Throughout the country, nearly all tenure-stream faculty are eligible for raises, which may be awarded for experience, professional development, or merit. Some community colleges build the raises, sometimes called “increments,” into their contracts. Raises often come with promotions or tenure. Yet few adjuncts ever receive a raise, no matter how long they have taught or how excellent their teaching.

In Washington State, the two faculty unions (the American Federation of Teachers and the Washington Education Association) have collectively bargained incremental step raises for all of their full-time faculty. But twenty-one of the thirty-four community colleges have bargained no raises for their part-time faculty, and the other eleven had part-time raises so tiny I call them “dinkrements.”34

From 1999 to 2004, 90 percent ($13,160,043) of all faculty raise money ($14,671,469) went to the full-time faculty—even though the part-timers (7,912) outnumbered the full-timers (3,697) by more than two to one. During this six-year period, the average incremental raise for each full-timer was $3,560, while the average increase for each part-timer was a paltry $191.35 When I and the other members of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association tried to convince the legislature to extend an equal amount of increment money to the part-time faculty, we were met with fierce opposition from leaders of the American Federation of Teachers Washington and the Washington Education Association, even though such additional money would not have taken anything away from the full-timers.

Jack Longmate and I were successful in passing an amendment to the 2006 state budget, so that each part-timer would at least receive some increment money. As a result, the full-timers are now receiving only 62 percent of the increment money, instead of the 90 percent they had been receiving. The full-timers did not lose any money and got all of their increment funding because the budget amendment provided an extra $2.4 million to pay for part-time faculty increments. Unfortunately, the unions failed to create increment systems and instead distributed these raises across the board, defeating the purpose of step raises in the first place: to reward long-term teachers for their experience.

Raises for part-time and long-term contingent faculty are not only fair and well deserved, they help to keep the wage gap from increasing. When full-time faculty receive raises that part-timers do not, the overall disparity between their salaries increases. While in the Washington State community colleges the gap was $115 million in 1995, it had actually increased to $132 million by 2008, even though the legislature had increased adjunct salaries by $60 million during this period.


Cost of Living Adjustments

Since inflation causes workers to lose purchasing power, employers both public and private have often agreed to cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for their employees. Securing cost of living adjustments has been a major goal for unions nationwide. These COLAs are usually applied to all employees across the board, and they are in addition to any raises for merit or promotions.

Though the 2007–2009 recession led to the suspension of cost of living adjustments for many employees, professors at public colleges especially had become accustomed to receiving these raises to help them keep up with inflation. At best, adjunct professors may receive COLA money in equal percentages to the full-timers.

While on the surface this sounds fair and neutral, it is in fact regressive. Since the full-time salaries far exceed adjunct salaries, full-timers receive much larger raises in terms of dollars, thereby increasing the dollar disparity between adjunct and full-time salaries. For example, a 3 percent COLA increase on a full-time salary of $50,000 would mean a $1,500 increase in annual salary for each professor. But a 3 percent COLA on a part-time salary of $15,000 would mean an increase of less than one-third, or only $450.

  1. D. Lesko, editor and publisher of the Adjunct Advocate, has long criticized equal percentage raises and COLAs: “My other personal cause celebre has been ‘equal percentage’ pay increases for full-time and part-time faculty represented in unified locals [of full-time and part-time faculty]. Obviously, unless one is incapable of doing basic math, one realizes that a 6 percent raise for a full-time faculty member who earns $80K per year with benefits is just an ever so slightly, wafer-thin, larger raise than 6 percent paid to a part-time faculty member who earns $2,000 per course without benefits. Unified local union leaders who negotiate such ‘equal percentage’ raises for their members are robbing the part-timers to pay the full-timers.”36

Yet such equal percentage raises are the norm throughout academe, not only when COLAs are bestowed, but also when unions negotiate raises for their adjunct faculty.


Health Insurance

Nearly all full-time, tenure-stream faculty receive college-paid health insurance for themselves and their families. According to the US Department of Education, colleges and universities spent approximately $7,635 a year on health care for the average college professor in Winter 2007.37

While there are no national statistics on health care for adjuncts, I believe that the majority are denied health insurance by their colleges and universities. When the Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed adjuncts in the Chicago area in 2009, only 14 percent said they were receiving health insurance through their college.38

Even where adjuncts may be eligible for health care benefits, they may not be receiving them. In Washington, state employees who worked 50 percent or more of a full-time workload were eligible for state-paid health insurance under state law. But the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges established their own separate rules for eligibility, which provided health insurance only in those academic terms when an adjunct was teaching 50 percent or more.

As a result, many adjuncts were denied health insurance when they were teaching less than 50 percent (or not at all). This left most adjuncts without any health insurance in the summers, when most of them did not teach because there were fewer class offerings than in other quarters.

I initiated a class-action lawsuit on this issue called Mader v. State of Washington, which was settled out of court in 2004 with $12 million being paid to thousands of adjuncts. Though the state denied it had done anything wrong, it did change its rules to allow adjuncts to average their workloads over the entire year. As a result, adjuncts who teach 50 percent or more over the course of a year can now receive health care benefits year-round, even during summers.39


Sick Leave

Full-time tenure-stream faculty usually accrue ample sick leave to cover them in an emergency and in case of a long-term illness. Such sick leave is usually cumulative, meaning that it does not evaporate from term to term, or year to year. It is also compensable, meaning that when a professor leaves or retires from the university, he or she can receive some cash payment for any unused sick leave. In addition, many colleges now maintain “shared leave” programs, which allow professors to share their sick leave with others, so that a person with a lengthy illness who runs out of sick leave can use sick leave donated by others and avoid any loss in pay.

There are still many colleges and universities, however, where contingent faculty are not eligible to receive any sick leave at all. At these colleges, if they do get sick, they must either work while ill to collect their pay, or else miss work, and have their pay docked for those days.

Even where adjuncts are eligible for sick leave, it may not be cumulative, so that if they do not use it in a term, they may lose it. In addition, they may not be eligible to be paid for sick leave they do not use, and they may be denied participation in the shared leave program.

Prior to 2000 in Washington State, the community colleges did not have a uniform system for sick leave; instead, it was negotiated by the local unions through collective bargaining. Some colleges had none, and others had a few days, which disappeared at the end of each term. Adjuncts who were sick lost income for the days they were unable to teach. And if they were victims of a lengthy illness, their classes would be taken away from them and given to others, leaving them without any income at all.

In 1999, I drafted a bill to equalize sick leave, so that adjuncts who taught a full-time load would earn as many days of sick leave as the full-timers did. Those teaching a half-time load would earn half the sick days of a full-timer.

The sick leave would be cumulative, so that it could be used for lengthy illnesses. And if unused when the adjunct left the college or retired, he or she could receive compensation for any unused days, just like the full-timers.

In addition, the final bill allowed contingent faculty to participate in the shared leave program, either donating or receiving sick leave from other faculty members.

The bill, sponsored by Seattle state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, passed both the House and Senate with nearly unanimous support, in large part because the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges estimated it would not cost them anything to provide sick leave to their adjuncts. Unlike the K-12 schools, where substitute teachers are hired to fill in, most colleges simply cancel classes when professors are sick for a few days and/or give the students outside assignments.

Nevertheless, when I had an operation that left me unable to teach for one term in 2008, my college refused to let me use my months of accumulated sick leave. The administration claimed that since I was not on their payroll for that term, I could not use my sick leave. Unable to teach for one term, I lost $8,000 of income just as I faced increased medical bills. The state board made it clear that the college could have allowed me to use my sick leave if it wanted. But the college where I had taught for twenty years refused.

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