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California College Educator Paid Below Minimum Wage

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Cerritos, CACalifornia’s community colleges rely heavily on part-time instructors, and they also rely on cheap labor. Charles, a part-time college educator, says he was paid below minimum wage because prep time and class room set-ups aren’t billable. And he doesn’t qualify for health benefits.

“My rate as a part-time instructor at Cerritos College was $33 per hour but I only got paid for three hours in the classroom per day,” says Charles. “They don’t pay us prep time: time spent in the classroom setting up hearing aids and materials to cover the next day, which breaks down to an additional few hours each day. In reality, it breaks down to less than minimum wage.” Charles says he and his colleagues were paid for six hours on their weekly paychecks but they worked 15 hours.

Charles explains that the college recently hired lots of part time instructors, some of whom have full time day jobs and work a second job at night. “And the college makes a habit of hiring part-timers so they don’t have to pay any benefits,” he explains. “This habit of cheap labor has been going on for a long time. I know first-hand from being hired by a community college back in the 1990s and again in 2004 – nothing much has changed.”

According to Mercury News, California’s community college staffing system is broken. About 37,000 part-time instructors, nearly two-thirds of the teachers, keep the nation’s largest higher-education system running. But job security is about nil, they often do without health benefits, subsist on poverty-level wages and shuttle between multiple districts to cobble together enough classes to survive. Like Charles explained, many hold down two jobs.

An Edsource investigator found that adjunct professors – part-time faculty -- grossed an average of less than $20,000 in each district they worked. An Edsource survey found that 53% commute 20 miles or more to teach; 33% teach in at least two districts, frequently on the same day; and only 17% said they taught just one course per semester. “They’re often paid for teaching but not for class preparation or grading. And compensation for office hours is frequently not provided. Meanwhile, they can teach no more than three courses at one district each semester, thereby forcing them to take jobs at multiple districts,” according to Edsource.

Charles says this issue was talked about at the college with trustees but nothing was ever done. (Trustees enjoy full health benefits so maybe they don’t want to rock the boat.) “We were afraid of retribution and those in a position to make changes said ‘that’s just the system, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation that would let part-timers teach more classes at the same campus.

Charles wants to be part of a class action lawsuit that has charged two community colleges with violating minimum wage laws by the way it pays part-time faculty. The California Teachers Association (CTA) supports the lawsuit. “Some community colleges unlawfully treat part-time adjunct instructors as exempt from minimum wage laws. Part-time faculty do not earn enough money to be exempt from California’s minimum wage requirements. These colleges pay part-time instructors an hourly rate only for each hour teaching in the classroom, in front of students, despite requiring these instructors to work many hours performing teaching-related work outside of the classroom.”

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges two Long Beach city colleges violated California’s minimum wage laws and demands back pay for lost wages and pay for the work going forward. More than 600 part-time instructors could be affected if a judge allows the suit to proceed as a class action. The lawsuit states that adjuncts (part time instructors) are “compensated based on their classroom hours worked, even though the district knows that these faculty members necessarily spend substantial additional time working outside the classroom in connection with teaching their assigned classes…Although this outside-the-classroom work is essential to teaching their classes effectively, and the district knows and indeed expects part-time faculty members to perform this additional work, part-time hourly instructional faculty members are not paid for their out-of-classroom time.”

“I need to sit down, tally my pay stubs and calculate what is owed me,” says Charles. They were shortchanging all part time instructors. We need to get compensated for travel time, time spent studying course material, setting up how to instruct the next period, and more. 

The CTA says that adjunct instructors (part-time educators like Charles) at community colleges have the same qualifications as their full-time colleagues and need to be paid accordingly. “They should not be expected to perform the same required work for free,” Long Beach City College adjunct Karen Roberts told EdSource.com. Another adjunct said the district pays them for only 38 minutes of office time per week, which isn’t enough to address student needs. Additional work is done “for free because we are dedicated to our students.”

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