Palm Beach State College is cutting the hours of more than 100 part-time employees and hundreds more adjunct faculty to avoid having to provide health care coverage required for workers under the federal health care law.
Workers who now work 30 hours a week will work 27.5 hours a week after July 1, according to a letter sent to employees in April and confirmed by a college spokeswoman. The school’s 895 adjunct faculty members, who teach more than half the classes at the college’s four campuses, will be limited to teaching three classes per semester.
The Affordable Care Act will require most employers after Jan. 1 to provide health insurance to full-time workers or face fines. “Full-time” employees are defined as those working 30 hours a week or more.
The Internal Revenue Service, which will handle fines against employers, advised in January that employers must take into account hours worked outside the classroom for adjunct instructors. One guideline adds about two hours of additional work for every credit taught, meaning that instructors who teach three credit hours would work the equivalent of 27 hours per week.
The move has angered many college workers, especially after The Palm Beach Post reported last month that PBSC President Dennis Gallon is the state’s fourth-highest paid college president. Gallon earns $455,714 in annual compensation and benefits, including $95,666 a year in lieu of a car or housing allowance. PBSC has an annual operating budget of $112 million.
PBSC spokeswoman Grace Truman said the college is reducing part-time employees’ hours to comply with the federal law.
None of the employees whose hours are now being cut currently receives health benefits. But many would have been entitled to it under the law if their hours had not been reduced.
“We have never provided health benefits to either regular part-time employees or adjunct faculty. We’re working within the guidelines to make sure we don’t incur a new expense for which we don’t have the funds,” Truman said. “It’s very understandable that they would be upset. I understand there is unhappiness, certainly.”
The reduction of hours will affect 111 part-time employees, most now working 30 hours per week. It will save the college more than $600,000, not including health insurance costs for adjunct instructors, according to Truman.
“This is a necessary measure that the college must take; however, please know that the college values your contributions,” PBSC Executive Director of Human Resources Dr. Ellen Grace wrote to part-time workers on April 10.
But the college could choose a more basic plan that would not be as expensive as the $495 per month it now spends on health insurance for full-time employees, one disgruntled part-time worker said. He accused the college of undermining President Obama’s intention to provide health insurance for people who work nearly full-time, something many private businesses are doing.
The move is even especially insulting coming from a government-run institution, the worker said. “To have a company do it is one thing, but to have the actual government do it, that’s another thing.”
The worker, like several who spoke to The Post, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of being fired. He acknowledged he may still be able to purchase health insurance through the online marketplaces that will become operational in January.
But he added: “It’s ridiculous. You’re cutting my hours and expecting me to pay for my own health insurance and still expecting us to make ends meet and be here and be loyal to the college that’s taking everything from us. When the top guy’s making half a million dollars a year, you can’t afford to at least cover major medical for us?”
The move was not ordered by the college’s board of trustees but was decided by the college’s human resources department, Truman said.
Either way, the decision is unfair to adjunct faculty members, said Rob Krull, a librarian at the Lake Worth Campus who is president of United Faculty of Palm Beach State College. “The college relies on them heavily to put on more than half of the classes here. It’s very disappointing that the college isn’t willing to support those people in the same way that they support the college,” he said.
It is unknown if other state colleges are making similar changes. Florida Division of Colleges Chancellor Randy Hanna would not comment on PBSC’s actions. But other colleges around the country are considering or have imposed similar actions, according to Inside Higher Ed, a website that covers education.
Missing out on health insurance intensifies adjunct instructors’ historic complaints that they are overworked and underpaid.
Capping the number of classes adjunct faculty can teach could have a disastrous impact on the quality of students’ education, said Steve Brahlek, associate professor English who has worked at the college since 1990.
“I think it’s immoral and unethical the way academic institutions have exploited them. They pretty much feel powerless. They can’t complain because their job security is tenuous. So they pretty much do what they’re told to do, not because they want to but because it’s their only choice,” said Brahlek, who has worked closely with adjuncts during his four decades at the college.
Part-time instructors may teach at more than one institution and often have full-time jobs. Cutting back on hours will likely increase turnover at the college, Brahlek predicted. “From the college’s perspective, having so many part-time people, the training, supervision, is just a nightmare,” he said.
And having more instructors to means more work for supervisors who must evaluate the teachers, he said. The hourly reduction “might work well in the short term but in the long term it’s going to have monumental consequences,” he said.
Kaiser Family Foundation Vice President Larry Levitt said companies and government agencies have an incentive to cut back on hourly employees to avoid the extra cost for insurance and the potential fines. “An employer could potentially save a significant amount of money by doing that,” Levitt said.
But how workers will fare is less clear-cut, he said.
Currently, part-time workers whose employers don’t provide health care coverage don’t have any options. But, beginning in January, workers will be able to purchase health insurance via on-line marketplaces and be eligible for tax credits.
“From a health insurance perspective, they’ll be much better off. From a financial perspective, you’ll have to balance that. Your income may be reduced but your health insurance bills may be reduced as well,” Levitt said.