When Sally Saenger, a physical education instructor at Santa Barbara City College, was denied employee health insurance benefits last September, she was baffled. How could a teacher who has taught students of all ages for 28 years be denied health-care benefits?
But Saenger is a rare type of instructor: a part-time employee who teaches both credit and non-credit classes in swimming, strength training, and other topics, a position she feels should make her eligible for health benefits.
Administrators and the Board of Trustees feel differently, and have so far rejected her formal grievance, filed last September, to enroll in the benefits program.
However, Saenger said she is currently attempting to arrange a meeting with SBCC President Andreea Serban to discuss the matter as part of the grievance process.
According to Sue Ehrlich, SBCC vice president for Human and Legal Affairs, the current agreement between the Instructors’ Association (IA), which negotiates labor contracts for faculty, and SBCC states that part-time faculty members who teach classes for academic credit are eligible to receive health insurance through the school.
This agreement, Ehrlich said, does not extend to instructors who teach classes in the non-credit division, also known as continuing education.
“The Instructors’ Association does not represent an [instructor] based upon the fact that the [instructor] teaches in the non-credit program,” Ehrlich said in an email. “Some [instructors] teach in both programs, but IA representation is based upon credit teaching.”
But Saenger said the IA contract, which has not been renegotiated since 2007, was ambiguous on who was eligible for insurance. “It’s not in the contract one way or another,” Saenger said. “Nowhere does it say that you cannot count continuing education as part of the teaching load.”
Ehrlich refused to comment on Saenger’s case.
Cornelia Alsheimer, chief negotiator for the IA, said the university counts both credit and non-credit classes towards Saenger’s unit cap (a measurement the college uses to ensure that part-time faculty remain within a specific range of teaching hours). “Common sense would say that these credit units should count towards health care,” Alsheimer said.
Enrollment in the health-care plan costs $3,840 in premiums per year, Alsheimer said, though instructors who have been with the school for six years or more may have half of their costs subsidized by the school.
“What we are doing here is fighting over about $800 a semester for Sally,” Alsheimer said.
Alsheimer said that the most practical solution to this problem is a memorandum of understanding between the school and Saenger, which would allow for instructors in her situation, likely only five or six other people, to be eligible for health insurance.
“A memorandum of understanding would be best for the district. The college is kind of scared that [allowing Saenger’s grievance] would open up the floodgates and let 500 adjunct faculty in health care,” Alsheimer said. “That’s unrealistic, so let’s come to an understanding.”