Faculty members at Kalamazoo Valley Community College are gathering nonperishable food items, gift cards, and cash donations in one of the lounges on the campus. But the collection isn't for a local charity; it's for their colleagues.
The college's part-time employees will not receive their first checks of the year until February 1, and many are struggling to make ends meet until then. Classes for the spring term began on January 7, and full-time faculty members were paid on January 15.
Kelly O'Leary, a part-time instructor and co-president of the college's Federation of Teachers, a union that represents part-time workers, helped organize the drive for her struggling co-workers.
"People let us know they were in dire trouble," she said.
When the drive began last week, they first distributed aid to employees who had the greatest needs. "There was someone who has diabetes and won't get through the month without insulin," she said. "She got a gift card."
Linda Depta, director of college relations, said the payment schedule was posted on the college's Intranet before the start of the academic year, in August. She said the college had not deviated from the usual schedule.
"All college employees can access the information—full and part time," Ms. Depta said. "Why would that be a surprise if the dates are posted?"
Ms. O'Leary acknowledged that the schedule had been posted, but said it was difficult to find. And many part-time employees, she added, probably did not realize it was there. Part-time employees usually consult their faculty handbook for payment questions, as suggested by the college's human-resources department. The handbook says part-time faculty members get paid on the first and 15th of every month, she said.
A Rough Month
After part-time faculty members noticed the payment date was February 1, Ms. O'Leary said, the union polled its members to find out how they were going to be affected.
"We started getting comments from people saying they were going to have a hard time feeding their families, paying their bills," she said. January, she added, is a particularly rough month because it comes after the Christmas holiday and around the time property taxes are due. "Within 48 hours, we received about 65 responses."
There are more than 300 part-time faculty members, she said. Part-timers earn about $2,400 per three-credit-hour, 15-week course, she said, noting they are limited to teaching 11 credit hours per semester.
A number of those part-time instructors work multiple other jobs to help them pay their bills, she said. The gap in paychecks from the college amplifies that hardship.
"I have no discretionary money to put aside for this," said one part-time Kalamazoo Valley instructor, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job. She said she lives from paycheck to paycheck, trying to pay her student-loan debt and her monthly bills. "They don't realize there's a huge number of us who depend on this as their sole income."
Ms. O'Leary said full-time faculty members and some part-time instructors who were able to contribute had so far donated enough food to fill two tabletops and about $500 in gift cards and cash.
The anonymous instructor said she had received two gift cards and a small check, plus two cans of food—one of apricots and one of corn.
"The full-time teachers have stepped up for us," she said. "I am not out of the woods yet, but I probably won't go hungry."