In August 2011, the long-standing underfunding of adjunct health insurance at CUNY came to a head. Trustees of the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund announced that continuation of adjunct health insurance was in danger, and, unless changes were made, it would not last beyond the coming year.
The PSC responded with an energetic campaign to save adjunct health coverage, to maintain this long-standing, basic benefit and put it on a firmer foundation. The campaign secured State funding for continuing this basic benefit and reached important agreements with CUNY management on ways to provide substantially the same coverage in a more sustainable framework. But despite this hard-won progress, a permanent new plan is not yet in place.
This article looks back at what has been achieved so far, and at what must still be done. Some agreements reached in the talks between the union and CUNY management will take effect in the coming months; these include additional CUNY funding for the benefit; an adjustment in eligibility rules in preparation for moving adjuncts into an existing public-worker health plan; and increased funding for the Adjunct Professional Development Fund.
Achieving financially sustainable health insurance for part-time faculty at CUNY who have no other source of coverage has been a goal of the PSC leadership for over a decade. When adjuncts first gained health insurance at CUNY in 1986, coverage was provided through the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund and financed by a flat-rate contractual contribution from CUNY. The number of eligible adjuncts and the cost of coverage increased in the years that followed, but the University resisted union proposals to adjust the funding accordingly.
After the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund trustees declared that the fund could no longer subsidize the provision of health insurance, union members rallied, testified and protested at CUNY, insisting on secure funding to ensure a stable program. PSC delegates made defense of adjunct health insurance a priority for this round of negotiations. Solving the crisis was seen as vital, both for adjuncts and for the financial stability of the Welfare Fund as a whole. In response, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein expressed to the CUNY Board of Trustees his desire to achieve a financially sustainable solution.
With lobbying support from PSC, CUNY secured fringe benefit funding from New York State that would cover much, but not all, of the cost of adjunct health insurance beyond existing contractual contributions. PSC and CUNY then began to negotiate the terms of an agreement to take to the State and City, designed to provide adjunct coverage in a more rational, cost-effective way by including eligible adjuncts under one of the public-employee health benefit programs. Because these large public programs cover hundreds of thousands of employees, such plans are much more stable and efficient than the kind of small-group plan the Welfare Fund purchases for about 1,800 eligible adjuncts.
The terms of coverage and financing that PSC and CUNY have negotiated over the past year largely replicate eligibility terms for adjuncts under the current Welfare Fund coverage. An adjunct must have worked at CUNY for at least two continuous semesters and be teaching at least six contact hours (CUNY-wide), and have access to no other source of health insurance coverage to be eligible. The plan provides individual coverage only while the adjunct maintains eligibility. (Adjuncts can buy family coverage by paying the difference between the individual and family rate.)
CUNY doctoral students – even if employed as adjuncts – are eligible to receive primary health insurance coverage under the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP); they are thus not eligible for CUNY’s current adjunct health insurance, and that will remain true under the new plan as well.
As part of their negotiations, the PSC and CUNY resolved a series of university-wide grievances about adjunct overloads over several semesters, primarily concerning instances where waivers were never requested, and identified sources of funding for future cost increases in the program. CUNY also agreed to make a one-time supplemental contribution of $250,000 to the Adjunct Professional Development Fund.
The talks with CUNY management were complex and had to address many details. Union negotiating team members say that CUNY proved to be a serious negotiating partner: the two sides often disagreed, but both were committed to getting it done. But the prolonged talks left covered adjuncts worrying month-to-month about their future coverage. The PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund trustees repeatedly extended their deadline as CUNY provided some supplemental funding to help cover the costs.
In January, CUNY and PSC took a joint proposal to New York City, which provides for eligible adjuncts to receive health insurance coverage under the New York City Health Benefits Program and supplemental health benefits (prescription drugs, dental, optical) under the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund. This is how coverage for full-time faculty is structured – though under different eligibility terms.
Although there would be no cost to the city, so far, a final agreement has remained out of reach. “Talks are continuing and we remain hopeful about reaching an agreement,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen at the beginning of June. “It’s a strong proposal, there is a detailed agreement between union and management, the funding is in place and it’s clearly the right thing to do.”
In order to give adjuncts a measure of security while discussions continue, the PSC and CUNY negotiated an understanding and the Welfare Fund trustees agreed to accept funding terms allowing the current Welfare Fund health insurance coverage for adjuncts to continue through June 30, 2014.
As part of the PSC-CUNY talks so far, eligibility rules were adjusted to reflect the proposed terms for covering eligible adjuncts under the City health plan. Effective with the Fall 2013 semester, non-teaching adjuncts with two semesters of service at CUNY must be working at least 15 hours per week to be eligible for health insurance coverage. (A non-teaching adjunct who worked 10 or more, but less than 15 hours in the two semesters of the 2012-2013 academic year, will continue to be eligible as long as they work 15 or more hours per week starting Fall 2013.) Adjuncts whose eligibility is achieved through a combination of teaching and non-teaching work may also need to increase their non-teaching hours.