Dania Rajendra is the winner of the 2009 Max Steinbock Award, the highest honor given by the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA) Rajendra, an assistant editor for the Clarion, published by the Professional Staff Congress at City University of New York (CUNY)/AFT Local 2334, won for her story “At CUNY, Adjunct Health Care is Broken.”
The award, named after a longtime ILCA president honors the best labor story written in the previous year.
In the article, Rajendra tells the story of six CUNY adjunct workers whose health was jeopardized because of arbitrary decisions by the health care provider and the college based on the bottom line and not the health of the workers. Click here to read the entire article (scroll down to page 6) and here for a list of all this year’s ILCA Media Contest winners.
Rajendra’s story points out that CUNY adjuncts generally have a maximum of two days per semester for illness or emergency. They cannot accumulate leave from one semester to the next-no matter how many years they have worked for CUNY. If they are dropped from the payroll, they can only keep their coverage if they pay between $500 and $700 a month for individual coverage under COBRA or between $1,200 and $1,800 for a family. For an already underpaid adjunct who has just lost a paycheck, COBRA coverage is out of reach.
Fear of losing his health care is why Walter Dufresne taught a class before having surgery on his broken arm. A photography professor, he had taken his one day of leave for illness that semester-the first time he had used that benefit in 19 years. Rajendra quotes him as saying he was afraid to miss even one class.
I broke my arm on a Friday, taught my Monday class and turned around and got my surgery Wednesday.
I was worried that my coverage would be discontinued if I stopped teaching.[Calling in sick] would have left my department in a very tough position. That’s impolitic for somebody who doesn’t have job security. I have 10 years full-time service equivalence over the last 19 years, and I’ve got no banked sick time at all. I feel like a character in a Dickens novel.
The ILCA judges said Rajendra’s story
takes on the current pressing issue of the health care crisis, using the stories and voices of her union’s members to illustrate the arbitrary cruelty of the system.
This story has it all-an important and universal issue made personal through real people’s compelling stories that reveal the multiple aspects of the problem, solid reporting and interviewing. And she did not bring in union officers until three quarters of the way through, and then only to give the overview of the policy involved, weaving it into a piece that teaches without preaching.
The award will be presented during the ILCA convention Sept. 10-12 in Pittsburgh. For more information on the ILCA convention, click here.