Letter from Barbara Bowen and Marcia Newfield to adjuncts

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Dear Colleague,

Last Friday (August 12), the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund sent letters to CUNY adjuncts who receive health insurance through the Welfare Fund with distressing news about their health insurance benefit.

For more than ten years CUNY resisted every attempt by the union to negotiate adequate funding or a stable health insurance plan for adjuncts. CUNY has chronically underfunded adjunct health insurance, and now covers only 20% of the total cost. As a result, the Welfare Fund wrote to adjuncts on Friday that one year from now, unless a source of adequate funding is made available, the Fund will have to discontinue adjunct health insurance. If the current benefit were to be discontinued, the Welfare Fund would implement a severely reduced health benefit for participating adjuncts, based on available funding.

As president of the PSC and vice-president for part-timers, we are determined not to let adjunct health insurance end. We know that health insurance is a matter of survival.

The Professional Staff Congress is prepared to use every resource at our disposal to maintain adjunct health insurance—and we believe we can win this fight. How can you be part of it? Make a commitment to attend a demonstration on Monday, September 26, at the first CUNY Board meeting of the year. And take action immediately, by sending a letter to the CUNY administration demanding that adjunct health insurance be funded.

CUNY’s responsibility
You may be a participant in adjunct health insurance, and feel shocked or scared by the news of a potential end to the benefit. Or you may not be personally affected. (If you are affected and have questions, call the Welfare Fund at: 212-354-5230.) A relatively small portion of the 13,000 adjuncts working at CUNY qualify for and receive health insurance through the Welfare Fund: roughly 1,700, or 13% of adjuncts, participate in the plan. As you may know, in order to qualify for health insurance through the Welfare Fund, adjuncts must have taught or worked at CUNY for a year, be teaching at least two courses, and have no other primary health insurance.

Although CUNY rarely includes adjuncts in its public image, half of the University’s courses are taught by adjuncts. Underfunded by the City and the State, CUNY survives because of adjunct labor. The University has a responsibility to support this core part of its workforce with access to health insurance. The campaign to protect adjunct health insurance is a campaign about how CUNY values its workforce. As an adjunct, you have a special stake in the campaign’s success.

Why make the decision now?
Adjuncts’ basic health insurance is provided through the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund, while health insurance for full-timers and retirees is provided through the New York City Health Benefits Program. For many years, CUNY has radically underfunded the adjunct health insurance plan. From 2003 through the present, the University’s contribution to the Welfare Fund for the purpose of providing adjunct health insurance has remained unchanged—despite a huge increase in the number of participants and the cost of the benefit. In 2003, CUNY’s contribution covered 80% of the total cost of the benefit; now it covers only 20%. In recent years, the cost increase has been especially steep. Because the Welfare Fund and the union were committed to sustaining the benefit, the Fund made extraordinary efforts to keep adjunct health insurance in place, including spreading the cost over the entire Welfare Fund membership and drawing on the Fund’s financial reserve.

Welfare Fund director Larry Morgan wrote in his letter to adjuncts: “While these measures helped to close the gap created by the underfunding, most of the difference has been met by drawing down the Fund’s financial reserves. Now that the funding gap has reached its current proportions, the Welfare Fund no longer has the financial resources to cover it. Revamping and reducing Welfare Fund benefits and relying on a diminishing reserve will never solve the problem.”

What’s needed is a structural solution: a source of adjunct health insurance that increases support as the number of participants and the costs increase. That’s what the PSC has demanded for more than a decade. In every round of contract negotiations since the current leadership took office, the union has called for increased funds for the Welfare Fund and the transfer of eligible CUNY adjuncts to the same health plan as full-time faculty and staff. While the PSC won modest increases in funding and preserved Welfare Fund benefits through contract negotiations, CUNY has so far not agreed to our demand for a structural solution.

An escalating campaign
The union is committed to solving the problem this year. As the crisis in adjunct health insurance funding became apparent, we met with the CUNY administration and urged them to work with the union for a permanent solution. The PSC leadership has made it clear that we would welcome an opportunity to work with CUNY on a plan for stable and lasting coverage. But with 1,700 colleagues in danger of losing their health insurance, the PSC must also use its collective force. We must make CUNY hear our demand—loud and clear and often—for a permanent, equitable plan for adjunct health insurance. Winning this campaign will require extraordinary and visible effort.

We need every adjunct in this fight. We ask you to take the first step right now: click here to tell CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein and chairperson of the Board of Trustees Benno Schmidt that you believe adjunct health insurance is fundamental to the health of the entire University. And mark one date on your calendars: Monday, September 26 at 4:00pm. Every adjunct who receives health insurance and every adjunct who doesn’t should be there, along with our full-time colleagues. September 26 is your chance to tell the entire CUNY Board how critical health insurance is to you personally, and how important it is that the University fulfill its basic responsibility as an employer.

These are just the first steps in a campaign that may escalate. If you want to have a part in shaping the campaign, send a message to bgraf@pscmail.org and we’ll contact you about joining an organizing committee.

The PSC will do everything in our power to protect this essential benefit for CUNY adjuncts. We ask you to join us in this fight for a basic human right—health care—for ourselves and our colleagues. Join us in the fight for respect for adjunct labor, and all labor, at CUNY.

In solidarity,

Marcia Newfield
PSC Vice President, Part-Time Personnel

Barbara Bowen
PSC President