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Colleges, Faculty Clash Over GOP Push To Redfine The Workweek

A big chunk of the country’s colleges will no longer be required to provide health insurance if the GOP’s plan to change the definition of full-time work is passed, and union activists are in an uproar.

Under Obamacare, the employer mandate requires large employers to provide health insurance to all employees who work “full-time,” a threshold that is currently set at 30 hours per week. Republicans want to raise that to the more traditional full-time standard of 40 hours per week, because they claim the current standard encourages employers to depress the hours of part-time workers.

A strong source of opposition comes from adjunct faculty at universities. Adjunct faculty, who lack the job security and benefits of tenured faculty, also typically work fewer hours. They are concerned that if the threshold is raised, their short workweeks will no longer qualify for mandatory health benefits.

Veronique de Rugy, an economist and senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, said while changing the threshold may hurt existing adjuncts, it would benefit the glut of Ph.Ds currently seeking academic positions but are unable to obtain them.

“If you make it more expensive to hire people, fewer people will be hired. So if you remove the extra cost to hiring people, you will see more of these employees being hired,” de Rugy told The Daily Caller News Foundation. She said the opposition to raising the bar for full-time work amounted to a “special interest” of current adjuncts that didn’t help anybody else.

President Obama has vowed to veto that change if it passes Congress, and many teachers and faculty oppose the measure.

Christopher Honey, the communications director for the Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents many adjunct faculty members in the D.C. area, sharply condemned the Republicans’ plan as “unfair.”

“Anything that pushes adjuncts further away from security, from access to benefits, is a negative,” Honey told Inside Higher Education.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents K-12 teachers and adjunct faculty, also slammed the move.

“If the threshold for coverage is raised from 30 to 40 hours, these contingent workers will lose a hard-fought opportunity for employer health coverage,” he said in a statement.

College faculty aren’t the only educators who may have reason to fear a change in the full-time definition. Michael Petrilli, president of the center-right Fordham Institute, authored a blog piece Thursday noting that a huge chunk of the country’s K-12 teachers aren’t currently hitting 40 hours a week. In Fairfax County, Va., a week of work for teachers is 37.5 hours. In Chicago, 35 hours does the trick. In Sacramento, Calif., a full week of work is 30.5 hours, barely enough to qualify under the current standard.

If the Republican reform passes, those teachers will no longer be entitled to health insurance under Obamacare.

Petrilli notes that most union contracts already guarantee teachers health benefits regardless of what Obamacare says, but he says the push by Republicans is about principles as much as policy, and could have a long-term effect.

“It’s about what we think of as full-time,” Petrilli told TheDCNF. “It’s shocking to see that so many school board have allowed teachers to work significantly less than forty hours a week.”

Many great teachers do spend extra hours every week working on grading and lesson plans, Petrilli said, but that doesn’t mean a short standard workweek is acceptable.

“Some of their colleagues surely are working to the contract [and no more],” he said. That has negative consequences for students, he added. “A super-short work week is a super-short instructional week.”

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