Demanding fair contracts with affordable health care costs, dozens of Nassau Community College faculty members rallied outside of the county legislature last week.
They were part of a broader protest from the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers, an educators union representing NCC’s full-time faculty, speaking out against higher health care insurance premium costs. They gathered on the steps of the county legislature carrying signs like “We’d rather be teaching right now,” demanding better wages and fair contracts, targeting both the Nassau Community College Board of Trustees and the county itself.
They weren’t out on the steps long before some of the union members were ushered inside the Mineola building with a chance to state their case with county legislators.
The educators union and trustees board have been negotiating full-time faculty contracts since last July, hoping to work out a deal before their contracts expired in August. The union has rallied multiple times since then, expressing frustration with the negotiation process.
As recently as Dec. 13, Siminoff and the union asked the trustees to include salary increases to keep up with rising inflation, as well as include paid sabbaticals. But then, last week, health insurance premium costs jumped for full-time faculty at NCC.
The increase came about thanks to the trustees enacting an old clause in their contracts — written decades ago — allowing the board to charge faculty members working under an expired contract with increased health insurance premiums. The insurance increases, Siminoff said, could cost faculty members between $2,500 and $5,000 — effectively acting like a pay cut.
“So, we’re not getting we’re not getting a wage increase. Our promotions have all been frozen. We’re not getting our sabbaticals. We’re not getting anything. But they’re imposing this on us,” Siminoff said. “I think this provision has been there for 30 years and they have never invoked it. They want to punish the faculty and force us through economic strong-arming.”
John Gross, an Ingerman Smith attorney representing Nassau Community College, said the New York State Health Insurance Plan — which provides insurance to all college employees — raised premiums on Jan. 1 by 15 percent for family coverage. That’s about $5,000 each year. Individual coverage rose more than 12 percent, which could cost upward of $4,000 over the next 12 months.
A provision in NCC’s full-time faculty labor contract states if the cost of health insurance premiums increases after a contract expires, Gross said, it’s up to the individual employees to shoulder those costs through payroll deductions.
“The union knew it was in the labor contract because one of the proposals in our current negotiations is to remove the clause,” Gross said. “The board didn’t wake up one day and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to impose these increases on the union.’”
Siminoff said many faculty members feel the college has strained them to their limits, and has not properly supported them financially. Aside from the imposed health insurance premiums, NCC’s faculty has experienced an average wage increase just over 1 percent in the past decade.
“The starting salary for an instructional faculty member is approximately $60,800, and the starting salary for a non-instructional faculty member is $55,900,” Simnioff said. “According to the MIT wage calculator, a middle-class family of three needs about $96,000 to be middle class in Nassau County.”
Faculty members are teaching more students in larger classes over the past few years, Siminoff said. When she first started teaching at NCC some 25 years ago, she taught an average of 110 students each semester. Now, professors are being asked to educate an average of 160 students each semester — which Siminoff feels is unfair.
Aside from low starting wages, it typically takes 15 to 18 years for someone on the faculty to start earning $100,000, Siminoff said. Anyone hired now would earn $55,000, taking 15 years to climb to $100,000.
“By the time you get 15 years of employment, it’s still not enough to live middle class in Nassau County,” Siminoff said. “So, they’re condemning college faculty to never being middle class. That’s the bottom line.”