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Support Part-time Unemployment Insurance Legislation


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Current New York State and Federal law allows part-time professionals in higher education to be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits if they are unemployed and have not received “reasonable assurance” of being rehired.  Some part-time professional employees at colleges and universities in New York State are given offers of “intent to hire” that are conditioned on enrollment, funding, or program changes, and employers currently use those offers to establish the “reasonable assurance” standard for educational workers under federal unemployment law.  

S 4123—A/A 613--A will change the current practice of allowing conditional offers of “intent to hire” to be used as evidence of the federal “reasonable assurance” standard.  If a part-time professional employee meets the other eligibility criteria, the employer would have the burden of proof and would have to provide sufficient documentation, on a case-by-case basis, to overcome the presumption of contingency established in these offers of “intent to hire.” 

This bill would remove a serious impediment that unjustly prevents some adjunct faculty from collecting benefits.  Adjuncts would still have to meet other Unemployment Insurance eligibility requirements and be available for work.  And, they would not be eligible for unemployment insurance if their employer establishes, by the total weight of the evidence, “reasonable assurance” of employment in the following semester. 

Opponents of this legislation have not offered meritorious objections to it, but rather have tried to misstate the nature, scope and impact of adopting S4123—A/A613—A.  Below are some of the common myths that have been promoted by opponents.

MYTH:  This legislation expands Unemployment Insurance benefit coverage to a new class of employees.

FACT:  No.  This legislation will not expand coverage for Unemployment Insurance benefits.  Coverage portions of the law remain unchanged. This legislation is targeted to be part of the benefit eligibility section of Unemployment Insurance law.  It only addresses those situations where there is a practice of issuing conditional offers of intent to rehire a professional part-time employee in colleges and universities.

MYTH: This legislation will expand Unemployment Insurance coverage to new private collegiate employers, including collegiate-level parochial schools and theological seminaries, which are currently not covered under existing Unemployment Insurance law.

FACT:  This is not true.  Any private institution that is currently exempt under Unemployment Insurance law, including religious institutions, will remain exempt.  This legislation does not address “coverage” under the law; only benefit eligibility. 

MYTH:  Public and private colleges and universities currently do not pay unemployment insurance to part-time professionals.

FACT:   No.  Current law permits part-time professionals who were employed at public and private colleges and universities to apply for benefits if they are not given “reasonable assurance” of rehire.  Colleges and universities currently pay Unemployment Insurance benefits, but, in their memoranda of opposition, they do not report their current, actual Unemployment Insurance cost experience.  They promote the myth that they do not currently pay Unemployment Insurance to any part-time professionals.  In other words, opponents make it appear that all of their future Unemployment Insurance benefit costs will be as a result of passing this legislation.

MYTH:  This legislation will create new and costly demands on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund; for example a massive layoff of adjunct faculty will cause grave damage to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

FACT:  This legislation will have little to no impact on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.  94% of all educational institutions and 80% of all private educational institutions are self-insured and do not participate in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.  In a case where there is a massive layoff of part-time professionals, the financial impact on the involved institutions or on the Unemployment Trust Fund would not change from current law.  If they are “laid off,” part-time professionals are eligible to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits under current law. 

MYTH:  This legislation will cost SUNY and CUNY almost $150 million in new Unemployment Insurance benefit claims because it will allow all or most adjunct faculty and other part-time professionals in colleges and universities to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits between semesters.

FACT:  Most part-time professional employees are either full-time employees elsewhere or work year-round at various part-time positions and are ineligible to collect Unemployment Insurance benefits.  Also, many part-time professional employees are already eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits, because they do not currently receive offers of “intent to rehire”.  CUNY and SUNY base their cost figures on all the part-time professionals that they employ qualifying for the maximum allowable benefit.  Their cost methodology is flawed in two respects: one, only a handful of part-time professional employees make enough to qualify for the maximum benefit, and, two, they count thousands of ineligible and currently eligible part-time professionals in the pool of part-time professionals who might make a claim if this legislation becomes law. 

MYTH:  The two-tier labor system in higher education, which relies on a majority of low-paid adjunct faculty, is beneficial because it relieves full-time faculty from onerous teaching loads and allows full-time faculty time to focus on research interests.

FACT:  The two-tier labor system has deformed higher education.  More than one-half of all courses in CUNY and seventy percent of courses in SUNY community colleges are taught by adjunct faculty.  Under these circumstances, many low-paid adjunct faculty cannot spend the needed time with students and the quality of education suffers.  The remaining full-time faculty have to take on more institutional tasks because of the paucity of full-time faculty; e.g. student advisement, peer observations, curriculum planning and administration, and program administration.  Because there are relatively few full-time faculty, they are under pressure to teach as much as possible while performing more administrative tasks.  In fact, under the two-tier labor system, little time is available to the full-time faculty for research or professional development. 

MYTH:  Adjunct faculties’ expectation is that they are being hired on an annual basis and the compensation they receive is for an annual commitment.

FACT:  Most adjunct faculty are hired on a semester basis to teach specific courses.  They are paid for hours worked or by the course, not an annual salary.  A part-time professional with an annual salary would not be affected by this legislation.  In such circumstance, “reasonable assurance” of employment does exist and the adjunct faculty member is not eligible for benefits. 

MYTH: If this legislation is passed, colleges and universities will not be able to control the additional costs and this will diminish the instructional budget.

FACT:  First, the additional costs will be marginal, because most adjuncts are ineligible to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits or are already receiving them.  Second, whatever the additional cost, colleges and universities can control their costs – reducing them to zero – by providing adjuncts with genuine “reasonable assurance” of rehire.  This can be accomplished through contractual job security provisions or other forms of guarantees of employment from semester to semester. 

MYTH:  Colleges and universities cannot provide for adjunct job security, because they need the flexibility of assigning or not assigning adjunct faculty to courses at the last minute.

FACT:  Course planning and staffing decisions are generally finalized by mid-spring for the fall semester and by mid-fall for the spring term.  While some courses are cancelled at the last minute, most courses run.  The true need for flexibility is marginal.  With 50% to 70% of the courses taught by adjunct faculty, it would be a very poorly run institution that claims it needs flexibility for the majority of its course offerings.  In fact, most adjuncts could be provided with job security without harming institutional operation.  But, if collegiate employers continue to maintain that they must have a flexible workforce to run their institutions, then they are admitting that they cannot provide “reasonable assurance” of rehire for part-time professionals and, under current law, are obligated to pay Unemployment Insurance benefits.   S4123—A/A613—A amends the current law so that the law cannot be distorted by making a highly conditional offer of intent to rehire evidence of “reasonable assurance.”  Collegiate employers who oppose this legislation want both a flexible workforce and not to pay Unemployment Insurance benefits.  The Legislature should not allow this loophole which perverts current law.

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