In addition to the battle for paid adjunct office hours, part-time equity pay, and more full-time positions, perhaps the greatest concern has been over the issue of job security.
Understand that being an adjunct doesn’t simply mean being part-time, it means being considered an instructor being used, or rather hired, only as needed, with that notion of “needed” being not simply defined by the ups and downs of state budgets, but the whims and personalities of schedulers and administrators, from college presidents to department heads.
This of course is primarily an economic concern for adjuncts, who as a result must live their lives on a three-to-six month basis, even after teaching twenty or more years. An entire career can collapse in either a quarter or a semester.
Now, to the rare non-teacher who might read this blog, you might be saying to yourself: “So what? If I have a bad job performance review, or show up to work drunk, or insult my boss, I can get fired, so do I really have job security?”
Well, to be fair, no one does, or should have the kind of job security that allows them to be a crappy worker, and no, unions aren’t about protecting crappy workers. In fact, I get really pissed off when I perceive of an instructor failing to do their job, either because they ignore the needs of students, demean them, or are simply lazy. They make my job harder.
What unions are about is making sure that you don’t get fired when you are in fact doing your job, or that you don’t get fired off the mere accusation, without substantial proof, that you are doing your job badly.
Even if you’re a non-union worker, I assume that if you were doing your job, and your boss came up to one day, and said, “your fired”, and when you asked why, he/she simply said, “my prerogative,” you would feel it unjust, even if it is legal for him/her to do so.
The thing is, many adjuncts at colleges where there are no-hire rights face the above scenario. I have heard of adjuncts being told that they would not be rehired because they simply disagreed with or challenged a senior colleagues’ opinion and not necessarily in a confrontational manner or even public forum, but in a private conversation. Other times, no reason at all will be given.
What maybe adds a little icing on the cake to such injustice is when the adjunct in question may have good evaluations, and seniority over another adjunct who is retained. Some of these fired (or should I simply say, “left off the schedule”) adjuncts get the pleasure of later learning that their class will be taught be a shiny new adjunct with no previous teaching experience.
In fact, older adjuncts (those north of 50 years of age and 20 years experience) can be a popular target.
Now to be fair, while it may happen on occasion at my own institutions, I must say it is relatively rare (and I know saying this, I’m probably going to hear from people who got screwed, and I should, because when it happens to you, it sure as hell doesn’t feel “rare”) in comparison with some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other colleges. Part of the reason it is less frequent is because my institutions do have collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) which contain language regarding rehire rights.
That said, there are certain “holes” in the language regarding either the classes you can be re-hired for, the number of classes you can be guaranteed, seniority, etc…
Usually when adjuncts hear this, they are immediately frustrated and angry, and with good reason, but more often than not, rather than blaming the administrators who exploit these holes, or create them through adversarial bargaining, the blame goes on the unions who “don’t care about adjunct issues”.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many times when unions could and should do more for adjuncts, or at least do a better job of facilitating the expression of their concerns, and I’ve written on this, but often the most contentious discussion that takes place in negotiations, and the place where admin is most intransigent is over adjunct rehire rights. I’ve seen entire contract negotiations held up over the issue. Know that wanting something and even expressing it is never a guarantee you’re going to get it, no matter how hard you yell.
This is what brings me to AB 1010. This is a California Assembly Bill that has recently been introduced by Jose Medina, an Assemblyman out of Riverside which calls for the implementation of a union adjunct rehire rights policy for all community colleges. Read it here:
When I first heard about the bill, I was a bit apprehensive, mainly because I know, from having looked at rehire rights policies in other contracts, that you need to be very careful with the language you have for such policies, because any vague language which is subject to interpretation can be exploited by management, and either overturned or reinterpreted by an arbitrator if the matter reaches the level of a stage three grievance.
This is often why unions and admin will revisit their rehire policies to “clean up” the previous language.
When you pass something as a bill and put it into law, it’s not so easy to do that. Look no further than the Obamacare case before the Supreme Court being fought over four words in a 600-page document (“established by the state”).
I was also nervous about the potential loss of seniority and rehire rights in the event an adjunct would have to turn down a particular assignment due to extenuating circumstances, like a schedule conflict with another district. If you read the bill however, you will find that a adjunct will only lose seniority if they turn down ALL classes offered, and to be fair, you’re never going to get a bill passed that would give protections to turn down classes to one’s liking.
Personally, I like the bill as it is written, and I think if it got passed, as it is presently written, that it would be a great windfall for adjuncts in California.
The key here is, as presently written. I will tell you now, when various administrators see this bill around the state, they will be none too happy with it.
First of all, the bill allows for adjuncts who have received seniority rights (after six semesters), and have received a less than satisfactory evaluation, to be given a written plan for remediation and then re-evaluated in the next semester. In effect, adjuncts would be given a second chance if they botch an evaluation. This, in my opinion is a great idea, but I can tell you from having pushed for this in negotiations is something administrators generally hate, and you can be sure they will speak to it.
Another provision in the bill that administrators will be unhappy with is this:
In cases where a reduction in assignment needs to occur due to
program needs, budget constraints, or more contract faculty hires,
the reduction shall occur first from among those part-time, temporary
faculty members who have not yet qualified to be placed on the
seniority list, and thereafter in reverse seniority order, with the
least senior part-time, temporary faculty member reduced first. Any
rights to a certain workload equivalent shall be maintained for a
period of 18 months. In cases of class cancellation due to low
enrollment, faculty members shall displace faculty members who are
lower than they are on the seniority list.
A similar idea was floated by one of the negotiation teams at one of my colleges and it was a complete non-starter.
Now maybe we’ll all get lucky and every administrator and scheduler in the California Community College System will have either had a sudden change of heart, or simply be drunk, asleep, or stoned as the bill winds its way up to the governor, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Assuming then that we can get this bill past the Assembly and Senate, the next, and biggest hurdle, is…you guessed it, Jerry Brown. Now Jerry may be down with adjuncts or not, but again, this bill, like the categoricals I mentioned earlier, goes at the heart of the local control issue. This bill is about effectively taking a part of adjunct hiring policies out of the hands of local districts and putting it in the hands of the state.
Great, I say, and so should you, but again, this gets to what I discussed in my previous entry–there’s going to need to be a change in the philosophy regarding how education is managed in the state.
Do not believe for a minute good adjuncts that I don’t think we should fight this fight-we not only should, we have to. But we need to know what we’re up against, and we need to be strategizing to achieve this goal.
Part of this should be to wake up our local elected officials to the realities to local control. Maybe we need to remind them of the city of Bell, and let them know that on a smaller, yet more widespread scale, a similiar misdirection of educational resources and capriciousness of administrators is alive and well.
Anyway, get out there and fight for AB 1010 to be passed, and with real language that works for adjuncts.
A Good Adjunct