Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Breaks leaving you broke and blue, adjunct faculty? Apply for unemployment!

by Caprice Lawless
(Published Aug. 8, 2017 on the AAUP Academe blog)
         New, federal-level unemployment changes are good news for adjunct faculty in the Colorado Community College System. Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.  That was not the case previously. It’s good news for adjunct faculty in the CCCS, as it is for all adjunct/contingent faculty throughout American higher education. The federal-level changes mean we may qualify for unemployment benefits between every semester, and that that old nonsense about “reasonable assurance” is UI history.
New federal guidelines from the National Labor Relations Board, per the  new Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 05-17, are the source of this good news. We have many people to thank for that letter and what it can do for us (more on that below). I know it sounds too good to be true, but it is. When I heard of the letter, I was skeptical, as well, but then several people I trust explained that this new letter means money, not just money talk, for us between semesters. In her Academe article about the unemployment changes, AAUP’s Communication Director Gwen Bradley said the new guidance, “echoing themes raised with the department [of Labor] and articulated by the AAUP for years, explicitly acknowledged that ‘the employment model educational institutions follow has changed appreciably, particularly for institutions of higher education. In higher education the use of part-time instructors, often referred to as ‘adjunct’ or ‘contingent’ faculty, has increased significantly.’” Both Maria Maisto, director of the New Faculty Majority and Joe Berry of the Coalition for Contingent and Academic Labor, talked about the letter during their presentations at our Colo. Conf. Academic Freedom Symposium this spring. At the meeting they urged all adjunct/contingent faculty to apply for unemployment straightaway.
Many of my CCCS adjunct peers and I tried to get unemployment benefits through the State of Colorado just a few years ago.  We left that experience not only empty-handed, but also demoralized and bah-humbugged just as the holidays were setting in.  Fighting back anger at that unhappy episode, I decided to test the waters during this semester break on behalf of other adjunct faculty in the CCCS. What follows is my experience combined with some helpful advice. Unemployment offices operate slightly differently in each state, but the federal guidelines must be considered by each state. Steps you’ll need to follow in your state may differ, but the detail here will help you, regardless.
         To begin, the Colorado Unemployment Benefits interface has been streamlined. It is not nearly as intimidating as it was three years ago, when, hopes high and finances low, we had tried to file claims. Even so, before you start, get yourself a tall latte and settle in for several hours of labor (yes, hours). You will need your pay stubs for the past 18 months, and you need to put them in chronological order. There is lots of math involved, so have your calculator handy. You’ll also need your driver’s license. Are the steps easy to follow? Yes. Are they annoying? Oh, yes. Will feelings of injustice stop you from time to time? Undoubtedly. But don’t let that stop you. If possible, apply with another adjunct faculty member to dispel the angst. Keep your eye on the prize: $200 to $300 a week, in most cases, until the next semester begins. Not to belabor the point (there’s that word again), but perhaps a little something in that latte might make the process less painful.
         Keep in mind that throughout the time you are receiving unemployment from the State of Colorado, you’ll need to apply for several jobs each week. The new Colorado UI interface helps recipients in that regard. You can ask it to send job-opening notices that might suit you.
         It took several hours of work, but, in the end, my claim went through and I qualified for $241/week! I was thrilled. The thrill lasted a good five minutes. Then, in a call from the Unemployment Office, I learned that, because I am teaching one, 10-week class this summer at FRCC, the wage I earn doing so cancels out the unemployment benefit.  That is my circumstance because I snagged a course. Your circumstances may differ, however.
         In a follow-up call to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment today, I asked two key questions of the spokesperson, to make sure my experience was not a red herring, and that you, when you apply, might get some real results this spring:
How has the Colorado Dept. of Labor and Unemployment geared up for this change to help adjunct faculty in the CCCS?

CDLE Response: “The Division of Unemployment Insurance provided refresher training to staff who process claims and reviewed and updated procedure manuals, as appropriate.”

If an adjunct faculty member has no income between semesters, does he/she now qualify for UI in Colorado?

CDLE Response: “The question cannot be answered directly. The Division of Unemployment Insurance must determine if an individual qualifies to be paid UI benefits on a case-by-case basis. First, it has to be determined whether the adjunct faculty member’s situation meets the defined prerequisites for returning to work in the following term or semester. Then, the adjunct faculty member must meet all of the other weekly requirements, which includes having an income less than the weekly benefit amount paid to him or her.”

         So, to summarize, your circumstances (e.g., no class to teach and no other income), may well qualify you for the UI benefit from the State of Colorado. You just have to follow the steps and see for yourself, as each case is different.
         Now that I have a solid understanding of it and this positive experience, I will apply for unemployment the last day of the each semester. I may not get enough to put on a big Labor Day BBQ, but it will beat roasting carrots, putting them into hot dog buns, and reciting to guests my tired lecture on the power of imagination.
         This change to the NLRB’s unemployment guidelines is long overdue. It’s lineage can be traced all the way back to the fierce adjunct activist Steve Street. Street passed away in 2012, but has become a patron saint or poet laureate of the adjunct labor movement. So important was he to the movement that the New Faculty Majority (NFM) renamed their initial push for the changes in unemployment law in his honor.  Thus, “The Steve Street National Unemployment Compensation Initiative” served as a lightning rod, eventually bringing to the effort: Judy Olson with the National Education Association (NEA), Annie Wiegard and Jennie Shanker with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Joe Berry and Helena Worthen with the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL), Richard Gomes of AAUP’s Contingent Faculty Committee, AAUP Senior Counsel Aaron Nisenson, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the Communication Workers of America (CWA), to name a few.
          Let this partial list of those who persisted on our behalf for many years inspire you to apply for unemployment this -- and every -- semester break. Each time you do so the process will grow easier for you. Remember, as well, that each application is a form of activism. Time spent on such tasks is never wasted; it counts. Apply today and let me know how it goes. I look forward to hearing about your success over a few cheap beers and carrot dogs.
# # #
NOTE: A few weeks ago, I served as witness in an appeal hearing between Colorado’s UI Benefits office and an adjunct faculty member who teaches at two colleges, whose summer classes had been cancelled by administrators, and whose UI claims had, nevertheless, been denied. Using details from the DOL Program Letter #5-17 described above, we were able to get that denial reversed. We will share a bit of training on this process at our AAUP Chapters Faculty Un-Service next month at the Denver Press Club. If you are a CCCS faculty member, please join us to learn more about this, and about all the other work our AAUP chapters are doing to help steer things in a new direction.
Breaks leaving you broke and blue, adjunct faculty? Apply for unemployment!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Adjunct Faculty - Write your U.S. Reps today in support of HR 1205 (worth thousands to you in retirement)

This month, our AAUP chapters of the CCCS urge you to write to your U.S. representatives in support of federal legislation HR 1205, to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Together, these federal provisions are devastating to CCCS adjunct faculty, especially, and need to be struck down. 
Were you aware of how two Reagan-era provisions (Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision) (GPO/WEP) unfairly impoverish CCCS adjunct faculty for the rest of their lives? The two programs do not hurt CCCS career employees such as full-time faculty, administrators, and staff. The six initials have life-altering and devastating effects on workers who paid into Social Security for years, then became part-time college teachers who paid into Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) instead of SS for several years. The latter typifies CCCS adjunct faculty. Adjunct faculty are 80% of CCCS faculty and are nearly HALF ofthe entire CCCS workforce (4,613 of the 12,590 CCCS employees in 2017).
How do the two programs work to hurt adjunct faculty? Briefly, when PERA worker/members retire, Social Security (SS) will deduct from their SS benefit 2/3 of whatever they may receive from PERA. Lifetime-career PERA-only workers are thus not affected. However, those adjunct faculty who worked in professions previously and now bring that professional expertise to CCCS classrooms will be penalized mightily in retirement, financially.
For example: Perhaps from previous work in the private sector, you are slated to receive $1,100/month from SS, and then, from dozens of years working "part-time" as an adjunct faculty in the CCCS, you are slated to receive $1,000/month from PERA. What you don't realize is how the GPO/WEP programs require SS to deduct 2/3 of the PERA amount from your SS payments. In this example, you might have believed you would be receiving a total of $2,100 month in retirement from the combined SS and PERA ($1,100 + $1,000). However, SS will deduct $666 from that $1,100. Instead, you will be receiving only $1,434/month. At $1,434/month, that puts you at an annual retirement income of $17,208. In other words, your income throughout retirement will be $6,933 below the living wage for the Denver metro area($24,141 in 2017).
In this way, as if poverty level wages working as an adjunct were not devastating enough, as a final and enduring insult, you learn that years of top-notch work in the CCCS will make you $666 poorer the rest of your life.
Wouldn't it be helpful if, when new adjunct faculty take a position in the CCCS, we could let them know about how these two programs will deduct funds from their SS payments when they retire because of how PERA interacts with the GPO/WEP?
            While CCCS presidents boast about a faculty of working professionals and about "appreciating adjunct faculty," they do nothing to look out for that same faculty by pushing to change the PERA/GPO/WEP issue. A vibrant and employee-focused CCCS HR division would be doing so. Are they? If lobbyists under contract to the CCCS were similarly focused, they, too, might be working to change this situation. Are they? Who is? Only the AAUP chapters are doing so. Our AAUP chapters of the CCCS learned of these provisions through our own research as part of our Adjunct Survival Workshop Series.
            Most adjunct faculty believe they'll snag all their SS retirement when they retire AND their PERA. They are unaware of how the GPO/WEP will HURT them in retirement. Your single letter to a U.S. lawmaker might help, but just think of what a difference it makes when a juggernaut organization like the AAUP gets behind a push for needed change. Our AAUP chapters have been writing to U.S. lawmakers and colleagues for some time now about the GPO/WEP. Please join us, and add your voice to our chorus.

Monday, February 20, 2017

How do I exploit thee? Let me count the ways

by Caprice Lawless     
          Our advocacy work on behalf of faculty may seem to be eclipsed, at present, by national events, but the stellar AAUP members in our Colorado Community College System (CCCS) Chapters, befriended now by scores of authors, activists, lawmakers and organizers around the country, tirelessly persist, in this, the Age of Persistence.
          It looks as though our request for a legislative audit has been successfully railroaded by those under the dome who are opposed to social justice. Those of  you outside Colorado may be interested to know that in November, Colorado voters determined that an aged statute legalizing slavery in Colorado, in certain circumstances was worth saving and so it stands. We have many downtown who ARE dedicated to social justice, but they are in the minority, at least for now.
          When you understand that so many in Colorado eye slavery as a useful employment model, it makes it easy for the high rollers in our system to cast those of us asking for a living wage as less than grateful, I suppose. Paging Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Upton Sinclair.
          Meanwhile, in the rapidly corporatizing 13-college system of community colleges, communicating with peers grows more difficult by the day. Our once friendly and spacious mail room, its walls lined with big faculty mailboxes, has been replaced by a wall of slots into which we are allowed to leave a folder or two, under the watchful eye of a staffer, but never much more and AAUP items are strictly verbotten. All the shabby and endearing bulletin boards crammed with evidence of community and life have been removed. They were replaced with new, smaller bulletin boards, postings for which must be approved by the vice president. Furthermore, the individual presidents at the 13 colleges, it appears, have determined that the AAUP is a so-called "outside group" and so we are not allowed to set up a table to pass along literature about the AAUP, without first paying a hefty "table" fee of $50 and then showing proof of a liability policy, should someone trip over a chair or sprain an ankle. Those policies run about $200/per event, thus effectively killing any presence of the AAUP on our college campuses.
         It is in this Orwellian environment that we filed a Colorado Open Records Act Request in early January, to get a bit of the information that is never made available to the public in our increasingly non-transparent public institution.
          Briefly, here's a breakdown on the categories of employment by headcount (not by FTE).
          From our AAUP 2017 Colorado Open Records Act Request, we have learned that, of the 12,590 CCCS employees:
   • 6,831 are administrators, professional-technical, classified, hourly or student employees;
   • 4,613 are adjunct faculty
   • 1,146 are full-time faculty
   • 80% of all faculty are adjunct faculty
   • Only 9% of its total employees are full-time faculty
   • More than half its employees are not faculty
          Notably, salaries at the top continue to rise. See the chart at the bottom of  this pdf that we received from CCCS headquarters in response to our CORA Request.
          Now that non-faculty outnumber all faculty in our college system, it is no wonder that the most recent vision statement was created without even one faculty member present. Given the abysmal state of affairs for the profession of teaching in the CCCS, it is yet the latest example of poetic injustice.
# # #