January 2017 Issue
December 19, 2016

Stepping up for adjuncts

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner and Executive VP Andy Pallotta answer questions at a higher ed event.
Caption: NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner and Executive VP Andy Pallotta answer questions at a higher ed event. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

As the number of adjuncts dramatically increases on college campuses, unions are stepping up to advocate on their behalf and improve their working conditions.

The union's work continues to evolve and takes many different shapes around the state, whether it's letting adjuncts know they may be eligible for unemployment benefits, or negotiating contract items like tuition reimbursement or extra pay for seniority.

"It's the dominant sector, particularly in community colleges," said Westchester Community College member Alan Trevithick, who teaches anthropology courses at Westchester CC, LaGuardia CC and Fordham University. "We have many different needs, but there's much that unifies us ... The goal we should have is the regularization of adjuncts."

Trevithick was one of many who gathered for an adjunct issues forum at NYSUT's Community College Conference this fall. Participants discussed job security issues; eligibility for public service loan forgiveness; applying for unemployment and the potential for joining the state retirement system.

"There are a lot of issues for adjuncts, but the most important ones are salary and the guarantee of a job," said Doug Cody, who is a chemistry adjunct at Suffolk County CC, Nassau CC and SUNY Farmingdale.

On the issue of engaging more part-time faculty in union activities, Cody said many adjuncts literally don't have time. "They're running from one job to another, grading exams, preparing lectures," Cody said. "I'm one of those so-called 'road scholars' … I'm on three faculties. When I go home after this conference I have 120 papers to grade."

Participants brainstormed new ways to increase pay for adjuncts, including proposals to pay a flat $5,000–$7,000 per course.

Jeff Zeller, of Rockland CC Adjunct Faculty Association, explained how his contract provides some additional pay and benefits for adjuncts with10 years of service. "It's just an additional $60 per credit hour, but at least it's something that recognizes years of service."

Susan DeRaymo, vice president for part-timers at the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, said it's often a matter of communication. "A lot of people just don't know what their rights are or what they're entitled to." For example, after PSC publicized the process and requirements to file for unemployment benefits, numerous adjuncts reported success.

DeRaymo said PSC's recent contract agreement contained many provisions for the growing number of adjuncts, including the introduction of three-year appointments for adjuncts who have taught consistently in a single department.

The new provision, among the hardest-fought in the contract, is designed to professionalize the treatment of adjuncts and increase continuity among instructors for students. Part-time faculty teach more than half the courses at CUNY.

United University Professions, which represents the academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York's state-operated campuses, has highlighted contingent concerns in a number of ways in recent years.

The union has a statewide Contingent Concerns Committee, and has amended its constitution to enhance the representation of adjuncts and other contingent employees in UUP's statewide and chapter-level organizational structures. The union is negotiating a contract with the state, and issues of importance to contingent employees are of primary concern in those negotiations. The union's negotiations team includes three contingent employees.