San Jose teachers demand better pay and health care
More than 60 supporters of teachers in the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District gathered at the board meeting on Oct. 10, 2023 to rally for better health care benefits. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Teachers and union members are demanding that one San Jose community college district increase compensation and health care benefits.

    Dozens of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District faculty and members of its Federation of Teachers union attended Tuesday’s board meeting to push for better health care benefits under the Part-Time Community College Health Insurance Program. Through a new provision enacted last year under Assembly Bill 190, $200 million is available annually for community college districts to fund health care premiums for part-time faculty carrying 40% of the full-time workload. This is not a mandatory requirement, and community colleges need to opt in to the program.

    Participating community college districts are reimbursed 100% by the state for part-time teachers who reach the 40% benchmark, according to union Vice President Jessica Breheny. The California Federation of Teachers estimates this would result in full health insurance for at least 150 faculty and their families at no cost to the district, she said. Neighboring West Valley-Mission Community College District recently agreed to join the program. 

    Paul Fong, former president of the teacher’s union, said he was fighting for better wages and health care with his brothers and sisters who were incensed the board wasn’t meeting their needs.

    “You’re getting the money from the state. It’s not going to cost anything for our district. Why not provide health care for our part-timers?” he said at the meeting.

    In addition, union representatives want the district to provide cost of living raises, fewer class cancellations and smaller class sizes. Phil Hu, executive director of the San Jose/Evergreen Federation of Teachers, said union members felt empowered by the faculty’s collective action and solidarity.

    Phil Hu, executive director of the San Jose/Evergreen Federation of Teachers, said union members felt empowered by the show of solidarity. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Supporters shook signs and applauded the speakers. Boos rang out when speakers were only given 30 seconds each. They were angry about the time limit because it underscores the overall feeling in the district that faculty are not being listened to, Breheny told San José Spotlight.

    Hu said contract negotiators are frustrated with the lack of progress made and hope the presence of more than 60 supporters added pressure.

    “Our goal is AB 190 compliant health care for part-time faculty and wages enough to at least blunt the pain of inflation,” he said. “We proposed things for the betterment of education. The district said no to all of it.”  

    Interim Chancellor Beatriz Chaidez told San José Spotlight the district’s most recent bargaining session makes her hopeful an agreement can be reached soon.

    Longtime part-time teacher Patricia Alvarez has seen additional construction and services for students at district campuses and said part-time faculty deserve the same support.

    “We also need to apply this positive growth toward our adjunct instructors by paying for our health care 100%,” she said. “This will give us peace of mind because we will not have to worry about not having health care. San Jose City College does a wonderful job looking out for our students. Please do the same for us.”

    Hu said improving health care benefits for part-time faculty is crucial. Currently, the district will pay 50% of insurance premiums for part-time faculty carrying 40% of a full-time workload, he said, but doesn’t cover spouses or dependents.

    “The access and coverage right now is poor,” Hu said. “To have the security of knowing your family is covered is extremely important, especially coming out of the pandemic. They need to be covered.”

    Carol Abohatab, a part-time teacher who has taught in the region for more than 20 years, said part-time faculty struggle to hit the 40% mark. In 2020, when she lost two out of three classes, she also lost her health insurance and had to go on COBRA, a continuation of health benefits paid for by former employees. It cost her more than $800 a month.

    “Most of my paychecks went to health care,” she told San José Spotlight. “It was devastating. There are people with dependents. It’s tragic (the district) can’t put up the money.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

    Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

    Leave a Reply