Bill to make it illegal to cut hours to avoid paying health benefits to get hearing

Bill to make it illegal to cut hours to avoid paying health benefits to get hearing
FILE -- The Oregon State Capitol. (Steve Benham/KATU.com)

SALEM, Ore. – Concerns about colleges and universities cutting faculty hours to avoid paying health benefits under the new federal health care law has prompted state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, to introduce legislation to make the practice for all Oregon employers illegal.

Senate Bill 1543 is scheduled to get a hearing before the Senate Health Care and Human Services committee today at 3 p.m.

Dembrow, who has taught English at the Cascade campus of Portland Community College for years, told KATU last week he's heard "through the grapevine" and has read news reports that some community colleges "have been advised to reduce their teachers' hours" in order to get out of paying health benefits to some employees.

Under the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare"), companies that employ 50 or more employees are required to provide their workers with health insurance if they work an average of 30 hours or more a week.

"What I'm interested in is stopping them from reducing a person's hours solely in order to keep them from having access to their rights under the Affordable Care Act," Dembrow said, pointing out that he's not interested in making the reduction of hours illegal because of other reasons, such as poor employee performance or other business reasons.

The bill would also require that faculty members who are "employed on a part-time basis by more than one" college or university "shall be considered a full-time employee if the aggregate total of all hours worked ... by the faculty member is equivalent to at least 30 hours per week."

Fears have been afoot over the last year or so that the new health care law will prompt employers to cut workers' hours to avoid paying health benefits and will foster a nation of part-time workers.

News reports about workers in the restaurant industry have been published that indicate some of them have had their hours reduced because their companies wanted to avoid paying them health benefits. And a waitress in the Portland area told KATU last summer that her restaurant cut her hours below 30 a week because of the new health care law.

Dembrow acknowledged controversial and complex bills such as this will have a hard time getting anywhere in a short session. Lawmakers need to be done with this year's session by March 9.

But he remained optimistic.

"I'm hoping that this gets traction. ... This will be controversial, but I think it's important to get onto people's radar screens," he said.

A phone call to the Oregon Community College Association on Monday seeking comment was not returned.

The hearing will be in HR A in the Capitol.