Close to two-thirds of community college teachers in California are adjuncts or part-timers, and many of them have little job security. But two companion bills are now headed to Gov. Jerry Brown, which advocates say could improve conditions.
Adjuncts typically get paid only for hours they teach. When Keller started as an adjunct, he ran the math. He still wonders whether that was a good idea.
“For the number of hours I was actually working, including my prep and grading time, I discovered I actually would have made more money to take a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart,” he says.
Heather Chu agrees that it’s tough to be an adjunct, let alone remember where she’s supposed to be on what day. She has her master's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and is a choral and vocal teacher at two community colleges near Fresno.
“Every other day I go to a different school,” she says. “I have to remember which school I go to. Last Thursday, went to the wrong school!”
Chu is a single mom trying to make a living to support her child. Right now, she’s staying with her parents with the intent of building up her teaching resume so she can get a full-time job at a college or university.
She says it's hard counting on a specific income because classes sometimes get canceled at the last minute.
“And all of a sudden in a blink of an eye, you’re denied a source of income that you may have been expecting,” Chu says. “I don’t even know that jobs in the real world do that, you know. You’re at least given some notice.”
The first bill headed to the governor's desk, AB 1690, guarantees a consistent workload to adjuncts statewide who have taught for three years. It would also give them seniority rights and other benefits. Thirty-two of the state’s 72 community college districts already have some form of seniority rights through collective bargaining. This bill would bring the other districts up to standard, Keller says.
“It’s giving an opportunity for adjuncts who right now feel very, very powerless to step up and have unions that are more aggressive in looking out for their needs,” Keller says.
Chu says the bill is a positive move. “To feel valued at a school that you have been putting your time in, to have that seniority and a little bit of security, would definitely be a step in the right direction,” she says.
But Larry Galizio, president and CEO of the Community College League of California, says the districts are very diverse with different needs, so collective bargaining needs to stay at the local level.
”We see this as a one-size-fits-all approach, when the people closest to the issue understand much better the particular needs and where the investments need to occur to serve students in the communities,” Galizio says.
The problem, he says, is really about the systematic underfunding of community colleges.
“I don’t think anyone could deny the fact that part-time faculty at community colleges are often undercompensated. But the disagreement is: How do you approach that and what are the causal factors?” Galizio says.
And it’s clear many administrators don’t want a top-down mandate. That’s why SB 1379 was passed shortly before the legislative session ended this week. It’s tied to AB 1690 to give that bill a greater chance of being signed into law. SB 1379 gives local districts some flexibility with negotiations. But if districts don’t offer labor agreements, they stand to lose certain program funds, says Austin Webster, director of communications for the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.