Part time college faculty requests full time health care benefits
During the 2020 legislative session part-time higher education faculty members distributed flyers daily to legislators describing the hardships they faced as part-time faculty. Specifically, they focused on not having health insurance coverage enjoyed by full time faculty. This was not a new push as the discussion had been around the legislature since 2007, but they hoped 2020 would be the year to get the policy passed.
During the 2020 short session, HB 4146
was introduced and would have created a health insurance option administered by the Oregon Educators Benefit Board. During testimony on the bill it was estimated that there were 1,500 to 1,700 workers in this situation. One of those affected who submitted testimony was Betsy Dasenko, an Adjunct Instructor at Oregon State University, Western Oregon, and Linn Benton Community College. She testified that “When I work for 2 or more institutions, I do not receive health-insurance benefits or retirement benefits like other full-time faculty even when my FTE often is equivalent to or more than full time. I rotate between two different departments at OSU, one which refuses to give me more than .49 FTE so they can cut costs”.
The bill ultimately ended up in the Joint Ways and Means committee. There, several issues and concerns were raised. Senator Steiner-Hayward (D-Portland) shared that the Community Colleges and universities don’t disagree with the concept. They just do not want to pay for it out of their current funding allocations. They want the general fund to partially or wholly pay for the cost of the benefit. She noted “we offered to add the money to the Community College and University support funds, and they would be required to pay their fair share with the system already in place. They dismissed the suggestion”.
Senator Johnson (D-Scappoose) raised the question of fiduciary responsibility by stating “To make this open-ended responsibility of the general fund is fiscally irresponsible”. The estimated cost of the program was $13.0M for 2019-21 and $35.2M for 2021-23. Sen. Steiner-Hayward agreed stating “I believe that this is an open-ended mandate, the rollup in the future biennial is very large, and we are already facing a deficit”. The bill was voted down in committee.
The story is not over yet, however. Once again the House Education Committee is taking up the issue with HB 3007
. The 2021 version is identical to the 2020 version and similar to when the discussion was held in 2020, the list of supporters is long, and opposition is quiet. Just like Sen. Steiner-Hayward stated in 2020, “there is no argument, this is the right thing to do”.
Representative Susan McClain (D-Forest Grove) is once again the Chief Sponsor of the bill. As she introduced the bill to the committee, she let them know that she had worked with many stakeholders before bringing the bill back to the legislature and had determined that this was the best solution to this problem.
In written testimony, Representative Paul Evans (D-Monmouth) shared that “The dirty little secret within higher education is that adjuncts are not only cheaper than permanent faculty but often more willing to stretch beyond the contractual minimums.” Louis DeSitter with the Oregon Education Association agreed and added that the use of part-time faculty has expanded greatly and today 69% of the higher education faculty are part-time.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
However, as the bill is currently written, it still does not address the concerns expressed in 2020. Specifically, it is an open-ended mandate. The bill clearly states that the money is continuously appropriated. Meaning that the general fund must fill the fund with the money necessary to cover the expenses whether there are 1,500 people in the newly created benefit pool or 5,000. In addition, there is nothing to keep higher education institutions from moving more positions to part time to help them cut costs. This would then shift the healthcare costs over to the new OEBB system. Universities are always under pressure to cut costs and maintain current service levels even when the money is not distributed to them through traditional funding. This would possibly be one way for them to cut costs.
The bill does contain a bit of a safety net intended to prevent a mass movement to the new OEBB state funded option. It states that if, by policy of the institution or by collective bargaining agreement, the institution already offers health insurance benefits then it must use that agreement and not the OEBB program. However, most collective bargaining agreements are only in place for 3-5 years before they are renegotiated. The University of Oregon, for example, has a collective bargaining agreement in place through June 30, 2021 that states:
Bargaining unit faculty members employed at 0.50 FTE or greater are eligible, at their option, for medical, dental, and vision insurance. The University will continue employer premium contributions at the present 95% levels for medical, dental, and vision benefits chosen by bargaining unit faculty members.
As they begin negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement, cutting out the offering of healthcare coverage for those in the 0.50 FTE category and moving to a higher percentage of employment to qualify could be a bargaining option. It could also be acceptable to both negotiating teams as benefit costs would then shifts away from the university leaving greater funding for other negotiated areas such as pay, training, curriculum, etc. It would be an easy sell because those “left behind” would be covered under the OEBB plan.
Finally, in a session where one of the predominant themes is equity, it should be noted that in 2020 Senator Johnson raised the question that is still not unanswered in the new legislation. “Why should faculty get this benefit but other low pair part-time workers at multiple institutions not be included”. A question that may again be raised as the bill moves forward.
|Post Date: 2021-02-19 15:01:12||Last Update: 2021-02-19 15:18:52|