This article has been updated to include comments from the director of communications for the university, Bob Howe.
By Victor Ordonez
Members of Fordham Faculty United (FFU) recently had their efforts to unionize adjunct faculty members hindered by the administration, who placed legal obstructions which allow Fordham to circumvent the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because it is a religiously-affiliated institution.
Bob Howe, director of communications for the university, said that the administration “absolutely supports the right of employees to organize and join unions, and in fact the University maintains good relations with its unions and unionized employees.” However, the Fordham administration was concerned that a religious institutions’ First Amendment freedoms would be ignored by the the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), according to Howe.
In 2015, The Ram reported that adjuncts were paid $3,900 per undergraduate course at Fordham University. Although wages have increased since the publication of the 2015 article, adjuncts still face unsustainable living situations due to their salaries, according to members FFU.
Fordham’s adjunct professors are currently paid $4,100 for teaching a three or four credit courses according to Director of the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee Andrew Clark.
Adjuncts are not permitted to teach more than two courses a semester. Teaching a surplus of three classes or more would require Fordham to pay those professors a full salary in addition to benefits. As such, adjuncts could earn a minimum of $8,200 a semester or $16,400 annually.
The 2016 federal poverty level for New York State on an annual scale is $11,880, according to nyc.gov. An adjunct professor must teach at least two classes per semester to accumulate a Fordham salary that is approximately $4,000 above the poverty line.
“I have never met an adjunct faculty member, and we have many in our department, who can sustain him or herself on an adjunct salary,” according to Clark. “[Either] they have a partner or spouse who makes a higher income or they must teach multiple adjunct jobs or have some other job.”
Due to Fordham’s two course maximum, most adjuncts in the modern language and comparative literature departments teach a minimum of four courses and most teach six courses at Columbia University, NYU, Hunter College or Lehman College, according to Clark.
Adjuncts in other departments face similar issues. During an FFU attempt to unionize, Kathryn Krasinski, a Fordham anthropology professor and member of FFU, described equal concerns for her living conditions due to her insufficient Fordham adjunct salary.
“I am working a lot of other jobs to earn ends meet because I am not making enough money here to do that,” said Krasinski.
Healthcare is another key issue provoking adjunct unionization, according to Clark and adjunct professor of Communication and Media Studies Chris Brandt.
Adults ages 19-64 must earn at least $16,394 to be eligible for Medicaid, according to nyc.gov. If a Fordham adjunct manages to earn the maximum amount of $16,400 annually, he or she fall on the cusp of obtaining Medicaid, depending on taxes.
However, most comprehensive healthcare plans would cost more than adjunct faculty receive in an annual salary, according to Clark. Brandt said that he is only eligible for the lowest form of Medicaid with his current adjunct salary.
“With a good health insurance program, I could afford to do more in the way, for example, of having more than the minimum, which is what Medicare allows me,” said Brandt. However, as an adjunct over 65 years old, Brandt does not particularly worry about healthcare as much as he does retirement benefits.
“The lack of retirement benefits — zero — and the impossibility of getting unemployment benefits because I am an ‘independent contractor’ impact my life much more seriously,” said Brandt.
Brandt said that if it were not for Social Security, he would not be able to both eat and pay his rent.