Last Thursday, I attended a demonstration organized by UMass Unions United—made up of the Professional Staff Union, Classified Staff Union and Faculty Staff Union—outside of the administration offices on the second floor of Quinn Administration. Over the years, the united unions have had many causes for protest, and many of these issues have still not been addressed, such as fair wages. This time, though, they are fighting against the administration’s horrible and nonsensical decision to recoup its massive debt by milking students and staff through bloated parking fees.
I’m sure many of you have had plenty of experience with this problem. For a full day of parking, the West Garage charges $15—from a $7 minimum for one hour, up to a $15 maximum for over three hours—and Bayside charges $9. And woe to those who require handicap parking on campus; it seems that, incredibly, there is no discount for handicap placards, meaning they are forced to pay $7–$15 per day just to attend class. These parking prices are insane, especially now that the economy is stripping us of our money, and it’s unconscionable that the administration does not offer any discount to those who require handicap parking.
Put simply, this cannot continue. The UMass Boston faculty and staff unions have been fighting this fight on behalf of not only those who work here, but students as well, for years. The administration, though, has consistently acted in bad faith, both on the parking issue and on union contracts. I spoke to Anneta Argyres, President of the Professional Staff Union, at last week’s demonstration, and she gave me a rigorous rundown of the situation. I’ll give you the short form here—be warned, you may want to sit down and grab some Aspirin.
According to Argyres, when the old Substructure parking garage became too run down and dangerous to use, the UMass Boston administration purchased the Bayside Lot, and decided to raise parking fees from the previous rates of $3 a day, to recoup the losses. The Professional Staff Union became activated against this price hike and got thousands of students to file into the previous Chancellor’s office to sign a petition decrying the new fees. Seeing students file in, one after another for 45 minutes, quickly killed the administration’s plans, spelling success for the students and the union. Five thousand signatures was all it took.
But a short time later, the administration decided that this was the perfect time to cravenly round up their lawyers to usurp the legal rights of the unions and raise the parking rates anyway. I really have no words for this, but I do have some choice adjectives about what happened next, after the West Garage was built.
Grab that Aspirin, because here comes the worst part.
For some insane and inconceivable reason, the administration of our commuter school callously thought it would be a great idea to recover all that money only through parking fees. This is when and why they raised the rates to what they are now. We are a majority commuter campus, and exclusively saddling us with the parking garage debt is just sick and twisted. What kind of person would sign on to this plan while espousing their supposedly progressive agendas?
There are major consequences to the current, insane parking rates. Anneta Argyres told me about a student who came to her with tears in her eyes, saying that the parking increase would mean she could no longer scrape together enough money to get an education here. I have to admit, my heart dropped when she told me this story. The administration should be ashamed that they are pricing out the very people they claim to care about so much. Marginalized and low-income communities couldn’t care less about soaring, socio-economically progressive rhetoric from their local public university; they care about actions, reality and true equity.
I also learned that, ironically, revenue from parking has gone down since the increased fees have pushed students away from the lots and into the surrounding communities. Apparently, surrounding communities, such as Dorchester, have been complaining about students taking up street parking. As Argyres told me, “We are being a bad neighbor.”
I already know what many of you may be thinking: Students aren’t only being pushed into surrounding communities, but also onto public transportation—a generally good thing. Look, as an environmentalist, I understand very well that public transportation is certainly a better alternative most of the time, but there are two considerations here.
Firstly, this is a commuter campus, current and future residence halls notwithstanding. We will never, and should never, shirk the important responsibility to keep our campus accessible for a majority of commuting students, faculty and staff; cars will always be a part of that—especially as we transition to electric vehicles. Moreover, a huge number of marginalized Bostonians live outside of easy public transit access—particularly from Roxbury in the north, and down south into Hyde Park. The “equal or better transportation” doctrine that accompanied the removal of Orange Line service to that area and introduction of Silver Line routes has been borne out to be mostly empty rhetoric.
As a bit of an aside, I discovered that there is a four-hour maximum charging time for electric vehicles at the West Garage charging stations, at 22 cents per kWh, and no discount for parking fees. While there is a conversation to be had about equity—discounted parking fees for expensive electric vehicles may currently benefit the financially stable over others—these guidelines are totally at odds with the administration’s rhetoric of encouraging and promoting green energy strategies. In fact, the union proposal acknowledges this, and includes increased access to completely free and unlimited charging.
Secondly, to harp on a tired issue for just a second, our public transportation system is a mess right now and driving is simply more convenient for many Beacons, for the time being. Perhaps it would be worth the hassle, though, if UMass Boston actually offered decent, heavily subsidized discounts on MBTA passes to all students; this is indeed a demand of UMass Unions United. At the demonstration, Anneta Argyres explained to me that the university used to offer such passes to everyone, but scaled back the program to an extremely limited, first-come-first-serve basis. What is offered to everyone these days is a lame 11 percent discounted pass that is cut off after Sept. 1 for some unknown reason. And again, not everybody has easy access to the MBTA.
According to their parking proposal, the United Unions are demanding a 50 percent subsidy for all students and employees who purchase MBTA-passes through the campus. That’s $180 for a Link Pass for an entire semester, as opposed to the current $320 with the 11 percent discount pass. This would be an absolute game changer for many of us. As Argyres told me, students have been known to discontinue their education at UMass Boston due to increased parking prices. If public transportation was reduced to $180 per semester, that might just make all the difference in the world. The administration loves to hem and haw about equity and inclusion, so they should be totally on board with this. But since they have shown themselves to be 90 percent bark and 10 percent bite, the unions are having to fight tooth and nail for such progress.
These proposals should be wholeheartedly supported by every member of the student, staff and faculty populations. They will sew together a huge gap in equity and inclusion at UMass Boston, which our administration has chosen to completely ignore. However, when I joined the United UMass Unions protest, I was saddened by the turnout. I don’t think more than 15 people were there, and I was seemingly the only student. The days of a 45-minute line of students across the campus, all filing into the chancellor’s office to sign a petition, have apparently come and gone. Even the organizers seem to have forgotten how to garner student support; the protest was gathered at a corner of Quinn Administration, and we marched down through the catwalk to a nearly empty lobby of the ISC. We ran into a grand total of maybe 15 students in all—a stark contrast to the thousands of students filing through Campus Center and University Hall at the very same time.
Things cannot remain this way. Students must join the cause en masse; we are in an era of returning union power, but that power can only be taken back with the support of the people. The unions at UMass Boston aren’t just fighting for staff and faculty, they are fighting for us students as well. We all need to look out for their flyers; sign up for their newsletter, which is linked through a QR code on their flyers; join their demonstrations; attend bargaining; and most of all, talk about this campaign with everyone we know and meet. Spread the word, generate excitement and engage! The best way to get involved, though, is by emailing the Professional Staff Union at firstname.lastname@example.org and asking how you can help.
Unfortunately, there are few other ways to easily reach out to the unions; so, to the unions, please reach out to us! Protest, engage and hand out information at the Campus Center where the vast majority of students are; create social media pages for the parking campaign that we can follow; put the QR code links to your newsletter everywhere; come to our classes and give us a five-minute rundown of the issues at hand. We need to hear from you and meet with you much more than we are right now. We are all in this together, and solidarity is the only way forward. Show your support!