By Geoff Johnson, AFT VP for Adjunct Faculty, Mesa College
Even before the COVID pandemic struck, approximately 33 California community college districts offered no healthcare coverage to part-time faculty. Of the remaining 39 that do, only four, including the San Diego and Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College Districts, offer full medical coverage, including dependents, and then, only if a part-time faculty member is teaching at or above 50% of a full-time load in a single district.
Though COVID rates are dropping, and students, staff, and faculty are returning to campus, the decline in enrollments and subsequent loss of sections has had a devastating effect. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office reported a decrease of approximately 5,200 part-time jobs between Fall 2019 and Fall 2021, and with enrollment plunging even further this Spring, the loss of part-time positions has been even more profound. Even for those part-time faculty who have been fortunate enough to have retained assignments, many are working on reduced loads, meaning many of them too have lost healthcare coverage.
For many of these faculty, already struggling on limited incomes, going to the doctor is treated as a sort of luxury, and recent numbers from the 2022 AFT Army of Temps report bear this out. 43.3% percent of faculty surveyed stated that they had postponed healthcare including mental health services, 63.7% postponed dental checkups, and 27.7% forwent medical treatment recommended by a doctor.
In a number of cases, union locals that provide coverage have tried to protect part-timers by pressing districts to run classes with lower enrollments or allow faculty to keep their coverage in some cases for up to a year. In the San Diego Community College District, the AFT Guild was able secure coverage for those part-time faculty slated to lose coverage this February, but this agreement will end in June. Without a tentative assignment for Fall 2022 of 50% FTE or greater, these part-timers will lose their coverage.
While the state of California can’t necessarily boost enrollment, it can clearly do better for its part-time community college faculty. With both a $31 billion budget surplus and a governor’s proposal for $200 million in ongoing funding for part-time healthcare, the state has the means to not simply provide affordable healthcare access to the 33 districts with no part-time healthcare coverage, but improve the coverage in other districts, including the possibility of lowering the teaching load thresholds below 50% in a single district, or perhaps creating health consortiums which would allow part-time faculty teaching over 50% FTE in a particular region to get coverage.
But a governor’s proposal isn’t a guarantee, and there are potential threats to funding, such as the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, which is questioning if the sum is necessary, arguing that “further research,” is needed before funds are made available. As shown above, part-time faculty have already endured enough. For part-time faculty without adequate healthcare, their health and the health of their families can’t wait. The time to act is now.
To urge the State Legislature to fund health care for all part-time faculty, go here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-the-state-legislature-quality-affordable-healthcare-for-all-part-time-faculty?source=1931