25 hour limit creates stress, lost income for temps
, April 2014
Photo by Shelley Handley
|Former PVCC temporary facilities employee, Maria Sosa, quit after her hours were cut from 40 to 25 a week due to the Maricopa Community College's response to the ACA.
In order to avoid the cost of providing healthcare benefits to temporary workers who would become eligible under the Affordable Care Act’s new guidelines, the Maricopa County Community College District has implemented a strict policy limiting temporary workers to an average of 25 hours per week.
Since the policy was implemented last July, temporary employees accustomed to working full-time hours have had to wrestle with the financial and psychological strains of being reduced to a maximum of 25 paid hours at the college.
In an email sent last year announcing the new hours cap, Maricopa’s vice chancellor of Human Resources, Jim Bowers, wrote that the District estimated that 1,300 of its 9,600 employees were temporary employees currently exceeding the law’s 30- hour- per-week threshold for requiring healthcare benefits. Bowers wrote that offering healthcare to these temporary workers would cost the District an estimated $13 million.
Interviews with employees at Paradise Valley Community College reveal that the new work limit has presented a challenge to departments and dealt a blow to workers impacted by the change. Temporary workers at PVCC described financial hardships, as well as the feeling of being cast aside by the system.
Some at the college, though sympathetic to the temporary employees’ pain, say the workers should not have expected the jobs to provide permanent full-time employment. A PVCC staff member, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity, remarked that the jobs are, by their very name, “temporary.”
But in spite of being classified as temporary, many of the employees affected have worked full-time schedules with Maricopa for years. Their importance to the system’s everyday functioning is widely acknowledged by PVCC’s faculty and staff. One temporary employee confirmed working for Maricopa for over 11 years. Dr. Paul Dale, PVCC president, says that the District has become dependent on part-time employees.
Temporary employees, including adjunct faculty, work throughout the college and serve side by side with full-time workers. Several full-time and temporary employees commented that temporary and full-time workers do the same work. Vanessa Vazquez, a computer technician in PVCC’s Computer Commons, who was impacted by the new policy, says, “You can’t tell the difference between a temp and a full-time employee.”
But despite performing comparable work, temporary workers’ compensation is dramatically different because full-time employees receive valuable benefits in addition to wages.
Providing health insurance for workers is an expensive obligation for Maricopa. Documents provided by the PVCC Human Resources department place insurance costs at $7,284 per year for individuals and $17,997 for families. In his email last year, Bowers wrote that spending the $13 million to cover all it’s temporary employees now eligible under the ACA “would require a massive re-allocation of resources, negatively affecting our ability to serve our students and bringing several critical student-service initiatives to a halt.”
Josh Mackey, the MCCCD’s director of the Center for HR Innovations, Strategy and Planning, said that once the District determined that providing medical benefits to all eligible temporary workers was cost prohibitive, they considered alternatives that might allow a portion of temporary workers to continue working full-time hours, but he said these alternatives were quickly rejected over concerns that discrimination could arise from picking and choosing which temporary workers would receive more hours.
Describing the decision to cap temporary workers at 25 hours, Mackey says that “it really kind of illuminated itself as all or none.”
As costly and complicated as the alternatives may have appeared, several temporary workers at PVCC said the hours cap felt like rough treatment after years of dedicated service. Though they perform essential functions in all areas of the District’s operations, temporary employees do not receive healthcare, paid holidays, vacations, or sick leave like full-time workers do. One worker, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said that toiling for years without the same benefits as full-time employees was bad enough, but losing the paid hours after years of service felt like ingratitude from the District.
For temporary employees accustomed to working 40 hours every week, the new hours cap represents an almost 40 percent drop in weekly income. Temporary employees said this was making it harder to keep up with living expenses.
Vazquez says she has had to cut back on purchases to compensate for the reduced hours. She says she’s given up luxuries such as blueberries when she goes shopping, and looks for bargains on clothes at the thrift store. But Vazquez says she’s one of the fortunate employees because her husband has a full-time job. If she were alone, “I wouldn’t be able to survive,” she says.
While the hours cap has been painful to some, Dale and Mackey note that new full-time positions have also been added in the District. At PVCC, some of these temporary workers have been hired on in new full-time positions. As an example, Dale says that prior to the hours cap most of PVCC’s Facilities Service employees were classified as temporary employees and did not receive benefits. After the new policy was implemented, the department received permission to fill several full-time slots that had been waiting for approval.
Robert Metivier, PVCC's manager of buildings and grounds, says the creation of the full-time positions had nothing to do with the district's decision to reduce temporary workers' hours. Those positions were already created and waiting for approval, which came after the temps' hours reduction. The lost temp hours in facilities were replaced by hiring more temporary workers, Metivier said.
“We did encourage colleges to assess needs and create full-time positions,” Mackey says.
Dale says that department heads at the college have not had reductions in wage budgets, and decisions regarding how to allocate funds between temporary and full-time workers has been left up to the individual departments. While many individual workers have faced severe cuts in hours, Dale and Mackey believe most, if not all, of the lost hours have been made up by adding full-time positions, new temporary workers, or one year only (OYO) temporary positions. Dale notes that in the Welcome Center, labor hours have increased since the policy change.
“In most cases, my understanding is (departments) are not operating with reduced hours,” says Mackey.
While some temporary workers have gained full-time employment as a result of the policy, many temporary workers interviewed have been unable to find a full-time position and are stuck working 25 hours or less. Vazquez and other workers say PVCC is a good environment and they would like to stay, but the new policy is forcing them to look outside the college for employment. Campus administrators and employees provided numerous examples of temporary workers who have already left the college as a result of the new policy.
Patrick Richardson is one temporary worker who left the college as a result of the hours cap. Richardson worked as a computer technician in the computer commons at PVCC for three years before leaving in October to take a job with Citrix Systems. Richardson says before the new policy went into effect, he was typically working 35-to-40 hours per week. The job was his only means of support, and when his hours were cut to 19 hours after the new policy was implemented, it became a strain on his family.
“Twenty-five hours are bad enough, but 19 is killer,” he says.
Richardson says he wanted to stay at PVCC, and hoped to eventually land a full-time position with the college, but the financial strain of working part-time pushed him to take the job with Citrix. One advantage of leaving PVCC was gaining health insurance. Richardson says he went without medical coverage for five years, including his time at PVCC, until he landed the job with Citrix, which finally gave him healthcare benefits. Though his new job has benefits, he regrets having to put his degree on hold since leaving PVCC. Richardson says he’s too busy to take classes while working full-time for Citrix—something he could still manage while working full-time at PVCC.
Another temporary employee, Maria Sosa, had an emotional departure from the college after working full-time hours as a custodian for over five years. Several people interviewed reported seeing Sosa visibly distraught on campus. Sosa wanted to stay employed at the college, but left after she failed to land a new full-time position with PVCC’s Facilities Services and was informed that she must begin working 25 hours per week. The college declined to comment on Sosa’s case, citing employee privacy.
Many sources, including administrators and staff, worry that PVCC has lost valuable employees as a result of the policy and will continue to do so. Two temporary employees interviewed said they were currently looking for jobs elsewhere. Vazquez says she faces a difficult choice in the coming months: She can accept the shorter hours and learn to live with less income, or she can take a second job until another full-time opportunity comes along.