In “Wage Theft in America,” Kim Bobo says that “most Americans would be shocked to learn that we have a crisis of wage theft. Employers are stealing money from workers and cheating them of wages owed or not paying them at all.”
You may be shocked to learn that our community colleges have cheated 8,000 part-time (or adjunct) professors out of hundred of millions of dollars. The two-year colleges have set up a separate but unequal labor system in which the adjunct professors are paid only 60 cents on the dollar for teaching the same courses as their full-time counterparts.
Adjunct professors average only $16,835 a year for teaching a half-time load, which is just over half of an annual salary ($31,200) of $15 an hour, or only 30 percent of the average full-time salary of $55,616.
Adjuncts sued the community colleges for “unpaid minimum and overtime wages” under our state’s Minimum Wage Act, claiming they were hourly employees who are denied pay for non-classroom work such as class preparation and grading exams.
Our state Supreme Court (2003), however, ruled that adjuncts are not hourly workers entitled to be paid for every hour they work; instead, the court claimed adjuncts are “salaried professionals” exempt from the wage act due to a narrow and abstruse definition of “professional” having to do with the kinds of paychecks they received.
The colleges and the court have misclassified adjuncts as professionals in order to justify denying them pay for each and every hour they work. Adjuncts continue to be paid by the classroom hour, while full-timers are paid for all of their hours both inside and outside of class.
What can our politicians do?
In their analysis, the Supreme Court justices admitted they did not bother to take into account the differences between the pay and treatment of adjuncts and full-time faculty. Our governor and legislators should not make the same mistake.
Legislators should change the legal definition of “salaried professional” either to require equal pay and treatment of all employees doing comparable work, or else to require a more stringent definition than the kinds of paychecks issued.
From 1996 to 2009, the Legislature did allocate $42 million to increase adjunct salaries, but stopped that effort with the recession. The final budget should allocate a down payment of $10 million to be matched equally by the colleges.
If there is money to freeze or lower tuition, as both House and Senate budgets propose, there should be money to significantly increase the salaries of adjunct professors, who have not seen a raise for six years now. The Legislature cannot brag about what it has done for higher education when it refuses to pay the majority of its professors a living wage. Or is wage theft a value we want to teach our students?