenure track colleagues, with limited to no benefits. Further, as their hiring is contingent upon enrollment, there is limited to no reasonable assurance they can or will be rehired after a term ends, even with stellar evaluations. Moreover, in many states, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits or social security.

What does the face of the adjunct/contingent majority look like? According to survey information provided by the American Federation of Teachers, it’s not a pretty one. Of over 1,000 Adjunct/contingent faculty surveyed nationwide, 22% percent stated they were facing food insecurity. 19% rely on some form of public assistance. More than a quarter earn less than 26,500 dollars a year, and over half nave put off healthcare treatment due to the cost.

And just who are these faculty? Most are women, and most are over the age of 50. 37% Have expressed they do not know how they will manage retirement.

While racially, most of these faculty are white, the numbers of BIPOC adjunct/contingent faculty are increasing, and it is likely within 20 years, by sheer attrition alone, that this underclass of faculty will be increasingly comprised of folks seeing academia as a path to equity only to be denied it.

As an adjunct rep at two different institutions, I routinely encounter homeless adjunct/contingent faculty. All but one was white and male, and even his story is marked by working class struggle. I have watched adjunct colleagues die prematurely, worn down by the job, who put off needed healthcare, and have suffered mentally and emotionally by the isolation, precarity, and poverty brought on by the work. Others have gone to Mexico for necessary and even emergency medical procedures they could not afford in the U.S.

Many and most of these faculty are teachers who taught for years, not out of desperation or a desire for wealth, but out of a true love in aiding students reach their dreams. Usually, it is the adjunct/contingent faculty who teach the underserved and marginalized students with the greatest needs—those students in greatest need of equity.

But these faculty, who often teach more classes than their full-time tenure track colleagues, and with fewer resources, are kept by precarious working conditions from their true potential.

The clear inequity between the working conditions between Full time-tenure track faculty and their adjunct-contingent counterparts has been long known, but little energy or action has been asserted at the Federal level to address it. Among policymakers at both the federal and state levels there has been a collective handwashing on dealing with the issue, with such policymakers claiming the cost truly creating academic labor equity is either too steep or incalculable.

In truth, is it neither. Public colleges, by law, are required to be transparent with their budgets, which are in turn reported to larger public entities themselves required to be transparent regarding government spending. This is information that is accessible, collectable, and can be analyzed.

The US Department of Education, under the direction of the Biden administration, could clearly undertake such a study regardless of the roiling partisanship in Congress. Further, they could publish it and reveal the inequity of a two-tier system, and in that inequity, the cost of addressing it. That cost could in turn be broken down at the individual state, local, and system level, and with it, a hard and solid target could be set.

And what would that target look like?

Imagine that when a student walks into a classroom they see a professor or instructor, not an adjunct/contingent, or tenure track faculty member.

We should simply make that what the student sees as truth—that each instructor, holding similar qualifications and benefits doing the same job, receive equal pay and benefits proportionate to their work. Additionally, all instructors, whether working full-time or not, should be not only allowed, but encouraged and even expected to be involved departmental and shared governance activities. Finally, in as much as it is possible, given the challenges of fluctuating enrollments, all instructors should have the right to equivalent job security protections, subject to evaluation similar to the tenure process accorded tenure-line faculty.

In effect, there would no longer be a two-tier and ever-exploitive system of academic labor.

Doing so would create a stable and secure academic labor force better equipped to empower students, particularly those in need of their own equity, to achieve it. It would also likely convince administrators to hire more full-time faculty outright to reduce the costs and challenges of employee turnover, and truly create the 75%+ full-time labor force often spoken of as some halcyon goal that could in fact be a reality.

Most of all what it would create is a sense of solidarity in a higher mission for higher ed, not one grounded in division and parsimony and, but inclusion and prosperity. It is not beyond imagining.

Now we must create the collective will to make it happen.

Geoff Johnson

AFT-ACC president

National Campus Equity Week Social Media Campaign 2022

Please take a moment October 24-28 to post on your social media (Twitter / Instagram / Facebook) for Campus Equity Week.

This is a quick and simple campaign. It takes 5-10 minutes.

Do it between grading papers, or between classes (but sure to pull over on the side of the road so you don’t get in a crash)


Step 1: Take or use a picture which speaks to your situation as an adjunct/contingent faculty member

Step 2: Add a one to two sentence message Post your photo along with a message (samples below), making sure to use the hashtag #CampusEquityWeek

Step 3: Encourage your fellow faculty to post as well!

Some Examples:

An an adjunct, may district gives me 75$ a semester for healthcare, so I guess I’m covered. #CampusEquityWeek #FacultyHealtcareNow

Adjuncts deserve desks, not dashboards. #CampusEquityWeek

In an AFT survey, 37% of adjunct/contingent faculty, many who do not have social security benefits, stated the had no idea how they would manage retirement. #CampusEquityWeek

In its 2022 Survey of Adjunct Faculty, AFT found 22% of adjunct/contingent experienced problems with food insecurity. These same faculty are often prohibited from going to food pantries at their own colleges. #CampusEquityWeek

Reject the California Community College Chancellor’s Numbers on AB 1856

Presently before the California Senate Appropriations committee is AB 1856, a bill which would, if passed, enable part-time faculty to negotiate with their districts to teach up to 85% of a full-time equivalent load.  Presently, the per district teaching cap is 67%. In that part-time faculty are already paid a fraction of what their full-time colleagues make for the same teaching load, many have to teach in two or more districts, often traveling over hundreds of miles each week, the merits of the bill are clear. It would . . .

  • Reduce part-time faculty travel time to various assignments

  • Additionally allow these faculty to better connect with their respective institutions and students

  • Reduce California’s carbon footprint

Sadly, this bill is presently being challenged in appropriations by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office using the following rationale:

  • This bill could result in $200 million to $403.5 million in ongoing Proposition 98 General Fund costs each year for community college districts to offer health insurance benefits to part-time faculty, depending on the exact number of faculty who qualify. This estimate assumes that the bill would trigger Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements due to the additional unit load and potential increase in office hours and other workload requirements. This estimate also assumes an annual employer contribution of $11,000 for 18,384 to 36,768 part-time faculty employed by community college districts throughout the state.

  • This bill could also result in one-time Proposition 98 General Fund costs of between $360,000 and $720,000 for community college districts to update or create collective bargaining agreements with part-time faculty. This estimate assumes a cost of about $5,000 to $10,000 for each of the state’s 72 districts.

The assertions made by the Chancellor’s office are not simply wrong, but specious.

First, it is unlikely that there are in fact 36,768 adjuncts in the CCC.  Many adjuncts are double or even triple-reported in that districts report part-time hires individually rather than collectively, and the CCCCO is fully aware of this.

Second, the current number of part-time faculty at any given district who teach at 67% of an FTE (Full-time Equivalent Load) are in the minority, and with shrinking enrollment, the number of sections and adjunct faculty are decreasing. The number of faculty who would be able to teach at an 85% load, even if AB1856 is enacted, would not even come close to reaching the 18,384 number suggested by the CCCCO, and again, the CCCCO knows this.

Third, many part-time faculty even, when offered coverage by their respective districts, choose not to take it because they 1) are covered by another employer or through their spouses, 2) are retirees who receive coverage through Medicare, 3) seek coverage through Covered California because even when they qualify for benefits, they find Covered California a cheaper option to cover their dependents. Former CCC Chancellor, Eloy Oakley, who was in fact the Chancellor of the Long Beach City College System, certainly was aware of this, and it stands to reason that the present interim Chancellor, Daisy Gonzalez, is as well.

Fourth, passage of AB1856 would not guarantee any part-time faculty member in any district the right to teach an 85%, unless it were locally negotiated.  Some districts may in fact choose to forgo raising the cap. This is directly in the bill language.

Fifth, the notion that it would create any added negotiation costs is also false in that districts, with but rare exception by way of a mutual agreement by faculty and admin, already annually negotiate on health and welfare.  These districts are already engaged in bargaining–where’s the added cost?

Sixth, and most significantly, AB 1856 purposefully refers to an 80-85% FTE per district teaching cap in order to fall below the 86% FTE teaching threshold which would trigger the ACA regulations requiring the districts to provide insurance benefits.

Beyond this, it is also worth mentioning, as the CA Senate Appropriations Committee itself noted, the CA budget is calling for 200 million dollars in ongoing funding for PT healthcare, which would approximately match the cost of 18,384 new adjuncts suddenly being covered to the tune of $11,000/part-time faculty member. Ironically, in hearings on the PT healthcare proposal, the CA legislative budget office questioned whether this much money was in fact needed to cover PT faculty health benefits.

The disingenuous arguments made by the CCCCO regarding AB 1856’s impact on the leads one to wonder if the larger agenda of the CCCCO is simply to keep part time faculty working under precarious conditions because it makes it harder for them to negotiate for better pay and working conditions, which quite frankly, is a slap in the face to the notion of equity the CCCCO purports to promote.

It’s not simply that many of these faculty struggle with basic equity issues themselves due to the low pay and poor working conditions, but their children are also California Community College students. Are they not deserving of equity too?

Get Active: HELU Winter Summit 2022

Good Adjuncts,

This is Geoff Johnson, AFT-ACC President, Adjunct Rep for AFT 1931 (San Diego-Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District), and SCEA (Southwestern College Education Association), encouraging you to check out the HELU Winter Summit, from Feb 23rd-27th.

HELU is a cross union cross labor sector coalition of Higher Ed faculty, including adjunct/contingent faculty, classified staff and paraprofessionals, and graduate student workers fighting to reclaim Higher Ed from disinvestment, and adjunct/contingent, staff, and graduate student worker exploitation.

AFT-ACC and AFT 1931 is are official endorsees of HELU’s Vision Platform

The goal of the HELU Summit, in a bit of a follow up to its Summer 2021 Summit, is to bring greater awareness of HELU, and of the issues and goals around its efforts, and to begin making plans towards the realization of the goals listed in the vision platform.

HELU Winter Summit Agenda

The summit will also feature a slate of noted progressive and labor activists such as Noami Klein and Jane McAlevey.

Winter Summit Featured Speakers

It would be great to see as many Adjunct/Contingent folks at the summit as possible in that this is a great opportunity for adjunct/contingent activists to become connected to a larger national Higher Ed labor scene and build greater solidarity.

I know right now that a lot of us are busy, but registration is free, and you don’t have to hit all the sessions, though HELU will accept donations

Here’s a registration link:

HELU Winter Summit Registration

See you there.

In solidarity,

Geoff Johnson

AFT-ACC President

Campus Equity Week 2021: Statement from the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct/Contingent Caucus

Hello, My name is Geoff Johnson, President of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus Today, October 25th marks the first day of Campus Equity Week 2021, and I carry this message:

First, to all adjunct and contingent faculty, a shout out of appreciation for your hard work as teachers, parents, and caregivers in what has been a time of unprecedented struggle. It is in this time that we, who represent the majority of higher ed faculty in this country, have, out of base necessity, rallied to meet adversity and provide the needed buttress of our labor to support the larger system of US higher education. We not only undertook the creation of online remote and distance education platforms on short notice, but did so often with limited, or conversely, extensive but unpaid training. And in contrast to many of our tenure-track faculty, we had to do separate and repeated trainings for each of our institutions, some of us teaching class loads in excess of what our tenure-track faculty endured. It was not without a sacrifice and cost that is still being given and paid.

And now to both these faculty and a larger audience, as COVID rates are tentatively appearing to subside, many Americans speak of a return to normalcy, and this extends to our colleges and universities.

But as adjunct/contingent faculty truly know, the real impacts of COVID on their ability to work, live, and function are, in many ways, yet to be fully realized. For them, a contagion of precarity, one which became pandemic before even the outbreak of COVID, continues and worsens. 

US higher ed is experiencing system wide declines in enrollments, meaning a loss of work for adjunct/contingent faculty, and with it, a loss of access to what little if any healthcare benefits they may have had. These same faculty, in many states, get to experience the double blow of not only being unemployed, but because of poor language regarding “reasonable assurance,” are also denied unemployment benefits. For public institutions whose funding is tied to enrollment, the inevitable crash in funding will lead to further class cuts, not only costing adjunct/contingent faculty work, but disenfranchising students, particularly BIPOC and lower income students, whose institutions of learning are most impacted. This is further reinforced by a US Congress’s failure to fund free or even affordable public higher education.  Equally troubling is the significant reduction in additional aid to Historic Black Colleges and Universities. 

Yet sadly, even with this needed funding, adjunct/contingent precarity would remain in place, in that the larger inequity in US higher ed, and US Culture would remain.

In an equitable system of higher education, all instructors, on the basis of experience and education, would be paid equally or proportionate to the work they do, simply in that students themselves do not distinguish between a professor as an adjunct, contingent, or tenure-track faculty member, let alone understand the distinction. They would also have access to the same or proportionate healthcare and retirement benefits, and would be allowed and encouraged to participate in curricular development, shared governance, and other institutional matters. Further, they would after a proscribed time with satisfactory evaluations, enjoy an equal degree of job security to the fullest extent enrollment would allow it, and if in the event of loss of work, be afforded unemployment benefits.

Instead US higher ed, to save costs, pays adjunct/contingent faculty a fraction of what tenure-track make for the same work, sets workload limits within institutions and districts largely to avoid paying healthcare and retirement benefits, or simply denies these benefits altogether. They are more often than not further barred or discouraged from participating in curricular development, shared governance, and other institutional matters, and when there is exception to this, usually not compensated. Finally, as adjunct/contingent faculty work is defined as “temporary” in nature, many states will deny unemployment benefits. Ironically, many of these “temporary” faculty have been hired and fired on a term-by-term basis for decades, paying into a system from which they will never collect.

The fractional treatment of these faculty, who in contrast to tenure-track faculty are, in larger proportion women or ethnic minorities, points to an even deeper systemic inequity born out of America’s darkest impulses. As such, it not only harms the lives of these faculty and their families, but their students, the US higher ed system, and America as a whole.

Much of this inequity is permitted to exist by the willful ignorance, or insincere rhetoric, of politicians and policymakers who acknowledge but then defer from the problem, and by a media uninterested in discussing the mass scale of the problem, and connecting the problem to its causes, let alone entertaining solutions.

In spite of the recent Congress’s shortcoming regarding High Ed funding, it has the means, and with little relative cost, to at least end the ignorance and neglect. 

The US Government, empowered by congressional action, can and should conduct a full study of Adjunct/Contingent pay and work inequity in US higher ed either through the Departments of Labor or Education, and publish those results. Following that, the Congress needs to then make the true effort to truly create a necessary and equitable US higher ed system as suggested above–one which, as a place of equity, can also be a place of promise, and a place for a better America.

An Adjunct’s Truth

The following post is one I received from an adjunct, who, as you will read here, is facing the very issues that this year’s Campus Equity Week campaign has been pointing out. She chooses to remain anonymous, and we respect her wishes.


Campus Equity Week 2020

I am an adjunct counselor at two community colleges. At one of my community colleges where I have been for seven years and have “seniority,” my hours per week have been slashed from 25 to 18 to 14 and now to 7. I usually find out my hours for the semester the Friday before the Monday start date. 

This last cut, given with mere days notice, caused me to have to move to a smaller apartment immediately as I could no longer pay my rent. I also can no longer make my ACA payment of 729.00 per month. At this point, I am housing and food insecure, as well as worried about lack of healthcare. 
I feel that I am one interview away from the respect that I deserve as a faculty member. Going from part – time to full- time would change my world, and yet I know the odds are against it. 

I often wonder why the full-time tenured faculty who are in a privileged and untouchable position, don’t reach out to help us in any way. Do they not remember what it was like to be an adjunct, or is it that they just don’t care?

For me, how adjuncts are treated by our respective institutions is unethical and immoral. They say they are concerned with equality and equity, but I remain unconvinced. 

Adjuncts: Watch this Video and Share It

In this episode of “The Patriot Act,”f Hassan Minhaj does a great job of getting at the real state of college today, from what’s real value is, to why it’s so expensive, and to why students are getting ripped off via adjunctification and corporatism. Essential viewing. Click on the link below:

“Is College Still Worth It?”



AFT-ACC Statement on the Need for Contingent Faculty Relief and the Extension of Unemployment Benefits

The numbers are alarming. The US Department of Labor has reported that in just over three months 44 million people, or approximately 28 percent of the US workforce, have filed for unemployment.  In addition, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, over 10% of apartment households have yet to pay their rent in spite of receiving benefits from the CARES Act provisions, which expire at the end of July.

This is an American problem, but moreover, it is a catastrophe for America’s contingent, or “at-will” workers, who comprise approximately 30% of the US Labor force.  Among these workers are 1.3 million “part-time,” “adjunct,” or contingent college instructors, representing 75.5% of US faculty. These faculty, hired term-by-term on an “as needed” basis generally work with few to no benefits, and are paid, on the whole, less than half of what the full-time colleagues make. Surveys have shown that even prior to the COVID-19 Epidemic, approximately one of four of these faculty were receiving some form of government assistance.

Though having to take on the literal overnight and often uncompensated training and conversion to remote, or fully online instruction, adjunct/contingent college instructors rose to the challenge, and were able to be paid through their Spring terms. Now that the Summer has arrived, instructors at many institutions of higher learning are facing layoffs which will extend through the Fall as many students, out of either financial need, or lack of comfort with remote learning, will either put off or abandon instruction. In addition, they await an uncertain picture in the Spring of 2021.

Beyond Spring 2021 is even less certain.  The revenues collected by state and local governments to support education have sharply dropped, meaning without an influx of funding from other sources, college budgets will be sharply reduced. There will be fewer class offerings, fewer sections, and contingent instructors will lose the income that in many cases just kept them afloat.

The darkest part of this picture is that now in many states, as many adjunct/contingent faculties’ teaching assignments are considered completed, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Such presumption and denial is based on a false presumption that the offer of, or even the possibility of an assignment in a subsequent term represents “reasonable assurance” of future or continued employment.  The presumption is the result of a false equation between High Education and K-12 teaching.  Adjunct/Contingent faculty are not guaranteed work in the next term because their employment is based on enrollment, which unlike the K-12 system, fluctuates greatly. This longstanding practice has contributed to 30% of adjunct-contingent faculty living at or below the poverty line.

Some states, such as California, have recognized that the nature of adjunct/contingent teaching in Higher Ed means teaching from term-to-term, with no reasonable assurance of future employment, and as such, this enables these instructors and their families access to benefits which are often the one thing keeping them from absolute destitution.

The United States Department of Labor needs to recognize and acknowledge that adjunct/contingent faculty lack “reasonable assurance” of employment, as discussed in Section 3304(a)(6)(A) of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act.  In light of the COVID19 crisis, the loss, not just to these faculty and their families, but to the US Higher Education System will be incalculable and lasting. Further, America’s main vehicle for innovation, economic success, and most of all, societal equity, will be irreparably harmed.

Moreover, the existing extension of unemployment benefits from 27 to 39 weeks needs to be expanded to a full 52 weeks or a year to help adjunct-contingent faculty, adjunct/contingent workers and the unemployed as a whole. Only with the security to pay for food, rent, utilities, and basic living expenses can Americans move ahead.

In closing, this is not an issue or an impending crisis to be addressed later—the time is now. The expiration of CARES Act provisions is but weeks away. The devastation of the COVID19 need not be further amplified by inaction.

The American Federation of Teachers Adjunct/Contingent Faculty Caucus

Geoff Johnson President                                   William Lipkin             Vice President

Linda Chan      Secretary                                    Leonard Winogora     Treasurer

Cherie Kipple     Communications Officer

Arnie Schoenberg      Organizing Officer

Arnold Korotkin        Member at Large: 4-year Colleges

Linda Sneed                Member at Large: 2-year Colleges

Nancy Merrill-Walsh   Member at Large: Eastern Half