by Tom Robb
When Henry Ford first put his Model T’s and Model A’s on the assembly line, he introduced a revolutionary concept: workers should be able to afford the cars they are making. That concept seems lost on today’s business leaders and others.
Last week, Oakton Community College, which serves Glenview and several North Shore communities, held a meeting in which academic department heads and union officials were told to limit adjunct instructors credit hours of work. Union officials say college administrators wanted to ensure none of their adjunct faculty would work enough hours to qualify for mandatory health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called “Obamacare” by some, that takes effect next year.
The ACA mandates employees working more than 30 hours per week receive health insurance with a few exceptions for small companies. Meanwhile, disparities between what those at the top of the income ladder earn compared to those at the bottom continue to widen.
The ACA and proposed hike to $9 per hour in the minimum wage leads business leaders to claim the sky is falling, saying the moves would kill “job creation.” As seen locally by officials at Oakton, this phenomenon is not limited to hourly workers in factories or those serving up your morning cup of coffee. It is college faculty teaching our youth (and not so young) at colleges and universities.
These instructors at Oakton and other colleges and universities, cobbling together a living teaching at two, three and four colleges and universities, with little if any job security from one semester to the next, are often referred to as “Roads Scholars.”
Roads Scholars are not unique to Oakton, but the move to preemptively ensure none get health insurance is cause for concern.
The number of adjunct faculty members is also increasing. Union officials say adjunct instructors rather than full-time professors teach 65 percent of classes at Oakton. Others in business have talked about finding ways around the health care law and its 30-hour rule. The bottom line is the affect on communities by putting the squeeze on workers for that little extra profit.
Northfield Township, near Oakton Community College, recently purchased a new building. A key consideration in site selection was a building with enough space for growing food pantry demand. For years Northfield Township officials have said the number of people depending on food from the pantry continues at a strong steady climb with no signs of slowing in this jobless recovery. People who once donated are now clients depending on the pantry to eat.
In the short-term, lower wages and hiring part-time rather than full-time employees not entitled to benefits does make for higher profits. However, in the long-term this kind of nickel and diming of the workforce leads to an unhealthy community populated with workers who are stressed by their inability to pay mounting bills and work longer hours for less money.
As bonuses and compensation at the top continue to rise, top managers and those authorizing six, seven and eight-digit annual paychecks need to ask themselves if they should do so at the cost of their communities and those at the bottom.
The Illinois town of Glenview has a fine tradition of giving to those in need through charities. Giving a man (or woman) a fish feeds them for a day. While that is clearly needed, taking away the self-respect and self-sufficiency of good jobs people can support families on, for the sake of the short-term, robs that ability to fish for themselves.
Those in positions of influence over labor decisions, whether at Oakton Community College or in corporate quarters, should consider whether a little more pay and a little less profit might make for a better end in their long term investment.