Berkshire Community College adjuncts push for parity in pay and benefits

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Community College instructors Patrick Barry and Andrea Borak both have their master's degrees and decades of experience in their field.

But they don't get paid the same for teaching the same classes as their full-time colleagues. And they don't get health benefits.

That's why they were among dozens of people who stood out in protest at the front of the college campus this week seeking more recognition for the case for fair compensation.

Barry, a retired Pittsfield Police detective who teaches law enforcement, said he's grateful he still has health benefits from the city. But he said it's "not fair" for adjuncts, who work for state institutions, to not get the same benefits as other state workers.

"We need to push adjuncts in parity with others," he said.

These working conditions for adjunct faculty have continued for decades, despite movements to change it. But as the number of adjunct faculty across the commonwealth, and across the country, grows beyond the number of full-time, benefited faculty on community college campuses, there's another mounting movement for "equal pay for equal work."

"Students don't know who are adjuncts on campus or not," said Borak, who teaches dance in the Fine Arts Department, and serves as the adjunct representative to the Berkshire Community College Professional Association, the college's union.

She said that adjunct faculty are equally "passionate" about teaching their subjects and are "dedicated" to student success as full-time faculty; some adjuncts even carry full-time class loads.

But adjuncts across the commonwealth have not had a stable contract since the last one expired on May 31, 2016. Represented by the Massachusetts Community College Council Division of Continuing Education bargaining unit, they have been working under a monthly agreement extension while tentative agreements are in mediation with a team led by Michael J. Murray representing the state Board of Higher Education.

At Berkshire Community College, there are 119 faculty members currently teaching courses as adjuncts, according to data from the college's registrar, with 21 of those instructors teaching beyond their full-time position for adjunct pay. There are 54 full-time faculty currently.

As of Jan. 15, 2016, adjuncts can earn a range between $1,025 and $1,239 per credit taught based on their "step" level, calculated by years teaching. That means a Step 1 adjunct makes $3,075 and a Step 4 instructor earns $3,717 per three-credit course taught in a semester. The spring semester at BCC runs from January to May.

MCCC President Diana Yohe, who began her teaching career at Berkshire Community College, said it's common in Massachusetts for adjunct faculty to teach multiple courses at multiple state campuses to make ends meet.

"Their issues are national issues," Yohe told The Eagle. "There's no job security for them. They can get hired and let go at a moment's notice."

She said community college presidents "are really key to all of this," when it comes to the negotiations and changing working conditions and compensation.

BCC President Ellen Kennedy said, "I support all of our faculty," noting "we treat our adjuncts as if they are full-time in terms of service recognition" for years served. Adjuncts receive other benefits like tuition remission, access to campus amenities and access to a 403b retirement plan.

Kennedy said she also hopes for a "swift" resolution to establish the next two-year contract.

The last mediation session for the contract was in February. The next is scheduled for Wednesday.

Back in January, state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Paul Johansen, a BCC adjunct statistics instructor and statistics and political action leader for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, submitted an op-ed to The Eagle highlighting these issues, as well as legislation designated to help increase public higher education funding and benefits for adjunct faculty.

"Tenure-track faculty do have additional administrative duties, yet factoring these out of the equation, adjunct faculty only earn about $0.74 on the dollar for teaching the same classes to the same students," they wrote. "Just as it is immoral that women are paid less than men for the same work, it is immoral for adjunct faculty to earn unequal pay for equal work."

Mark, a Springfield Technical Community College graduate whose district includes Greenfield and Berkshire community colleges, said the initial proposed legislation has since been pared back to focus on securing state health benefits for adjuncts. He said that as the state budget continues to be negotiated, he hopes that the proposed bill remains a priority.

Looking ahead, he said he also hopes it becomes a priority to ease off on a tendency to balance budget cuts by using adjunct faculty and staff equivalents to focus on maintaining a healthy roster of full-time faculty.

"It's better to the employee, it's better to the employer to have a committed staff, and it's better for students who know that faculty members will be there for them," he said.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-4939.


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