Facts about Priority of Assignment (POA) (10/08/2015)

Dear SDCCD Adjunct Faculty Colleagues,
There has been a lot of misinformation sent on the email DL lately from a handful of adjunct faculty regarding what the Priority of Assignment (POA) language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) can or can’t do for you, as well as ample misunderstanding as to what the newly negotiated provision of this Article actually contain in the new CBA.
While we understand that adjunct faculty are anxious about issues regarding their job security, it’s important that we make decisions based on facts rather than fears.  I hope you will take the time to read this entire message and recognize that your AFT negotiating team and Executive Council’s intent is always to protect your interests to the best of our ability and that we have, and will continue to do, everything we can to enforce this intent once these new CBA changes are in place.
Let’s start with what POA cannot do for you:
1)  It cannot force the District to generate a new assignment for you.  If there are 8 adjunct faculty with POA, and only 7 available assignments, one person (the least senior) will be without work.  There is nothing we can negotiate which can change that fact.
2)  It cannot solve personality conflicts between you and your chair and/or dean.  We do our best to adjudicate these disputes, and we are usually successful, but we have no magic in our bag to make everyone like you.  (If we did, we would be in another line of work.)
3)  It cannot cover every single contingency.  We have done our best to write language to cover as many situations as practicable, but if someone really wants to get you out, and they do so by following the CBA (for example canceling every single course offering in a particular discipline) there is little we can do for you contractually.  (The same applies to tenure-track contract faculty before they gain tenure by the way.)  We can apply political pressure, but we will lose these cases if we were to file a grievance on your behalf.
Now let’s look at what POA can do for you:
1)  It provides you with job security you would not otherwise have under the Education Code.  As written into the Education Code, adjunct faculty are at-will employees, subject to dismissal at any time.  It is only through our Union negotiations with the District that we have been able to provide this job security for you.  Without the CBA, you would have no rights to any type of assignment.
2)  It provides a seniority system so that new assignments are given out to the most senior faculty member in that discipline first.  This allows as many adjunct faculty as possible to increase their FTEF to the 0.60-0.67 FTEF range.
3)  When budget cuts occur, it provides a seniority system so that cuts happen from the bottom up.  In other words, adjunct faculty without POA are laid off first, and then least senior to most senior among those with POA.  This system saved many adjunct faculty from losing their assignments and/or their healthcare coverage during the recent six year recession.
4)  Without a POA system in place, no one would ever be able to qualify for healthcare benefits.  This item speaks for itself.  If there was no seniority system in place, no one would have a right to increase her/his FTEF in order qualify for benefits, nor would you have a right to maintain it.  If you don’t believe this, ask your Continuing Education colleagues (who until now did not have this POA system in place) when the last time a CE adjunct faculty member was allowed to increase her/his assignment FTEF in order to be able to qualify for healthcare coverage.
Now let’s look at what’s changed in the proposed new CBA from the current CBA:
1)  The qualifying period for adjunct faculty who have not yet gained POA has increased from six to eight semesters (except for grandfathered in CE adjunct which I will address next).  Yes, this was indeed a give to the District, but one we did not view as unreasonable, considering that is the same probationary period tenure-track contract faculty have to serve in order to gain tenure.
2)  Continuing Education adjunct faculty who have served ten semesters or more will automatically be included in the POA program effective Spring Semester, 2016.  This means no need to notify your dean or chair, no meeting with them is necessary–it means automatic inclusion effective next semester.
3)  All other CE adjunct faculty will now be able to participate in POA.  This is a huge win for the nearly 500 CE adjunct faculty, who, for the past 101 years, have had no real job security program in place.  (That’s not a typo, it’s really been over a century with no job security.)
4)  All classes taught since 1990 will automatically be included on everyone’s POA seniority list of courses.  In the past, there was constant haggling with your dean and/or chair as to which classes you should have included on your seniority list.  No more.  Every single class you have taught since 1990 (yes, the last 25 years), provided you did not receive a negative evaluation in that class, will be included on your seniority list of courses.
5)  All future classes taught will also be added to your POA seniority list automatically.  In the past, there was no explicit CBA language covering this.  Although we were always successful in resolving this issue when a dispute arose, having this clear language in the CBA should mitigate any further “misunderstandings” with your dean.
6)  There is no longer a need to have a meeting with your chair and dean to qualify for POA.  In the past (including this current fall semester since the new CBA does not take effect until Spring), you would have to arrange a meeting with your chair and dean in order to initiate the POA process. While most of these meetings were pro-forma, there have been many instances where getting the meeting scheduled was problematic.  Now, holding a meeting is no longer a requirement to gain POA.
7)  Your request for POA cannot be refused.  The only thing you need to do to initiate POA, after you have served the requisite number of five semesters (during semester six), is to send an email to your chair and dean (with a cc to your dean’s secretary) requesting inclusion in POA.  Your POA rights take effect two semesters hence (semester nine).  Note you are still an at-will employee, as are full-time contract tenure-track faculty, until you reach semester nine.
8)  Your Dean/Chair cannot retaliate against you for requesting POA.  This has been a problem for some in the past.  To address this we have added this new language to the CBA:  “[T]he act of applying for POA may not be used as grounds for termination, nor shall the District discourage adjunct faculty from exercising their right to apply for POA.”
9)  Updated and clarified evaluation frequency to be at least once within first year of employment, once every six semesters, and within two semesters of requesting POA.  This will help eliminate arbitrary and capricious terminations of adjunct faculty who ask for POA as it will now require an evaluation to take place.
10)  No one less senior can move ahead of you on the seniority list.  In the past, with seniority based on accumulated FTEF, a less senior faculty member with a higher load could move ahead of a more senior faculty member who was teaching fewer courses.  Seniority is now determined by the date at which you initially applied for POA, so seniority will truly mean seniority.
11)  We have clarified that your FTEF is based on an annualized calculation.  In the past it was only a one semester snapshot.  Since many adjunct faculty have fluctuating assignments, the two semester average will ensure their POA load remains at a minimum what it has been in the past.
12)  Your POA load is based on the two semester average of the semester when you apply, and the previous semester.  We added this language to ensure that your guaranteed POA load cannot be reduced once you apply for POA.
13)  The POA seniority list for a given discipline is available to all adjunct faculty.  In the past, the Guild had to request this list on behalf on anyone who wanted to view it.  Now you have a right to ask for the list yourself.
14)  The District must now provide a comprehensive POA list to the Guild for all disciplines by June 30 of each year.  In the past, other than asking for individual lists, we had no way of tracking the overall progress of the POA program, or who was in and who wasn’t.  Now the District will need to provide us with a master list each year.
15)  We have added explicit language that ensures once your two semester average load increases, your POA rights increase to that new FTEF level as well.  While this has always been our position in the past, and we have successfully adjudicated these disputes as they arose, having this explicit language should eliminate problems in this area.
16)  Adjunct faculty who retire from STRS but wish to continue to teach maintain their POA rights.  Although we were able to get a sideletter to this effect with the District when the pension reform legislation was passed in 2013, that sideletter only applied to college faculty.  We now have explicit CBA language that applies not only to college, but CE adjunct faculty as well.
17)  A POA grievance may now result in retroactive pay as a remedy.  The previous CBA language did not allow for us to seek retroactive pay if we won a grievance on behalf of an adjunct faculty member for a POA violation.
18)  If an adjunct faculty member without POA is terminated for any reason other than lack of enrollment, he/she is entitled to a written explanation stating the reason(s) for the termination.  In the past, they did not have to be given any reason for their termination.
So, in summary, on just this POA topic alone, I count 17 significant concrete gains for adjunct faculty, and only one questionable concession.  The nature of negotiations is such that there is give and take on both sides, and the result is a bi-lateral agreement between the parties.  On balance, I hope that you will agree with me that this package is an Agreement worthy of your affirmative ratification vote.
In a future email I will detail other changes we have negotiated in the CBA to the benefit of our adjunct faculty members.  Please keep in mind that this section on POA is just one part (although an important part) of an entire 200+ page CBA.
Please also keep in mind when the irrational emails begin to fly again in response to this message, all any collective bargaining agreement can do is to establish rights within that context.  For things that fall outside of our legal scope of authority, the most any union can do is to apply political pressure, but we have no legal enforcement angle.  What we can’t do is make the world perfect.  Hence we urge you not to allow the lack of perfection in the CBA to be the enemy of all the good that it does do.
I hope this lengthy email helps to clarify matters surrounding POA.  If you still have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
In Solidarity,
Jim Mahler, President
AFT Guild, Local 1931

San Diego & Grossmont-Cuyamaca

Community Colleges