In mid-December, the administration of UMass Boston opened negotiations with faculty, staff and student unions, along with the Undergraduate Student Government of UMass Boston, over proposed parking fee hikes. The two sides held closed-door meetings twice during the break. According to UMass Boston's bylaws, the administration cannot raise parking fees without first bargaining with the unions.
The negotiators first met in the Campus Center Ballroom on December 18. Roughly 65 students, staff and faculty stood outside the ballroom to show support for their union delegates and to improve the chances that student delegates, Student Body President Jesse Wright and Student Trustee Alexis Marvel, would be present for the negotiations. The collective bargaining terms legally obligate the administration to bargain with the unions, not students, but Wright and Marvel were allowed in by the administration's representatives.
The collective bargaining procedure at UMass Boston requires that all meetings between representatives of the administration and delegates of the Unions take place behind closed doors, with no other individuals present. With the start of the negotiations, the administration officially requested a parking fee increase of eight dollars to take effect July 2013, and a 10 dollar fee to take effect June 2014.
“Now we’re at the table sitting across from management. They’re making proposals; we’re going to make proposals back to them,” said Tom Goodkind, President of the Professional Staff Union (PSU).
The unions at the negotiation table were the Classified Staff Union (CSU), represented by delegate Shauna Manning; the Faculty Staff Union (FSU), represented by delegate Marlene Kim; The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), represented by delegate Mitch Manning, and the Professional Staff Union (PSU) represented by delegates Goodkind and Anetta Argyres. These unions, along with the USG, had formed a coalition called Stand Together to Oppose Parking Fee Increases (STOP).
Representing the administration at the bargaining table were Steve Martinson, Director of Parking and Administration at UMass Boston; Mark Preble, Director for Human Resources & Labor Relations for the entire UMass system; Becky Hsu, UMass Boston’s Director of Human Resources; DeWayne Lehman, UMass Boston’s Director of Communications; and attorney Joe Ambash from Fisher & Phillips Attorneys at Law. Ambash was hired specifically for these negotiations.
Lehman later wrote the Mass Media an email regarding Ambash's presence. “The outside lawyer who is handling the negotiations with the labor unions around parking fees is an expert in labor law and is being paid for by the university.” On its website, located at laborlawyers.com, the firm offers to help employers "anticipate and prevent employee claims and lawsuits, government investigations, and union organizing activity." Ambash is the former editor-in-chief of At Will Employment Monthly.
The administration's case for raising parking fees hinged on three arguments. First, money is needed to pay for the bus shuttle between campus and the Bayside Lot, where more students will be parking while the North Lot is closed due to construction. Second, the fee is also intended to encourage more people to use “greener" (more environmentally-friendly) methods of getting to campus, such as the MBTA. The third reason for the increase, which was never announced before the negotiations, is that the university wishes to obtain a bond to build a new parking garage.
STOP’s case against the fees was that as a public university and a commuter school the university has an obligation to have affordable parking and not have students and employees bear the disproportionate cost. STOP also pointed out that parking spots close to campus will be drastically reduced by new construction in the Spring 2013 semester, meaning the quality of service will decrease as price increases. STOP representatives said that they did not want parking rates to be so high that students and faculty are discouraged from coming to campus when they do not have class, or community members are discouraged from attending campus events.
“We are going to be formally requesting more detailed information on the financial basis of their proposals,” said Argyres.
The unions and students are also bargaining with management over the North Lot closure in separate negotiations. In an email to the Mass Media, representatives of STOP wrote, “We have proposed to management a detailed Memorandum of Agreement encompassing...physical improvements to Bayside."
No other information is available about what happened during the closed door meetings, which took place again on January 18th and will continue into the Spring 2013 semester. Both STOP and representatives of the administration made similar statements to the effect that releasing too much information to the public could have a negative impact on deliberations.
If both parties agree that they cannot reach an agreement via negotiation, the parties will go into mediation and binding arbitration. The next negotiation will be held Feb 24.