Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Chronicle of Higher Education
July 9, 2012

NEA Votes to Press Labor Dept. on Unemployment Benefits for Adjuncts
By Peter Schmidt


Adjunct instructors achieved a significant victory within the National
Education Association last week as the union's Representative Assembly
overwhelmingly voted to urge the U.S. Department of Labor to help secure
unemployment benefits for contingent faculty who lack jobs.

In the long term, the Assembly's vote offers adjunct faculty members
hope of much more easily collecting unemployment benefits during periods
when they are not teaching and their prospects for future work remain

In the short term, the vote represents a major win for adjuncts in their
struggle to gain more visibility in the nation's largest teachers union,
where they make up a small fraction of the Assembly and the overall

The measure, passed by the Assembly at the union's annual meeting here
last week, calls for the NEA to collaborate with its Contingent Faculty
Caucus to ask the Labor Department to issue a letter clarifying that
contingent faculty members who are out of work lack "reasonable
assurance" of being employed by their colleges in the future. The
measure calls for the Contingent Faculty Caucus to suggest language for
the Labor Department to use in the letter, which the NEA and adjuncts
want the department to issue as an advisory connected with the agency's
unemployment-insurance program.

Contingent faculty members, who generally work on contracts covering a
semester or an academic year, often have difficulty receiving
unemployment benefits, especially during the summer months, because the
colleges that had employed them say there is a chance they will be
rehired. Advocates for adjunct faculty members argue that federal
unemployment-insurance guidelines, written to keep full-time professors
and schoolteachers from exploiting the system, fail to take into account
the uncertainty of continued employment for adjuncts, who may see
prospective jobs disappear at the last minute due to lower-than-expected
class enrollments and other factors outside their control.

Adjunct faculty members in the National Education Association formed the
Contingent Faculty Caucus three years ago partly in hopes that such an
organized body might have better luck than individual faculty members in
getting the national union to take up issues of importance to adjuncts.

Although the caucus accounted for only about 30 of the roughly 8,000
delegates at this year's Assembly, the measure drew no significant
resistance and passed overwhelmingly in a voice vote. The measure had
been endorsed by the National Council for Higher Education, which
represents members who work at colleges and sets the NEA's
higher-education agenda.

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