Parking fees, equity, and the environment

by Emilio Sauri, English

I want to thank Stacy D. VanDeveer for his comments on the parking bargaining posted yesterday on the FSU blog. Professor VanDeveer’s comments provide a useful perspective on how we might approach the issue of parking as a bargaining unit. That said, in the spirit of collegial debate, I’d like to respond to the three points he makes in his post.

I agree that the money must be taken from other places, but that does not mean it has to be taken from other places in the university to subsidize cheaper parking. The point unions on campus have been making both in public statements and collective actions is that the state legislature’s refusal to address and ultimately alleviate UMass Boston’s legacy debt unjustly burdens our faculty, staff, and, more significantly, our students, who overwhelmingly face a number of financial pressures just to attend college and get to campus. To put it another way, I’m not entirely convinced that our only available choices are either to pay higher parking fees OR to subject university programs, facilities, and services to further cuts. There are other choices available to the administration and the legislature, and to think otherwise is effectively to let them off the hook.

I could be mistaken, but this second point seems to equate driving with a kind of class privilege. If that is the case, then I can’t help but think this obscures some other important factors. While it is true that people with higher incomes tend to own cars, it is also true that in the course of the last 20 years we have witnessed an increase in lower-income households moving to the suburbs and peripheries of major metropolitan areas like Boston across the country. Students and staff who hail from the suburbs do not live in the city because it is simply too expensive. But this also means that those who come from lower-income households and drive to campus would face even greater financial stress. When taken into consideration with job responsibilities and familial commitments (like dropping off and picking up children from school or day care), driving seems less like a privilege than a necessity.

Further, I’m not entirely sure the proposed parking fees scaled by income take into account the fact that the disparity between those who have to be on campus five days a week and those that don’t. To take one example, TT professors (like myself) need not be on campus five days a week, while most staff do. So, even though paying an increase of $3-6/day may not impact me as much, staff are likely to see an increase of $15-$30/week ($60-$120/month) in parking fees–while, at the same time, getting paid way less than I do. On this view, a genuinely progressive policy would include returning state funding of public transportation to previous levels. But while we fight for such policies off campus (and continue to fight on campus for a greater T pass subsidy), we ought to ensure that our more vulnerable students, staff, and faculty can get here without shouldering the burden of our legislature’s inability to address the situation.

No doubt the environmental impacts of driving are high, and we should all remain committed to fighting further degradation both locally and globally. Indifference to such impacts is not an option. At the same time, I worry about shifting the burden of this environmental crisis onto the less affluent members of our community. Indeed, as is well known, the effects of global warming have affected the poor disproportionately not just in the US but across the globe. For this reason, I think we need solutions that will tackle the degradation of our environment in systemic ways, and that requires changing the way we do things, again, on the level of state funding, including funding for public transportation. Private firms can incentivize their employees to drive less and take more public transportation, but, again, with money comes options—you can live closer to work, ride your bike (when it isn’t freezing), or take an Uber (you really shouldn’t do that either). These, however, are also options that are not equally available to everyone. Which is just to say that we can both fight for systemic solution off campus AND on campus avoid having the economically disadvantaged members of our community pay the price for continued environmental destruction.

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An open letter on parking bargaining from FSU member Bonnie Miller

Dear Faculty,

I attended the FSU meeting today on parking, and the turnout was pretty light. I get it because my schedule is crazy, too, but this parking issue is too important to let our busy schedules get in the way. So in order to make sure everyone is in the loop, I am going to break it down here for everyone.

The proposal on the table from the administration is awful. The biggest problem as I see it (from a faculty perspective) is that they have removed the multi-park passes, which means that you would have to buy semester/annual passes in order to get a pre-tax discount, and many of us don’t come in enough days to make buying a semester or annual pass worth it. This means we would be stuck paying the $15/per day rate. You cannot get the tiered rate unless you purchase the semester/annual passes. This will very quickly eat up that 2% raise we just got. We need to be incentivized to come to campus, not to stay at home! I could go on and on about other issues, especially when you consider our students and their financial situations, but I will leave it at that for now.

What I learned in the meeting today was really illuminating. A process has been put into place for bargaining (see MOU 9 of the contract or this Power Point summary of the parking bargaining process–FSU). There will be only three more sessions of bargaining and then if the administration/union can’t come to an agreement, it will go to mediation. After mediation, if the two sides do not come to agreement, it goes to a fact-finding session (which is a more in depth process of evaluating the two sides). Here is the most important point: If at the end of the fact finding process an agreement is still not reached between the two sides, then the administration legally can implement their last proposal and our union is helpless to prevent that. In terms of the timeline, that is set to be around the end of February 2019.

This is the bottom line:  The administration has to submit to mediation and to all these sessions, but they know that if they can just hold out until the end, they can legally get what they want. This means that our best weapon to prevent these inequitable parking rates is to make as much noise as possible in the next six months to make the administration hear us. The best strategies we have to get them to back down is to make the publicity so bad OR to make them lose money (perhaps a boycott of the garage?) so that they agree to accept some/all of our terms. All this is to say is that we cannot wait until the rates go up to take action. We are in a crucial time in the next six months to be as active as possible as a union.

Let me put this in one other way — if you calculate the amount you will have to pay for parking over the next number of years in which you hope to work here at the new rates, that amount will stun you — and you will see that financially, it is worth the time away from other things right now to put toward this effort. If we don’t, we will regret it later, because one thing I have learned is that once these costs go up, they will only continue to go up. Long after that garage is paid for, they are not going to return to our current rates, and the days we will have Bayside as a cheaper option are numbered.

The FSU will be in touch early next week with ways we can all get involved, but I hope my clarification of the process here helps you to understand why these next six months are so crucial. Thanks for reading!

Bonnie Miller
FSU Member
Associate Professor, American Studies

 

Save UMB Coalition Braves the Heat to Oppose Parking Fee Hikes

by Joe Ramsey, English and American Studies
jgramsey@gmail.com

 

“Dorms? Yes! Austerity? No!

These Parking Fees Have Got to Go!”

At least a dozen UMB faculty began the semester at the end of August, joining over 120 staff, students, and community members on campus to oppose oppressive parking fee increases. Braving the 100-degree heat behind a banner proclaiming, “We Can’t Carry UMB’s Debt,” students and staff led a spirited march to the doorstep of a ribbon ceremony for the new campus dorms, where a lively picket line drew attention from event attendees and local media.

(See local coverage here.)

A small but stalwart faculty group was also represented.

“I was very happy to participate in the protest and to see other faculty members doing so,” said Nayelli Castro-Ramirez, faculty in Latin American and Iberian Studies. “I hope that I will be able to keep participating and showing my solidarity in other actions throughout the semester.”

With UMB Admin planning to impose dramatic parking hikes any day now, further campus action and faculty solidarity is certainly needed if we are to reverse a decision that threatens the public accessibility of our campus, and that represents a back-door pay cut for staff and faculty alike.

Steve Striffler, faculty in Anthropology and Director of Labor Studies, summed up the baseline feeling: “$15 a day for parking is crazy!”

Despite the withering heat, the picket line held strong, anchored by drums, focused chanting, and punctuated by street theater. To the mock hisses of the crowd, UMB workers staggered beneath the symbolic weight of painted black boxes labeled “GARAGE DEBT, as an “Administrator” walked behind, swinging a giant ruler.

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Organized by the Coalition to Save UMB, the purpose of the demonstration was two-fold: not only to resist the planned parking fee increases, but also to demand legacy debt relief for our campus, which continues to be hobbled by bills dating back to corrupt state-managed construction of the substructure-garage in the 1970s.

Police prevented the debt-box theater from entering the ceremony room—at one point physically pushing a veteran faculty member back from the door. Protesters responded by plastering signs to the windows for all inside to see. Attendees inside the ribbon cutting reported that former Professional Staff Union president Tom Goodkind’s drumming resonated loud and clear as the official programming proceeded.

Meanwhile the chanting continued:

“Students and Workers are Under Attack…Get this Garage Debt Off Our Backs!”

“WHAT Kind of University? A PUBLIC University!”

“Cut the Ribbon

AND the Parking Fee!

Don’t Drive Students from UMB!”

As such chants underlined, the point of this protest was not to oppose the new dorms.

Case in point: David Giessow, faculty in Music and Performing Arts attended the protest, even as he was excited about what the new dorms will mean for student involvement in performance groups on campus. “I think it is great for these students that they will save hours every day which otherwise would have been spent commuting.” Nonetheless, David remains concerned about the parking increase: “Doubling the parking fees is a real threat to our urban mission and will limit access for many of our students.”

He is not alone. Many see the jacking up of parking fees on campus from $6 to $15 per day as emblematic of the way that working-class and low-income commuter students are being pushed out of our institution, even as new residential students are being enthusiastically welcomed.

Garage Debt Relief for UMass Boston could quickly alleviate the “need” for the present parking fee hikes, helping our campus to flourish for ALL our students, not just those who can afford to pay for dorm rooms.

The Caucus for a Democratic Union (CDU) is committed to involving more faculty in the campaign to defend affordable parking on campus. We stand in solidarity with our sister unions in the fight to win the state-support and debt-relief our students deserve.

**

*Get involved! The next major demonstration against the parking-fee increase will take place at Convocation on Sept. 20th, where the Save UMB petition against the parking hike, signed by thousands, will be presented to UMB admin as well as UMass President Marty Meehan.

*You can RSVP for Convocation here.

*Those who want to plug into the mobilization against the parking fee can do so via this link. Save UMB organizers have made special efforts to accommodate difficult schedules. People can sign up for any block of time they have free.

*Those wanting to connect with the Coalition to Save UMB can find us on Facebook as “Save UMB” or on campus at our regular meetings in the Labor Resource Center (Wheatley 4-151).