In evolving Covid landscape, AFT pushes for improved faculty health provisions
It’s been a busy year for your union health advocates, and in this article we aim to bring you up to date on organizing and negotiations efforts. On the state level, your local has actively joined the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) in organizing for health insurance benefits for adjunct faculty. After winning $200 million per year in ongoing adjunct healthcare funding from the state, the Legislature has just passed a budget trailer bill – including every component of CFT’s demands – that will make quality, affordable healthcare much more accessible for community college part-time faculty. [Read more about new adjunct faculty healthcare funding.]
On the local front, we’ve continued to educate our Board members and District leadership about faculty’s needs and concerns. AFT 1493 Co-Vice President Katharine Harer laid these out clearly at August 24th’s Board of Trustees’ meeting, explaining how at that time our District had refused to negotiate a new MOU for Fall 2022, with the reasoning that “we’re back to status quo with Covid.” (See the August 24th Contract Negotiations Report.) During the first two years of the pandemic, AFT had been able to negotiate MOU agreements for a number of health related provisions.
Co-VP Harer explained, “While the union has not taken a position on masking, we’re doing our best to support our faculty…who have expressed concerns for themselves and their students…Tonight we’re communicating their most pressing concerns.” She prioritized top concerns as:
- Accommodation process for faculty. While the District says that faculty already had the opportunity to obtain an accommodation if they need one due to possible effects of Covid on themselves or their household members, more faculty may need to request accommodation now that masks are not required. We want the District to agree to respond to accommodation requests without any delays.
- Faculty say immunocompromised individuals would like to require that students wear masks in face to face classes. Board policy says masks are strongly recommended but not required. A common sense safety measure would be for faculty to be able to require students to wear masks as needed.
- Now that the Covid Health Officer has discontinued contact tracing (except for clusters as required by Cal OSHA), the burden falls entirely on students and faculty to self-monitor, with no enforcement provisions by the District.
- Communications about changing policies around Covid have been inadequate, often coming late in the game, inconsistent or confusing. For example, an article in the August 19 edition of the Skyline Shines employee newsletter reported that “masks are required,” yet by that date the County was already in the green tier. (By the Board’s revised policy masks are not required in green).
- The Chancellor has recommended creating a task group including reps from the unions and the senates (including students) to discuss and propose Covid-related policies to bring forward to the BOT. We commend this approach and look forward to participating; but we are concerned that this task group will not be making decisions soon enough for this semester; and that more immediate recommendations will come instead from the District Health & Safety Management Committee, which has no faculty representation. (See below)
District Health & Safety Committee has failed to engage participatory governance around Covid-related decision making and policies
Recognizing that faculty deserve a seat at the table on decisions that may seriously affect their health and livelihoods, Cañada’s Safety Committee and Skyline’s Health, Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee each voted unanimously last Spring to recommend that faculty and staff be able to appoint representatives to the District’s Health & Safety Committee, a management group with the authority to influence policy decisions. While the District committee’s June 6 notes report their goal of improving communications and transparency around their decision making, that committee has thus far declined to act on faculty’s recommendation for representation, which was also supported by classified professionals. The District’s next meeting takes place September 13 at 1:00pm with no agenda posted as of this writing and without any faculty members present.
Improved Communications Needed
Also troubling is that campus safety committee chairs have not been informed, as of this writing, about the Chancellor’s plans for the new ad hoc task group or how this new body might change the role or work of our local safety committees.
Similarly, while the Chancellor explained to the Board in May 2022 that constituent groups, including safety committees, would be engaged during summer to plan for any changes to Covid-related policies in Fall, faculty were not consulted and health and safety committees were not tasked with any policy discussion. Skyline’s College HSEPC committee leadership, in fact, declined to meet in summer.
What is AFT prioritizing now? What can faculty do to move the needle on health and safety?
At their recent August 2022 retreat, AFT1493 Executive Committee members discussed which health provisions to prioritize this Fall. The majority were in favor of continuing to push for an improved and more timely accommodations process and more options for immunocompromised faculty, such as being able to require that students wear masks in class, noting that these types of requests have been refused during current contract negotiations. The majority also favored continuing to allow faculty teaching face to face the option to pivot temporarily to remote instruction if sick or Covid positive. It’s worth noting that faculty’s ability to claim Covid sick time will end this month on September 30 unless extended. (Note: This option was included in MOUs during the pandemic).
Faculty members are encouraged to attend and make comments at AFT’s September 14 membership meeting as well as at bi-monthly CAT meetings where faculty discuss and formulate strategies. The next CAT meeting takes place this Friday, September 9, at 3:30 at this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/7052173089. Faculty with specific questions about Covid testing or other safety measures should reach out to their AFT reps on their campus Health and Safety Committees:
- Cañada College: Michael Hoffman <email@example.com>
- College of San Mateo: David Lau <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Skyline College: Jessica Silver-Sharp <email@example.com> or Lori Slicton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
We know you receive a lot of email! To find recent health updates from the District, searching your SMCCD email for “Covid-19 update” will bring up these official communications.
Lifesaving CPR Training available for Faculty
Lastly, adjuncts wishing to participate in paid Heart-saver First Aid/CPR/AED training should plan to take advantage of the training scheduled on October 12 Flex Day at Skyline College, open to the first 25 employees who sign up here: https://www.pda.training/cpr-first-aid-training. Other flex day trainings take place in January and March 2023 at CSM and Cañada, respectively. There is no pay available for CPR training on non-Flex days, as HR does not consider the training mandatory.