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Parking fee hikes spark protest

UMass Boston students and staff picket outside new residential bldg

Catherine McGloin
Parking fee hikes spark protest
Mayor Martin Walsh, joined by UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman and other university officials stand outside the new 12-story halls of residence. Photo: Mayor’s Office Photo by Jeremiah Robinson

As Mayor Martin Walsh cut the ribbon on UMass Boston’s first-ever dormitory building last week, students, faculty and staff protested against proposed parking fee hikes outside.

Members of the Save UMB Coalition and the on-campus chapter of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) say the university’s proposed parking fee increases unfairly place the burden of UMass Boston’s debt onto staff and students who attend the public research university.

“They want to get as much revenue out of us as possible,” said Anneta Argyres, president of the university’s professional staff union and an organizer of the rally. She said the protest was not about the dorms, but it was a good opportunity to highlight their concerns and embarrass the administration.

Multi-day passes eliminated

The changes proposed by university management would raise fees from $6 to $15 a day at some lots, and eliminate multi-day passes altogether.

“We have students carrying debt and we know that these increases will make it financially impossible for them to come to school,” said Argyres. She added that it will also make it difficult for staff who commute, either because they are not on campus full-time or have other commitments, like childcare, that require them to have flexible travel arrangements. The T, she noted, was not a reliable option for many.

“This is a tax which affects the poorest, and it’s terrible,” said Robert Hildreth, protestor and founder of the Hildreth Institute, a nonprofit that campaigns to eliminate student debt.

Among the crowd chanting “Cut the ribbon and the parking fees, don’t drive students from UMB,” was Michelle Browning, a manager in the department of psychology. She said increasing the cost of parking on campus will negate any salary raises she may receive in the future. Worried about what this additional expense will do to her personal budget, Browning said, “That’s groceries, an electricity bill, and it’s a lot of money.”

Protestors also warned that this latest increase to living costs could deter future students from applying, impacting UMass Boston’s admission rates.

Limited options

Parking fees at the Bayside Expo Center, the campus’ largest garage, will rise to $9 a day, making this the most affordable place for staff and students to park their vehicles come the start of the semester. But the 20-acre site was placed on the market in January, and its sale will leave commuters no option but to pay the higher fees at other lots, Argyres said.

“They fully well know that in a year or two there won’t be any more affordable rates, and that’s horrifying to us,” Argyres told the Banner.

UMass Protest

UMass Protest

UMass Boston is currently facing campus debt of around $500 million, and many see the fee increase as a way to finance much of the construction that has been taking place across the campus, including the new 1,077-bed dormitory that opened last week. This redevelopment is all part of UMass Boston’s 25-year master plan, of which they are about a third of the way through.

“I realize [the university] feels crunched financially,” said Argyres, “but it’s not solved by taking money out of our pockets and by laying off employees.” Between February and March, 26 professional jobs were eliminated at UMass Boston, while seven employees were offered restructured positions. A further eight people were forced to quit when the university’s daycare center was closed at the end of last year, due to budgetary constraints.

The union has met with UMass Boston management four times to discuss the proposed parking fee hikes, but no agreement could be reached. To bypass finding a consensus, the university administration initially decided to only charge the higher fees to students and staff who are not represented by a union. But now, Argyres believes, they are extending this to unionized employees. “We believe this is illegal,” said Argyres, who insists the union would rather be negotiating with management, but will fight against this charge if it is enforced.

UMass Boston officials were busy this week opening the new halls of residence, but DeWayne Lehman, UMass Boston’s communications director, told the Banner they will continue to meet with union representatives in order to achieve an agreement. “We are continuing to negotiate with members of our campus community on setting appropriate parking fees for the new garage and other parking lots,” said Lehman, adding that fees have not been reviewed since 2004.

Argyres remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached before students return, but she added, “We don’t want the university to ignore the great harm they are about to do.”

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