by Mary Niederberger
To Community College of Allegheny County’s president, Alex Johnson, cutting hours for some 400 temporary part-time workers to avoid providing health insurance coverage for them under the impending Affordable Health Care Act is purely a cost-saving measure at a time the college faces a funding reduction.
But to some of the employees affected, including 200 adjunct faculty members, the decision smacks of an attempt to circumvent the national health care legislation that goes into effect in January 2014.
“It’s kind of a double whammy for us because we are facing a legal requirement [under the new law] to get health care and if the college is reducing our hours, we don’t have the money to pay for it,” said Adam Davis, an adjunct professor who has taught biology at CCAC since 2005.
Temporary part-time employees received an email notice from Mr. Johnson on Tuesday informing them that the new health care act defines full-time employees as those working 30 hours or more per week.
As a result, the college as of Dec. 31 will reduce temporary part-time employee hours to 25 per week. For adjuncts, the workload limit will be reduced from 12 to 10 credits per semester.
The decision affects only temporary part-time employees and not permanent part-time employees who already are eligible to participate in the college’s health care plan.
The employee groups affected are not represented by any bargaining units.
Mr. Johnson presented the plan to Allegheny County Council on Thursday as an example of ways the college is trying to control costs.
CCAC spokesman David Hoovler said although the Affordable Health Care Act doesn’t take effect until January 2014, for compliance purposes the federal government will look back one year to determine an employee’s status.
“This puts us in a difficult position,” Mr. Hoovler said. “We certainly respect the contribution that these temporary employees make to this institution. But this is just a step we have to take and we are confident we are well within the provisions of the act.”
CCAC is looking to comply with the law “with the limited resources that we have,” he said.
Mr. Hoovler said the cost to provide insurance to the 400 employees would be about $6 million.
This year, the college received $25.5 million from the county, but county Executive Rich Fitzgerald has proposed cutting that to $23.8 million. County Councilman William Robinson has proposed a $25 million CCAC allocation for 2013.
Until now, the college has placed a 12-credit limit on adjuncts and pays $730 per credit per semester.
Among the adjunct group, about 200 instructors are currently teaching more than 10 credits and will be affected by the reduction, Mr. Hoovler said. An additional 200 temporary part-time employees will have their hours reduced.
Mr. Hoovler said the 10-credit limit likely will require the college to hire additional adjuncts to cover classes if enrollment holds steady.
John Dziak, president of the CCAC Federation of Teachers, which represents the full-time faculty, said his members are caught in the middle.
He said full-time faculty have worked alongside the adjuncts for years and “obviously we have concerns about their well-being and understand their value to the school.”
In addition, he said, academic department heads are scrambling to find additional adjuncts to fill the spring schedule.
Mr. Dziak said he understands that the college does not have the $6 million to cover the cost of the health insurance. “This is one of those times when the best of intentions [of the federal health care legislation] do not always end up with the best of results,” said Mr. Dziak, a biology professor.
Jeff Cech, a United Steelworkers representative who is leading the effort to unionize adjunct professors at Duquesne University, said that adjuncts throughout the city are talking about Mr. Johnson’s memo to the CCAC adjuncts.
He said he hasn’t heard of any other college or university making such an announcement, but he noted that CCAC likely gives adjuncts the heaviest loads and therefore is most affected by the impending health care legislation.
“They may be complying with the letter of the law, but the letter of law and the spirit of the law are two different things,” Mr. Cech said. “If they are doing it at CCAC, it can’t be long before they do it other places.”
A spokesman for the American Association of University Professors said his organization has not heard of this action being taken at other academic institutions.
For Mr. Davis and his colleague Clint Benjamin, a CCAC adjunct who teaches English, the reduction in hours means less pay in a profession where people already are scrambling to make ends meet.
Both men teach at multiple schools trying to pull together enough income to survive with the hopes of one day being hired as full-time faculty.
This semester Mr. Benjamin is teaching seven courses — four at CCAC and three elsewhere. “We are the most vulnerable and weakest part of the faculty,” he said.
The new limits essentially cut his semester workload at CCAC from 12 to nine credits since his courses are three-credit courses. The additional one credit would apply to courses with labs or other additional activities or honors attached.
He suggested the college increase the per credit fee paid to adjuncts to make up for the credit reduction.
Mr. Davis said he doesn’t hold out much hope that any efforts will be made to help the adjuncts.
“We don’t have any recourse. We can complain to the administration, but they are under no obligation to listen to us. We all know we are expendable, and there are plenty of people out there in this economy who would be willing to have our jobs. We don’t have any way of fixing our situation,” he said.
Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Used here with permission.