Parking Fee Fight Heats Up

Natalia Cooper and J.P. Goodwin

Efforts by the “No Parking Fee Increase” committee, a coalition of UMB staff, faculty and students, to resist a proposal by the UMB administration to double the cost of parking on campus, have gained momentum in recent weeks.

On Thursday November 15, at noon, approximately 250 students, faculty, and staff made sure this campaign was heard and seen, when they held “The Boston Fee Party” on the UMB plaza.

The rally included short speeches by Tom Goodkind, representing professional staff; Susan Brown, representing classified staff; Richard Bell and Student Trustee Sandra Karahalis, representing students; and Elizabeth Mock, representing faculty. After riling up the crowd, participants were encouraged to form a picket line and recite chants printed on small slips of paper distributed to the crowd. “We won’t pay seven bucks a day” and “Fee, fi, fo, fum. A fee increase is really dumb!” were yelled by rally participants. After the speeches, the demonstrators held a “Boston Fee Party.” The crowd was given mock parking tickets to throw into “The Boston Harbor,” which was actually a kiddie pool with a sign identifying it as the harbor.

After dumping their “fees,” the crowd marched to the administration building to deliver a petition (signed by over 5,200 members of the university community) to Chancellor Jo Ann Gora. The protestors piled into the stairwell and hallways, making their way to the chancellor’s office on the third floor of the administration building, still chanting anti-fee increase slogans. Gora was reportedly unavailable to receive the petition, so it was given to Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance David MacKenzie.

“We’re going to be devastated if this goes through,” said Tom Goodkind. “It’s about access, not just numbers, and it is essentially a serious pay cut and really a regressive tax.”

According to Goodkind, the last scheduled bargaining session will occur on November 29. “We have proposed and argued over reasonable ways to lower expenses, ways to raise money from other sources to repair the garage, and ways to come close to the university’s revenue target without attacking students, harming enrollment and undermining the university’s mission. It seems now that everything is coming down to the issue of fairness: they want a regressive tax on the students and lowest-paid staff, and we do not.”

He went on to explain that the issue of the sliding scale is going to “make or break” the parking negotiations. “We have proposed a simple five-step sliding scale with modest fee increases at the bottom, increases which would not force students to drop out and staff to look elsewhere for work. With our proposed fee structure, those making above $80,000 a year would bear a greater share of the cost, yet they would still pay a smaller percentage of their annual income than those making as little as $13,000 a year. But university negotiators have responded by rejecting in principle the idea of a sliding scale.”

Susan Brown, chief steward of SEIU Local 285, called the administration’s proposal to double the fee – from $3.50 to $7.00 – a demand for the UMass community to “reach deep into our collective pocket to pay for 30 years of neglected maintenance.” She also stated that this proposal would create “further friction between UMass Boston and the surrounding areas … it will be less attractive to the communities.”

In addition to the sliding scale initiative, the anti-fee forces have proposed “A serious, coordinated lobbying campaign aimed at securing full funding for garage repair.” The estimated total cost of repairing the parking garage is $32 million. According to administration sources, the fee increase would be used to produce a revenue stream to pay the debt service on an $11 million dollar loan requested by the university to fund repairs. (A portion of this revenue stream – $600,000 per year – would be allocated to pay for an increase in shuttle bus service necessitated when the new Campus Center opens.) The remaining costs of the garage repair would be picked up by the state. According to Goodkind, the state has yet to appropriate these funds and “The administration has never tried a serious, coordinated campaign to raise the money [the entire $32 million].”

Other points in the committee’s proposal included: a $100,000 per year contribution to shuttle bus service by the JFK Library and Massachusetts Archives; elimination of any extraneous Parking & Trust Fund expenses; reconsideration of the Campus Center bus stop; making full Rideshare benefits available to the campus community and that any future increases must be tied to increases in real wages of UMB employees.

The administration has set a December 1 deadline for a conclusion of negotiations, in order to be able to implement a fee increase by January 2, 2002. Goodkind explained that “Legally, if they have bargained in good faith, they can implement their last best offer.” He added, “If they do that they can expect a lot of protest and a lot of anger.”