Lawsuit alleges LBCC violated minimum wage laws by not paying teachers for work outside of classroom

A class-action lawsuit over alleged violations of California minimum wage laws was filed against the Long Beach Community College District Monday by two part-time LBCC professors who claimed that the district requires part-time teachers to work for free outside of class hours.

The suit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, could affect hundreds of part-time faculty members. California minimum wage is currently $15 per hour.

On average, part-time faculty are paid a few dollars less per hour than full-time faculty members, according to salary schedules approved by the Board of Trustees for each group. The current contract with part-time faculty expires at the end of June.

The plaintiffs in the suit, Karen Roberts and Seija Rohkea, are both art history professors at the college. They said during a Monday morning press conference that the college has knowingly allowed unfair and illegal labor practices to persist by not compensating part-time professors for things like preparing for class, meeting with students to discuss assignments and even grading coursework.

“Asking us to work for free is wrong, unethical and shows a lack of regard for employees who are expected to help carry out the mission of the college,” Roberts said.

Roberts, the former president of the part-time faculty union, said that these issues have been raised with the Board of Trustees during past labor negotiations but they’ve “fallen on deaf ears” and led to the current working conditions that they’re suing over.

Rohkea said that professors are paid for 3.38 hours per class per week, which breaks down to three hours for class time and 38 minutes for office hours to meet with students. With an average of 30 students per semester, Rohkea said, the 38 minutes of office time is eclipsed, leaving the rest of that time unpaid.

“Because we’re dedicated to our students, we do it anyway,” Rohkea said.

A spokesperson for the college declined to comment on pending litigation.

Eileen Goldsmith, a lawyer representing the part-time faculty in the suit, claimed that this a common practice among community college districts in the state as they seek to reduce costs by underpaying adjunct professors.

The teachers are seeking a host of monetary damages including back-pay with interest and contributions to their retirement accounts over the affected period, which spans the last three years.

How much it could end up costing the district is unclear. Goldsmith said that through discovery she hopes to determine how many of the over 600 part-time faculty at LBCC have been affected by the district’s policies.

“We think it’s easily in the millions of dollars,” Goldsmith said.

A number of California education unions including the California Teacher’s Association, California Federation of Teachers and Community College Association were present at the virtual press conference Monday and supported the claims made in the suit.

The CTA is also backing a recently introduced state bill that could address inequities in pay between full-time and part-time community college professors. Assembly Bill 1752, which was introduced in February, seeks to create a defined pay structure for part-time faculty that would be “at least the same ratio” to the full-time faculty for comparable duties.

The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Miguel Santiago and has been referred to the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, where it’s expected to be discussed Tuesday.

As written, it would require community college districts to negotiate new wage structures with part-time faculty when the current contracts end or upon the bill being chaptered into law if an existing agreement is not in place through January 2023.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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