Four public colleges and universities — Florida’s Palm Beach State College, Pennsylvania’s Community College of Allegheny County, Ohio’s Youngstown State University, and New Jersey’s Kean University — are planning to move adjunct and “contingent” faculty members to part-time status in order to avoid an Obamacare provision requiring businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health coverage for at least 95 percent of their workers.
Advocates such as Gwen Bradley, a representative of the American Association of University Professors, warn that the colleges’ intent to cut hours to avoid extending benefits presents a concerning trend that will harm workers who do not enjoy broad benefits or salaries to begin with:
“Adjuncts are very precarious anyway,” said Bradley. “They usually have very low wages, and are often already below the thresholds for health care. But for those people who have it, being cut down to lose it is very devastating.”
Only contingent faculty—as opposed to full-time, tenure-track faculty—would be affected by the change in policy. Since the Affordable Care Act requires that employers provide health care to any employee who works 30 hours per week or more, universities like Palm Beach State College have opted to cap the time that contingent faculty are allowed to work at just below the 30-hour benchmark.
“It’s about having their course load reduced so they’re teaching less and having less paid for their salaries,” said Craig Smith, the director of the American Federation of Teacher’s higher education division. For many contingent faculty members, “it’s not like they were receiving health care in the first place.”
The IRS released new regulations last week to make it harder for employers to circumvent Obamacare and deny their employees heath insurance. One rule stipulates that “employers could still fall under the mandate if they employ enough part-time workers to equal 50 full-time workers,” which would force employers to make draconian, self-defeating cuts to workers’ hours in order to game the system. As the AFT’s Smith puts it, employers who pursue such extreme hour cuts are “just using the Affordable Care Act as an excuse.”
The planned move by the four colleges comes on the heels of similar actions by several restaurant chains, including Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Papa John’s, and isolated Wendy’s and Taco Bell franchises. Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains faced particularly harsh public backlash and falling profits in the wake of their decisions.