Adjunct Faculty Association at Nassau County Community College Strikes and then Suspends Strike

At the outset, I want to apologize if I have gotten any of the details of this story wrong. It’s very complex, and I have had to piece it together from a number of sources.

The Adjunct Faculty Association had not gone on strike since 1982. The Taylor Law makes public-employee strikes illegal in New York. So, in May, when the union authorized a strike, if necessary, and then went on strike this past Wednesday (September 11), the members knew that they would be breaking the law, which specifies that strikers be docked two days of pay for each day that they are on strike.

The college has about 24,000 students, the largest enrollment for a single community college campus in New York State. About 3,000 adjunct faculty teach about 53% of the classes offered at the college.

The union has been working without a contract since 2010. In the interim, the college’s administrators and full-time faculty and staff have all signed contracts that have included modest salary increases.

The college’s administration has asserted that it has no additional revenue to cover any raises for adjunct faculty retroactively or over most of the term of such a contract, but that it will agree to provide modest raises in the last few years of the contract if its financial situation improved.

The Adjunct Faculty Association has argued that given the percentage of courses taught by its members, that their compensation is very modest in relation to the cost of living in the area—ranging from $1,090 to $1,750/credit hour—and that their compensation has remained unchanged over an extended period, a substantial wage increase is not only not unreasonable but long overdue. Moreover, the salary increases provided to other employees of the college should not have been approved without factoring in at the very least comparable increases for the adjunct faculty whose contract had, again, already run out.

Over this past year, the negotiation of a new contract seems to have become complicated by a somewhat divisive search for a new college president and political jockeying between the Democratic and Republican parties in the county.

In an attempt to resolve the impasse on the contract, the county executive, a Republican, stepped in this summer and brokered a deal that would have provided 4.9% salary increases over the eight-year contract. But when the Board of Trustees met to vote on the contract, only six of the ten trustees showed up. Four Democrats wer absent, and the remaining six Trustees split 3-3. So the contract was not approved, and the strike was called.

The college has about a $200 million annual budget, and the Adjunct Faculty Association argued that the raises would cost between $14 and $15 million, but the college argued that the union was grossly underestimating the cost and that the raises would cost almost $65 million over the eight years. That’s still only about 4% of the current budget, which hardly seems like cause for a fiscal emergency, but, ultimately, I do not know enough to reach a knowledgeable conclusion about the competing sets of financial data.

Nonetheless, it seems very clear that political considerations weighed more heavily in the vote than anything else—on the one side, there was the sense that the Republican county executive was brokering the deal for political advantage and without enough regard for the college’s finances, and on the other side, the sense that the Democrats were more concerned about giving the Republican county executive an electoral advantage than about preserving the college’s fiscal integrity.

For the three days over which the Adjunct Faculty Association was on strike, administrators told students to come to campus, went to classes scheduled to be taught by the adjunct faculty, took attendance, and then apparently dismissed the students. On Friday, after a judge’s order had failed to halt the strike, the administration seems to have extended both a carrot and a stick to the union—offering to meet with the union leadership on Wednesday, September 18, with the aim of reaching a resolution on the contract, and threatening to fire any adjunct faculty member who fails to meet assigned classes on Monday, September 16.

As I have indicated, this is a very complex situation. I am not sure that I have gotten every detail exactly right, or that I have enough information to make informed judgments about every aspect of each side’s behavior.

But Joe Berry, who does the COCAL updates, has very helpfully provided me with the fact-finder’s report that was rejected by the Adjunct Faculty Association, precipitating the intervention by the county executive. And that fact-finder’s report includes some concluding remarks that are quite astounding.

Consider this paragraph:

“From a quantitative perspective, the record indicates that the Adjunct Faculty receive approximately 12.8% of the expenditures whereas the Adjunct Faculty teach approximately 53% of the course offerings. (Union Exhibit 1 and Union Exhibit 2.) This perceived quantitative disparity highlighted by the Union did not arise overnight as reflected in the widening gap in compensation between the Adjunct Faculty and the Full-time Faculty over the years. (Presentation by Union President Charles Loiacono, March 10, 2011 transcript at 128-31.) The Employer’s heavy reliance on the Adjunct Faculty for the course offerings constitutes a longstanding and evolving approach to the Employer’s exercise of managerial, operational, and policy discretion within the context of the applicable collectively negotiated agreements. The fact-finding process lacks the statutory authority to change, to displace, or to supersede the structural model of Nassau Community College that the parties have adopted and fostered. At a minimum and perhaps with limited influence, the members of the bargaining unit have knowingly accepted, acknowledged, and/or acquiesced to the educational model of the Employer. The members of the bargaining unit also have benefitted from this arrangement to the extent that the members of the Adjunct Faculty have decided to pursue their professional interests and careers by teaching at Nassau Community College and to the extent that many members of the Full-time Faculty have an opportunity to supplement their earnings by also teaching courses on an adjunct basis. (Union Exhibit 2 at 2.) As a consequence, the members of the bargaining unit know or should know that the Nassau Community College model places a disproportionate responsibility on the Adjunct Faculty to teach over half of the course assignments.”

What this fact-finder is essentially saying that because adjunct faculty have been exploited over an extended period, they have lost the right to alter the conditions of their exploitation: in more direct terms, by now they ought to be so used to being screwed over that he thinks that they should simply accept it instead of trying to make an issue of it.

As bad as it is that our institutions shamelessly exploit adjunct faculty in the ways that they do, any rationalization that they are, in effect, colluding in that exploitation by accepting it is just absolutely shameful.

But there’s more. Consider this paragraph:

“Such a perception by the Adjunct Faculty, however, lacks ultimate validity due to the false premise that Adjunct Faculty in their role as adjuncts and Full-time Faculty constitute comparable positions. The record supports such an inevitable and reluctant conclusion because of the historic differences that exist between the wages, hours, conditions of employment, and responsibilities that have developed between the Adjunct Faculty and the Full-time Faculty over a lengthy period of time. No basis exists in the context of the present limited proceeding to reverse, to revise, or to replace this well-settled arrangement that arises between full-time faculty members and adjunct faculty members at many institutions of higher learning. The quantitative comparisons that exist in the record between the Adjunct Faculty and the Full-time Faculty therefore lack controlling relevance to the present proceeding in many respects.”

In essence, the Adjunct Faculty Association has argued that the disproportion in the compensation received by full-time and part-time faculty members at this college especially constitutes a gross inequity because of the proportion of the courses being taught by each group of faculty. But the fact-finder declines to accept the inequity as an inequity because it has become so longstanding and widespread in higher education. So, in effect, he is saying that no adjunct faculty union can ever win improved compensation unless adjunct faculty everywhere somehow manage to gain such increases.

And, lastly, there is this:

“The most recent, available comparative compensation information for the rates for adjunct faculty at community colleges throughout the State of New York indicates that the Adjunct Faculty at Nassau Community College have the highest per contact hour rate of pay. (Employer Exhibit 1 at Exhibit V.) Nevertheless, a comparison of the compensation of other adjunct educators confirms that a measured, moderate, and modest increase for the members of the bargaining unit theoretically could be supported at this juncture due to the heavy reliance by Nassau 16 Community College on the Adjunct Faculty to educate the students at Nassau Community College and the passage of time since the compilation of the comparative information. In addition, the documentary evidence contained in the record supports this conclusion because the Employer has provided increases to other employees while withholding any increases for the Adjunct Faculty. The financial realities of the present economic climate, however, preclude any realistic likelihood of such arguably defensible adjustments from occurring in the immediate future. Such adjustments could be provided in the final years of a lengthy collective bargaining agreement.”

So, the fact-finder is largely parroting the case for substantial increases that the Adjunct Faculty Association has presented and that I have summarized earlier in this post, but he somehow reaches the conclusion that those facts support only the possibility of much more modest increases several years into the future. In essence, he is saying that if the union members are willing to sign a long-term contract that further demonstrates their acquiescence to their economic exploitation, the college should offer at least the conditional prospect of modest raises at the very end of such a contract.

Honestly, you could not make up this kind of shit and be believed.

10 thoughts on “Adjunct Faculty Association at Nassau County Community College Strikes and then Suspends Strike

  1. It’s not true that administrators at NCC received increases. The majority of UNTITLED lower-paid ones have gone 3+ years without any increase. They are “at will” and exploited because they have no voice or support.

    • Thank you for the correction. I did my best in piecing together the information, but, as I indicated in the lead, it seems such a complex situation that I was fairly certain that I probably hadn’t gotten some of it right.

    • The full-time faculty at NCC are now working without a contract as well, since August. Also, we have not signed any contract with the college giving us any raises, modest or oherwise. Your information is sadly erroneous.

      • This is in response to the previous two comments.

        I am not trying to distort anything “deliberately” or otherwise. The fact-finder’s report details raises for administrators that were awarded in a declining percentage by salary level: so the higher an administrator’s salary, the less that he or she received. It did not, however, indicate whether all administrators had received increases; I assumed that they did because the report did not indicate otherwise.

        That same report indicated that the full-time faculty had received raises during the time that the AFA members were working without a contract (2010- to the present). If the full-time faculty are now–since August–working without a contract, I don’t see how that renders erroneous what I have indicated. You seem to have had a contract over the last three years (perhaps a standard three-year contract), which the fact-finder has indicated provided very modest raises, and that was exactly the period over which the AFA members were working without a contract.

        In any case, since my major complaint in the post is about the reasoning used by the fact-finder to justify his decision, I don’t see how either of these perceived “errors” substantively alters my basic point: which is that the economic exploitation of adjunct faculty at our institutions is reaching a point of crisis as serious in its implications as the student-debt crisis.

        In fact, the two crises are linked because they both are the result of very skewed priorities at our institutions, which have subordinated funding for instruction to funding a whole host of other priorities, most notably the creation of administrative bureaucracies. I do not know the budgetary specifics at Nassau County Community College, but nationwide, on average, only 20% to 25% of institutional budgets is now allocated to compensation (salaries and benefits) of faculty, of all types, and only 35% to 45% is allocated to “instruction,” a reporting category that includes direct instructional support in the form of staff, facilities, and technology, as well as all sorts of other things lumped under “instruction.”

        And, since funding of instruction is becoming almost an after-thought in all of our institutional budgets, it is hardly surprising when the concerns of adjunct faculty, who have always been an after-thought, are getting dismissed out of hand.

        I see very little in the reasoning of the fact-finder, or in what I have been able to gather about this situation from a dozen news items, that suggests that this impasse is not in some ways very reflective of those broader patterns.

  2. I have taught as an adjunct at many places, and always understood my role is just that – “adjunct” to the full-time faculty! To me it is quite simple. Adjuncts sign their contracts knowing full well the rate of pay. Not happy with the pay? Don’t sign the contract and go work someplace else! It is not enough that they are the highest paid adjuncts around, they want more! I guess greed is part of human nature!

  3. The striking adjunct faculty at NCC received a letter from the institution’s acting president Kenneth Saunders. The letter’s message began threatening adjuncts and became increasingly foreboding toward it’s end. It stated that if the striking faculty members did not return to class by Monday, Sept 16, they would be fined two days pay for everyday they were out, taxed on the value of two days pay (fines are not tax deductible), and finally they would be fired. The college’s vice-president sent her own letter. She widened the threat stating that anyone not a member of the adjunct union who attempts helping with the strike, speaks in favor of the strike or refuses to assume duties assigned to them during the time of the strike will be fired. And there’s more. A third missive ironically came from the college affirmative action officer. It was a help wanted add calling for “qualified” warm bodies to replace striking adjuncts.

    Today, Monday, Sept. 16, the union president suspended the strike and the beleaguered educators shuffled back to their classrooms without a contract. After reading your post above, I believe the fact-finder views this as confirming the “fact” he found that adjuncts are complicit in their own repression. Dollars for doughnuts the fact-finder believes we truly like it.

    The three administrators’ letters are available at: http://vb387.blog.com/

    Freiser

  4. Please advise where the link to the fact finder’s report can be found? It would be interesting to read, especially the part about Administrator’s raises. NCC hires low-level workers as “ungraded administrators” to avoid civil service laws and increased union membership. Their salary, titles and duties do not even meet the definitions in the other labor contracts that exist on campus, with the county, and within the SUNY system. Dozens of who they hire as at will employees have duties correspond to existing CSEA or NCCFT Professional positions. However, they go without comparable benefits, increases, and have very poor working conditions without the representation or security given to other groups. The mis-classification of these civil servants (solely for the college’s gain) should more than have the attention of the Civil Service Commission in Nassau County, the County Comptroller, the unions, SUNY, PERB, the“fact finder”, and the NYS Department of Labor for these practices.

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