By Grace Chee

At the end of each semester or academic term, full-time faculty go on break, while adjunct faculty become unemployed or underemployed — still working and making less than $600 per week — until the next semester or term starts.

During these periods, you may be eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits of up to $450 a week, for up to 26 weeks per year in California.

Remember that unemployment benefits are a type of insurance — just like automobile, homeowners, renters or health insurance. California’s Employment Development Department, created in 1935, collects taxes from employers. When you become unemployed or underemployed in California, you have a right to collect on that insurance.

Even if you have an offer letter for the next semester, part-time faculty in California, as “temporary” employees according to state Education Code, do not have “reasonable assurance” of continued employment. This is because rehiring of part-time faculty is contingent on funding, class enrollment, and the potential for displacement or “bumping” by permanent faculty or other part-time faculty in districts with contract language affording some part-time faculty the “right of first refusal” when classes are offered.

The easiest way to apply for unemployment benefits is online. Claims should be completed by Saturday of the week that you become unemployed or underemployed. Do not delay submitting your claim (or re-opening it if you have already filed within the previous year).

There is a one-week unpaid waiting period, but only the first time you apply within the 52-week claim period. 

When you apply, remember to identify the last day you worked as the last day of the college’s finals schedule during regular academic terms, since this is the date the EDD will likely recognize as the end of your employment. Also, be sure to answer “No” to any questions asking if you have offers or assurances of future employment by your former employer. 

If you apply for unemployment insurance benefits and encounter problems with your claim, cite the Cervisi decision of 1989, which affirmed California part-time community college faculty as eligible for unemployment at ends of academic semesters and terms.

If your claim is still not approved, contact your local union representatives as soon as possible and ask for their help in filing a timely appeal.

Grace Chee is EDD Ombudsperson for the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT Local 1521

A landmark victory: Cervisi v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board 

In 1989, CFT mounted a legal challenge to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and won. After part-time French instructor Gisele Cervisi and other part-timers at City College of San Francisco were denied unemployment benefits at the end of an academic term, the so-called “Cervisi ruling” held that temporary (i.e., part-time) faculty are eligible for unemployment benefits between academic terms because they do not have “reasonable assurance of reemployment” given that future assignments are contingent upon enrollment, funding, or “bumping” by other faculty members.

Currently, only California and Washington have legal precedents guaranteeing part-time faculty access to unemployment benefits between academic terms. But the AFT, working with advocacy groups that support contingent faculty rights, has urged the U.S. Department of Labor to recognize all the nation’s part-time and other contingent faculty as eligible for unemployment in their respective states.