KVCC part-time instructors union files unfair labor charge against the community college
Beginning in the fall, part-time faculty would be limited to nine contact hours a semester, according to an email sent out to KVCC department chairs April 16. Previously, the maximum amount allowed per semester had been 11 credit hours, as stated in the part-time faculty handbook.
"Most of our members are rehired from one semester to the next and rely solely on the modest income we earn teaching classes at KVCC. This unilateral change will mean drastic reductions in work and pay for instructors with proven track records," said Kelly O'Leary, co-president of the KVCC Federation of Teachers. "If the college wants to change its stated policy to decrease our maximum weekly hours, the change cannot be made unilaterally. It must be proposed at the collective bargaining table."
Stating that the administration had not yet seen the charge against it, Mike Collins, vice president of college and student relations at KVCC, declined to comment on the issue at this time.
KVCC is one of a number of colleges and universities nationwide changing the hours for part-time and adjunct faculty before the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January, according to an April 22 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education,"Colleges Are Slashing Hours to Skirt New Rules on Health-Insurance Eligibility."
Under the ACA, large employers must provide health insurance for employees working 30 hours or more a week after January, or face a fine. Colleges in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among those who have preemptively changed the hours of their part-time faculty.
The Internal Revenue Service advised universities to "use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service," and said that further guidance may be provided at a later date.
The MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette obtained an email dated April 16 from Dennis Bertch, associate vice president for academic services at KVCC, titled, "PT Hiring Guidelines." It read: "As you begin staffing classes for the fall 2013 semester, please use nine (9) contact hours as a maximum load for part-time faculty." The email also offered help recruiting qualified part-time faculty, as needed.
The new policy would have the greatest impact on instructors who teach courses with labs, such as science courses, said Catherine Barnard, co-president of the union. Under the old rules, they could teach three three-credit classes a semester. But a three-credit biology course, for example, might have six contact hours -- three standard lab and three open lab -- meaning an instructor couldn't teach two courses a semester without hitting the new limit.
"If the college restricts them to nine contact hours, they will have only one class. Refusing to negotiate this change in policy is an unfair labor practice and a violation of Michigan labor law," said Barnard.
Under the state's Public Employment Relations Act, 423.215, Section 15 (1), wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment are subject to collective bargaining. The union maintains that the change in the maximum number of hours violates that law.
Other part-time faculty also could be affected, said O'Leary, pointing out that an instructor who previously taught one four-credit course with four contact hours and two three-credit courses with three contact hours each would have to cut back to two classes a semester under the new maximums.
In all, O'Leary estimated that the change would impact more than 15 percent of KVCC's 300 part-time instructors, who make up a majority of the faculty.
KVCC and the union are currently negotiating their first contract. O'Leary said that the union met with the administration at the bargaining table April 25 and were told that KVCC would not rescind the new maximum.
O'Leary said that progress was being made with negotiations until the change in maximum number of hours allowed per semester.
"If KVCC refuses to negotiate this issue with us, I do not know when we will return to the table," said O'Leary.
Yvonne Zipp is a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette, a part of MLive Media Group. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-365-8639.