Bills to aid community college adjuncts advance in California Assembly

Committee approval comes day after part-time instructors sue over working conditions

Source: EdSource

“Equal pay for equal work is about as simple as it gets,”

Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, author of a bill to increase community college adjunct professors' teach loads, speaking on the Assembly floor in 2017.

Two bills designed to improve the working conditions of part-time community college professors were easily approved by the state Assembly Higher Education Committee on Tuesday, but questions remain as to whether they will become law.

Assembly Bill 1856, sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, the committee chair, would allow part-timers, generally called adjuncts, to teach up to 85% of a full-time teaching load in a single community college district. That would allow adjuncts more stability and could lessen the need for some to teach in multiple districts to cobble together a living. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed similar legislation Medina sponsored last year, citing cost concerns.

Assembly Bill 1752, sponsored by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would create pay equity between part-time faculty and their full-time colleagues, who are paid at higher hourly rates and are compensated for work outside the classroom, such as class preparation and meeting with students. Adjuncts are generally paid only for time in the classroom and complain they often meet with students, grade papers and prepare lessons without pay.

“There is terrible inequity, not just on pay, but in terms of what is paid for and what is not paid for. We are asking that part-time instructors be paid at parity,” Santiago said during the hearing. “This is about equal pay for equal work.”

Santiago’s bill was opposed Tuesday by the Community College League, which represents locally elected trustees and top administrators at the state’s 72 local districts.

“We really do need to compensate our part-time faculty members better, and better working conditions,” Ryan McElhinney, the league’s policy and advocacy manager, told lawmakers. But, he added, “without a commensurate, significant budget increase, we do not think that this bill will fix the problems that face our institutions today.”

Newsom’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget proposed in January includes $200 million in new spending for improved adjunct health care. But McElhinney noted that “California community colleges receive the lowest per-pupil funding rate of any education system in this state, and that forces hard choices for our districts.” Improved adjunct pay, he said, is competing with meeting pension obligations, free tuition, and programs “to alleviate (students’) food and housing and security.”

Medina, a former adjunct and community college trustee, came out strongly for Santiago’s bill. He called part-time faculty “the backbone” of the community colleges and said he understands “the struggle they face to put food on the table” under the current system.

“Equal pay for equal work is about as simple as it gets,” Medina said. There are “other forums” to discuss how much the bill will cost districts and the state, he added. The bill was approved and will next be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The hearing came a day after two Long Beach Community College District adjuncts sued that district in state court, claiming they are routinely required to do work such as prepping for classes and grading papers for which they are not paid. They are asking a judge to certify the suit as a class action, a move that would bring in hundreds of other district adjuncts as plaintiffs. The lawyer for the plaintiffs said if that happens, the district could easily face millions of dollars in damages for lost pay. A spokesperson for the district declined to comment.

The suit could also have statewide ramifications. Adjuncts and their advocates say the practice of limiting adjunct pay to classroom time, and in some cases, office hours, is common across California’s 72 local community college districts. Adjuncts surveyed and interviewed for an EdSource three-part investigative series published in February often said they have to work for free to meet student needs.

Medina, who cited the series at a hearing in January, let the bill’s supporters, the California Federation of Teachers and the Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges, push for the committee’s support Tuesday.

Michael Young, representing the teachers federation, said, “there are too many part-time faculty who have to drive from district to district to district to piece together a full-time load … (and) spend more time on the freeway than they do providing essential services to our students.”

Newsom’s veto message last year on the similar bill Medina sponsored cited general cost concerns. Medina and others have said some of those concerns involved health care costs. Individual contracts that districts negotiate with faculty unions often use teaching load as a marker for when adjuncts become eligible for health benefits.

Raising the load makes more adjuncts eligible for coverage. State aid to districts to cover those costs has been historically inadequate. But Newsom’s $200 million proposal is designed to solve that.

“We are working with the governor’s office to provide additional funding in the budget for any health care cost that could be associated with this bill,” Young said.