Open Letter to UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Newman

February 20, 2019

Dear Chancellor Newman,

Since you were unavailable to meet with the union and student delegation that visited your office on February 6, and since you have not accepted the CSU and PSU request for a meeting, we are sending you this open letter.

As we see it, your administration is at a crossroads: it can reach an agreement with the union coalition that would maintain more affordable parking for students and lower wage employees while bringing in sufficient revenues to cover all operating costs and assist in paying down the garage debt, or it can implement your administration’s proposal which would add to student debt, deepen the economic inequities on our campus, and financially punish part-time parkers.

We hope you will take the time to read this letter and not dismiss it as ‘inappropriately’ raising bargaining issues. There is nothing inappropriate about raising these concerns with you, the Chancellor of our institution, the person ultimately responsible for the impacts of campus policies on every member of our community.

The question we had hoped to discuss with you is this: why won’t your administration accept the union coalition’s proposal?

The union coalition’s proposal is better for the entire campus community in the following ways:

1. It establishes more equitable parking costs for students and lower-wage employees.
Many of our students and employees were already struggling to buy monthly passes for $96. Our proposal would reduce the monthly pass costs to $80 for students who choose to park at Bayside only. This reduction would also be available to employees earning less than $40,000 annually, with parking costs increasing gradually up to $128/month, depending on employee salary. Parking rates at all other lots would range from $112/month (for students and employees earning up to $40,000 annually) to a maximum of $192/month (for the highest paid employees).

By contrast, in your administration’s plan, Bayside monthly rates range from $126 to $160. On-campus rates under your plan are even more punishing for your staff: while students and faculty would be charged $122.22/month, charges for staff would start at $180/month for those earning less than $40,000 per year, and would climb to $240 for those earning above $100,000 annually. (See the chart at the end of the letter.)

The administration’s plan is inequitable. You have publicly committed that students and those earning the least should pay the least, but under your administration’s plan, every employee and every student would pay more than tenured faculty. Does that seem equitable to you?

2. It provides equitable discounts for part-time parkers, ensuring that they do not have to pay the daily “cash” rates simply because they drive to campus less frequently.
More than half of our students take classes only two or three days a week. Your administration’s pricing structure makes it more costly for them to buy a semester pass than to pay the new $9 or $15 daily rates. Similarly, many full-time employees only park on campus a few days a week; on the other days they telecommute, take public transportation, or commute to other locations as required by their jobs. They too will be forced to pay the high daily rates.

At the last Town Hall meeting you assured a concerned student that nobody would have to pay $9 or $15 a day, yet your administration’s proposal forces a significant portion of students and employees to do just that. Accepting the unions’ proposal to continue an equitably priced multi-use pass would address this flaw in the administration’s proposal and drastically reduce the number of students and employees who would have to pay the full daily rates.

3. It ensures that lower cost parking will remain available to our community regardless of how Bayside is developed.
With the UMass Board of Trustees’ decision of February 14, 2019, this is no longer a question of ‘if’; we now know Bayside will be developed in the next few years. We have heard words of assurance that your administration “doesn’t want to sell us a pig in a poke,” so why won’t you agree to maintain at least the current ratio of parking available at lower rates?

4. It raises sufficient revenue to cover operating expenses and pay down the debt.
The University’s consultants put the annual cost of staffing, operating and maintaining all parking areas, purchasing new equipment, and contributing to a “sinking fund” at a yearly total of $2.7 million. The same consultants predict that the unions’ plan would bring in $5.3 million annually. So the revenues from our proposal would cover all operating expenses and make a significant dent in the debt payments for the West Garage, while at the same time reducing costs for students and lower wage staff, and providing discounted parking for those who park less than four days a week.

5. It ensures that parking rates will be renegotiated if the campus is relieved of debt.
You have said publicly that it would be “a tragedy” to use proceeds from the lease or sale of Bayside to pay the debt for the new garage, and that you do not want to take the MA legislature off the hook for paying for our crumbling substructure. We have been working for the past two years to hold the Legislature accountable for our campus’s legacy debt, and we would welcome working with you to make that a reality.

Yet, in the meantime, it seems that you are willing to leave students and employees on the hook for the West Garage debt. Are you? Do you recognize the tragic consequences of making students and employees bear that burden? Your administration’s refusal to agree to simply reopen negotiations over parking fees should the Legislature or Board of Trustees act to provide the campus with debt relief certainly implies that you are comfortable with us being left on that hook, and that you are comfortable with the consequences of higher fees on working class students and low-wage employees.

Your administration’s insistence on its plan of high rates, no multi-use passes, and no commitments regarding future changes in parking availability or campus finances, appears to be a bald attempt to take as much money as possible from students and employees, apparently without concern for the impacts on those at highest financial risk. It is shortsighted, greedy and cruel, and all the more so for being unnecessary, since there is a viable alternative awaiting your approval.

We hope you will take the time as UMass Boston’s Chancellor to delve into the details of this situation with as much rigor as you apply to your own research into inequality in the larger society. Inequality is no stranger to our campus. The campus parking policy offers you an opportunity to address it. Please don’t ignore that opportunity.

Sincerely,

Anneta Argyres, Professional Staff Union
Janelle Quarles, Classified Staff Union
Juan Blanco, Graduate Employees Organization

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Join the Coalition to Save UMB for a Halloween Parking Parade

By now you know UMass Boston Administration is threatening to impose an outrageous parking fee increase on our community. For our workers, this amounts to wage theft in disguise and for our students this is yet another financial burden they will be paying off for years to come.  The proposed parking fee increase will have a devastating impact on students, staff and faculty and threatens our efforts to protect UMB’s affordability, accessibility and urban mission.  This is a fight we must win! We need faculty and librarians to be visibly involved!  

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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.

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).