Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Summary of the first hearing of HB 1154, State Affairs Committee, Colorado State Legislature

By Don Eron

Thanks to all of you who have extended your congratulations, and to the rest of you who are pulling for us in Colorado. As most of you know by now, the "Community College Pay and Benefits Act of 2014," HB14-1154, passed through the House State Affairs Committee early yesterday evening by a party line vote of 7-4.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) has a powerful lobby. With this triumph we cleared a significant hurdle, although the challenge ahead is considerable.

Yesterday's meeting lasted almost four hours. Five speakers—community college presidents and staff representing the CCCS--spoke in opposition to the bill. Their presentation lasted over an hour. For the flavor of the CCCS testimony, read Peter Schmidt's article in the Chronicle:


I am sure that these speakers would disagree, but much of the CCCS testimony bespoke contempt for the adjuncts that teach the majority of the courses in Colorado's community colleges. While the proceedings were courteous, claims of the CCCS administrators were occasionally met with laughter from the adjuncts and others in attendance. It is notable that, at the end of the hearing when the representatives offered commentary prior to voting, two representatives expressed their view that at least some of the CCCS testimony was dishonest.

Between 20 and 30 speakers testified in support of the bill, most of them adjuncts or former adjuncts in the state community college system. At the beginning of the hearing, the committee chairwoman announced that because there were so many speakers, she planned to limit testimony. To give you a sense of the impact of the adjunct testimony, by the end of the almost four hour session she sent her legislative assistant into the audience with the sign-up sheet, to ensure that every adjunct present would have the opportunity to tell their story to the state legislature.

HB14-1154 is a grass roots initiative, spearheaded by contingent faculty. Suzanne Hudson wrote the legislation, has guided it through numerous revisions and written innumerable supportive documents. She has travelled the state to meet with community college faculty, state legislators and other stakeholders. In the last three weeks alone, as the hearing has approached, she has gone to the web site of every community college in Colorado, written down email addresses, and sent emails to as many of the 4,000 Colorado community college faculty as she could find, urging them to contact their legislators in support of the bill. Many have written back to her with notes that are heartbreaking. And Caprice Lawless, who is one of the most resourceful activists I have met in academic labor, and who is an adjunct at Front Range Community College and president of the remarkable FRCC AAUP chapter, has contributed at least as much.

But as I cannot emphasize enough, this is a community effort. For the concept of the legislation, we are indebted to Jack Longmate, Frank Cosco, and Keith Hoeller. And none of this would be possible without Rep. Randy Fischer, to my mind the best legislator in the country on adjunct issues, who embraced the idea of sponsoring progressive legislation in his final session in the Colorado house. For many years, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP has supported Suzanne and me with every idea we've had. Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the AAUP and a leading higher education budget expert, flew in to testify at yesterday's hearing. AFT Colorado, particularly Ellen Slatkin, has been indispensable. SEIU Colorado, AAUW Colorado, the Colorado Education Association, 9 to 5, and the New Faculty Majority have endorsed this initiative. We will need their help in the weeks to come. But most of all, we are indebted to the many courageous Colorado adjuncts who have given their hearts to this project.

The next step for this bill is the House Appropriations Committee. If it passes through Appropriations, it moves to the house floor, and then to the senate. To get it through the Appropriations committee, we will have to make the case that the legislation is affordable--or at least that the legislature cannot afford to defeat the bill. Cost estimates have ranged from $38 million (Fichtenbaum) to $117 million (the CCCS). We believe that we can devise a strategy to trim the cost to almost nothing--if you consider $10 million or $15 million to be almost nothing.

Since Suzanne, Caprice, and I got the idea for this initiative, and Randy signed on, many people have  told us that just getting this legislation introduced would change the contingent conversation in Colorado, and that getting the bill through a committee could have a lasting impact. We don't disagree. But just to make this clear: We are in it to win it!