Contingent Faculty at St. Mary’s College Win Important Agreement During First Contract Negotiations Regarding Unemployment Insurance Claims
Some of SEIU 1021’s newest members, contingent faculty at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, have long been faced with a yearly conundrum–the same faced by so many college faculty nationwide. When classes let out for summer, they often are faced with unemployment over the summer, and an uncertain future in the fall. Since adjunct contracts are almost always contingent upon funding, enrollment or program changes, they typically can be changed up until the day classes start–and sometimes even after that. Many adjunct faculty spend countless hours preparing curriculum, syllabus and course materials for a class they have been offered by their institution, only to find out a week ahead that class will no longer be offered, and they no longer have a job for fall semester.
Adjunct faculty are eligible for unemployment insurance once their (usually one-semester) contracts are up. This small income can help cushion the blow of three months of no work, especially since many adjuncts who depend on teaching as their primary income, even those working a full-time course load throughout the year, make less than $30,000 a year–hardly enough to live on comfortably in the most expensive region in the country.
At St. Mary’s College, administration has been contesting the eligibility of contingent faculty to collect unemployment benefits, under the pretext that these faculty members had a reasonable assurance of employment for the next semester. But as of Thursday, June 18, they will no longer be able to do that.
The St. Mary’s College Bargaining Team addressed this important issue, so critical at this moment of the year, in negotiations for their first contract–and now have a letter of understanding, effective immediately, that contracts contingent upon funding, enrollment or program changes are NOT a “reasonable assurance of employment,” and that the College will stop contesting the eligibility of contingent faculty to collect unemployment benefits.
This is a huge victory for SEIU 1021 members at St. Mary’s and a model for other institutions. It is also proof that important victories can be won working through a union even before a first contract is finished and approved.