New hourly work limits affect adjuncts, students

Liz Butterfield
Assistant News Editor

VCU hourly employees will see major changes this year after Gov. Bob McDonnell released a new directive to all state agencies to limit the workload of hourly employees to a maximum 29 hours weekly on average over a 12-month period.

VCU Human Resources released a list of Frequently Asked Questions to university employees to help them understand the new changes, but student workers and adjuncts may already be feeling the effects.

Because of a budget amendment passed this spring in the General Assembly, wage employees at state institutions may not work more than 29 hours a week on average over a year. The Affordable Care Act, which becomes effective in 2014, stipulates that all state agency employees who work 30 hours a week or more on average will be considered full-time employees, therefore becoming eligible for participation in the health benefit plan for state employees, the letter explained.

Due to these restrictions, VCU and other institutions are encouraged to enforce the limit to the “greatest possible extent,” according to the FAQs released to the university outlining these changes. The provost’s office and Human Resources will lead the university in adopting these changes, but departments like the College of Humanities and Sciences have not yet been given much direction.

Wage employees of the university include all student workers and hourly employees, including adjunct professors. Director of Administration in the College of Humanities and Sciences Anne Stratton said the new restrictions on hourly workers creates a large problem for students and staff at VCU.

According to Stratton, there are roughly 300 adjunct professors at VCU per academic year who will be affected by these changes. Administrators like Stratton have received very little guidance from Human Resources and the provost’s office on how they should adapt to these changes.

“We have received no guidelines about how to handle even … which adjuncts are teaching too much or too many hours,” Stratton said. “We don’t even know how they’ve defined 29 hours of work.”

Stratton explained that one of the challenges with regulating hours of adjunct professors were discrepancies between weekly, monthly or annual averages over how much time was worked. For example, some summer classes are only three weeks long or some adjuncts teach several courses.

“If you’re going to limit the number of hours you can work per week to 29, and you’re going to check every week, then … there’s no way,” Stratton said. “What will we do with all of these adjuncts that are making a living teaching summer classes — that’s going to be tough.”

This also creates a problem for adjuncts who rely on their teaching at VCU to supplement another job or even those who teach at other community colleges.

“It’s not just what you’re doing here at VCU, it’s what you’re doing at J. Sargeant Reynolds … all the state institutions and a lot of adjuncts teach at the community colleges,” Stratton said. “We are very worried about it.”

Likewise, students with hourly jobs at VCU will have to keep their load to 29 hours a week or less as well, including students who work multiple university jobs.

Senior history and English major Antoinette Moore worked in maintenance and as a facility attendant at the Cary Street Gym before she decided to quit her job because of the new 29-hour work week policy.

After receiving an email from her supervisor notifying employees about the new limits in March, Moore saw changes in her schedule almost immediately.

“I went from 40 hours a week down to 29 which is really not enough for me to live on at all,” Moore said. “It just seemed like the administration at the gym, since they’re not affected by the mandate at all, don’t really seem to realize that it’s really impacting the students who work there very hard.”

Moore plans on attending graduate school at VCU this fall for global marketing management and is now looking for a new, private sector job.

Although she left her university job at the beginning of April, Moore is still concerned about those who can’t afford to leave.

“If we’re going to keep cutting the money that they are supplying to public universities then it will be impossible for any person to survive in college without working full-time,” she said. “There are a lot of (students) … who can’t afford to leave their jobs so they’re going to have to basically deal with taking out more loans, taking out more interest on that and getting further into debt. It’s not helping the situation at all.”

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