By Leah Chiappino
Unions at Stony Brook University gathered on campus Wednesday, March 29, with an estimated 300 or so protesters in a rally for fair parking regarding proposed changes to the school’s parking policy, which include increased monitoring and fees. The university said it is an attempt to cover a deficit, along with “existing repairs, maintenance and capital expenses.”
The new plan would transition into a paid tiered system for both faculty and students. Essentially, the closer the spot to campus buildings, the higher the fee. In addition, students and faculty would share the same lots.
Under the proposed rate pricing plan, according to a statement released by Andrew Solar-Greco, president of United University Professions Stony Brook Chapter, monthly parking fees on campus would be divided into tiers, ranging from $50 in the “premium” level; $40 for core parking; $25 for perimeter parking; $10 for satellite parking; and $25 for residential staff.
“We have proposed implementing a campuswide, fully paid parking model in the fall of 2023,” SBU officials said in a statement. “Our existing model is insufficient to fund routine maintenance or customer service improvements. Our proposed tiered model and payment for parking will be either by permit or via a daily parking rate. These proposed changes will align us with our university peers. Details are currently being reviewed with campus stakeholders.”
SBU officials confirmed the proposed pricing is a tiered model ranging from $10-$50 per month. The university said 66% of all employees with parking permits are paying for parking, and rates have stayed stagnant for 30 years.
Ted Vazquez, a field representative for NYS Public Employees Federation, said the proposal would create a culture that is “tantamount to a caste system.”
“That shouldn’t be,” he said. “The previous practices have always been your seniority. If a parking space becomes available, and you’ve seniority, you get it.”
The PEF apart, other unions participating in the protest were the United University Professions, Civil Service Employees Association, Stony Brook Grad Student Employees Union, Stony Brook Research Assistants Union, Local 1102 (Food Service Workers), Police Benevolent Association of New York State (University Police) and New York State Correctional Officers & PBA. According to Solar-Greco, “We were also joined by Laborers Local 66 and other unions affiliated with the LI Federation of Labor, which had leadership present as well.”
“We have requested that management halt any continued work on this plan, and bargain in good faith with all unions,” Solar-Greco said in a statement. “We vehemently reject the notion that UUP members must be responsible for funding routine maintenance and parking services for the campus community. This is management’s responsibility, period.”
Amy Pacholk, a nurse and council leader of Public Employees Federation, said several of her medical personnel members have considered going to the cheapest lot in protest, but have reconsidered given the need to be able to enter the building quickly when patients have emergencies.
“We respond to emergencies,” she said. “A lot of my people are, like, ‘We have to respond.’ If your system fails to account for that, you really didn’t think about what you did — you just rolled out a system that you thought was effective for students. You didn’t realize that we’re medical professionals. We have a responsibility.”
In addition, Pacholk said, several medical staff have been working extra shifts, as long as 16 hours a day, to compensate for the rising cost of living on Long Island. For them, she said, the new system would not be sustainable financially.
Amanda Basinger, an SBU student, who spoke at the protest, criticized the administration for creating a deficit in the first place, and then increasing prices for students and staff.
“How much does an undergraduate student make a year?” she said. “How much does a graduate student make a year? How much does a custodial worker, a maintenance worker and cafeteria workers make here? They can’t afford that. And it is so annoying and so privileged that the administration sits in their cushy buildings, demanding we pay for their mistakes and we pay for their deficit.”
University officials did not provide a specific figure when asked about the deficit and its origins. However, they did note in an email that $11 million is the anticipated deficit by fiscal year 2026-27 with no changes to the current model.
The plan would also combine commuting faculty and students into the same lots, chosen by tier, and have separate areas for residential parking. Parking within the tiered lots, would be first come, first serve. Faculty and staff already paying for parking will be given first choice on the lot they choose. After those spots are assigned, preference will be given in order of hire date. Commuter students will be selecting parking on a first-come, first-serve basis. Enforcement hours would be expanded for all lots from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Bureaucratically, the enforcement, permitting and customer service responsibilities would be transferred from the University Police Department and Student Financial Services to Mobility & Parking Services, which would also handle parking for the hospital.
The university said they plan to implement a variety of technological and systemic upgrades, including mobile payments, which can be charged back to departments; updated meters, which allow rates to be altered for events and holidays; and event parking, allowing departments to be charged for visitors who would not need a permit. Finally, the university would provide real-time data to users, who could see where parking is available, by fall 2024.
Solar-Greco said the proposed changes were presented to union leaders in a meeting Feb. 10, and then sent in campuswide emails a few hours later, without consulting with the unions or allowing them to contribute. The university referred to this meeting as an “informational session.”
“We recognize that the proposed changes will have an impact on our community,” the university’s email read. “However, the reality is that our current parking model is insufficient to fund routine maintenance or customer service improvements for our parking operations. Stony Brook’s parking services are self-funded, meaning that tuition, student transportation fees and SUNY funding are not allocated to support these operations.”
Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the UUP and management, the proposal is subject to negotiation. Greco said the negotiations have yet to begin. The university confirmed the discussions will start in the coming weeks but have not commenced.
The next Rally for Fair Parking!! is due to be held Wednesday, April 12, 11.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Main Hospital Garage.