“There’s a global pandemic and this could be important money for our members,” Schepmann said. “They just said they weren’t willing to change it. At a time like this, anything helps and this kind of contribution is built to support people like this.” But some adjunct professors began noticing late last year and came to Jill Schepmann, president of USF’s Part Time Faculty Association, who said she had no luck discussing the issue with administration officials. Schepmann brought it to the San Francisco Labor Council as a delegate in December, and found that other unions had not yet heard of a similar issue from other employers.
Ronen is expected to introduce legislation on Tuesday to close the loophole, covering employees who would otherwise work for an entity in San Francisco but are restricted from doing so due to a health order. A more comprehensive law around remote work is intended down the line. “A university like USF finding loopholes in a law to avoid paying their employees health insurance during a pandemic was a new low,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen told the Examiner. “As we’re going to see working from home as more part of our new normal in society, it’s important that we get it clear right now. Before this becomes a trend, before it spreads like wildfire, we’re going to nip it in the bud.”
Under the 2006 law, medium and large San Francisco employers must pay a certain amount on their workers’ health care per hour worked. Workers are often unaware of or confused by the benefit and, as of October, more than $400 million collected by The City sat untouched. But as adjunct part-time professors at the University of San Francisco slowly discovered, their medical reimbursement accounts had stalled because, as it turns out, working from home outside the city limit means the law doesn’t apply.
The professor had hoped the Jesuit university would see it as an ethical obligation to continue to contribute at a time of deep uncertainty and severe sickness everywhere. A family member working remotely outside San Francisco still received MRA contributions, they added. “I’m not bankrupt because of it, but it was a shock,” they said. “I don’t think people realized it was happening. It’s really disappointing.” One adjunct professor, who asked to be anonymous for fear of retaliation, said the insurance offered was significantly more expensive than the plan they have through another employer. But they found the medical reimbursement account offered through USF, which can be used for excess health care costs like co-pays or dental work, to be a financial relief living in the Bay Area — until there was suddenly nothing in there to rely on.
“USF provides an opportunity for adjunct professors to purchase health care coverage through the University Kaiser Health Care Plan,” said spokesperson Kellie Samson in an email. “We’re proud of our long-standing efforts to provide health care coverage to our adjunct faculty.” USF did not directly respond to inquiries about health care contributions ending for adjunct faculty living and working outside San Francisco. The university has about 600 adjunct professors each semester.
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