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Adjuncts learn latest on Affordable Care Act implications

Many adjuncts and part-time faculty at colleges and universities feel apprehensive about some aspects of the Affordable Care Act, after learning that a handful of institutions are cutting back on adjunct course loads in 2013. While institutions are claiming "the feds made us do it," AFT experts say that's not a credible excuse. (See background story.)

At an AFT webinar presented twice this month, nearly 100 AFT adjunct leaders and members dialed in to learn the latest on the ACA and its implications for contingent faculty. "The No. 1 thing to know is if your institution is saying it has to cut courses to below 12 hours, you can challenge that," said Amy Clary, as she welcomed callers. "The institution cannot make that claim because the law doesn't have that level of specificity."

Clary, an associate in the AFT research and strategic communications department, has been working with the AFT's higher education and legislation departments to track all developments with the law's regulations. Through the process, the AFT has submitted comments to the U.S. Treasury Department reflecting AFT members' interests.

A primary goal of the ACA is to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. By 2014, most people must have health insurance or pay a penalty. The law levies penalties against large employers (with more than 50 full-time equivalent workers) that do not offer affordable insurance coverage to their full-time employees. Under the ACA, full-time means 30 or more hours per week on average.

How that translates for adjuncts, who are paid on the basis of courses or credit hours taught, was an unaddressed question until Jan. 2, when a proposed federal rule for employers of certain types of workers, including adjunct faculty, was published in the Federal Register. It reads, in part:

"Until further guidance is issued, employers ... must use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service" [emphasis added]. ... A method of crediting hours would not be reasonable if it took into account only some of an employee's hours of service with the effect of recharacterizing, as non-fulltime, an employee in a position that traditionally involves more than 30 hours of service per week. For example, it would not be a reasonable method of crediting hours ... in the case of an instructor, such as an adjunct faculty member, to take into account only classroom or other instruction time and not other hours that are necessary to perform the employee's duties, such as class preparation time."

What this language means for adjuncts, says Clary, is that unless more specific regulations come out, colleges and universities are allowed to decide for themselves whether any contingent faculty work 30 or more hours per week, as long as the institution claims its standard is "reasonable."

"This is the only official mention of adjuncts or contingent faculty anywhere in the ACA or the regulations related to its implementation," Clary stressed to webinar participants. And nothing in the law or its regulations thus far would prohibit unions from negotiating on the method of crediting hours. [Barbara McKenna, Amy Clary]

January 28, 2013