Universities across the country would be wise to keep an eye on the New Faculty Majority, a group fighting to secure unemployment benefits for adjunct faculty members at higher education institutions.

A recent case in California illustrates why the group sees the fight as necessary, and why it is working to change language about unemployment benefits state-by-state, to ensure adjunct faculty have the same access to benefits as other educators. In California, a 1989 court case – Cervisi v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board – established that adjunct educators are eligible for unemployment benefits because their jobs are reliant on enrollment, funding and other factors, preventing them from having reasonable assurance of employment.

California college changes contract language on unemployment benefits
However, Thomas Cooney, a lecturer at Saint Mary’s, was denied unemployment benefits in the summer of 2013, after a death in the family, Inside Higher Ed explained. State officials told him that language in his contract with Saint Mary’s did not allow him to receive unemployment benefits. After he made the employer aware of this, his contract was changed. The school also issued a directive explaining that it would not fight employees’ applications for unemployment benefits, should they have good reason.

NFM works toward changes to federal language regarding reasonable employment
Educators across the country face similar circumstances, which is why New Faculty Majority hopes to influence the Labor Department to change language regarding unemployment benefits, to ensure that adjuncts nationwide are eligible. Maria Maisto, the president of NFM, told the news source that, right now, the guide the department uses to determine reasonable assurance is based on K-12 education requirements, making it difficult for adjunct higher education faculty members to qualify for unemployment benefits.

“In view of the insecurity that characterizes these faculty members’ working lives,” Alyssa Picard, the director of the American Federation of Teachers Higher Education, told Inside Higher Ed in an email. “California and Washington already recognize that they don’t have ‘reasonable assurance’ of future employment,” Picard said in an email. “We think it’s time for the Department of Labor to make clear that this is true in all 50 states.”

Adjunct educators unaware of unemployment benefits eligibility, or discouraged from filing
Right now, the NFM has a state-by-state plan for teaching higher education faculty about unemployment benefits, but remains in pursuit of changes on the national level that will make it easier for adjunct educators to be considered eligible for unemployment benefits, the news source noted. This was actually the first campaign organized by the group, which, on its website, stated that many adjunct faculty members are unaware they can file for unemployment benefits, or are “discouraged” from doing so.

Essentially, the organization hopes to make it clear that adjunct educators don’t have reasonable assurance of employment, and that this should be made clear at both the state and the federal levels, according to the NFM website. Some employers’ contracts take confusing approaches to reasonable assurance, something that the group also hopes will change through its efforts.

All sorts of businesses that engage in contingent employment may learn something relevant by taking a look at NFM’s campaign, but higher education institutions especially could be affected should the organization succeed in convincing the DOL to alter language defining reasonable assurance of employment for educators.

At Corporate Cost Control, we work closely with employers across the country to better manage the nuances of unemployment insurance. Legislation changes on the state level could impact you today, and we welcome any questions or concerns you may have on a wide range of topics.


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