Stony Brook University Hospital Workers, Students Fight Against Proposed Parking Fee Hike
Students and union workers at Stony Brook University Hospital have united against a proposed hike in parking fees after 30 years of comparatively low parking costs.
Employees from Stony Brook Workers United, who are represented by six different unions, held rallies for fair parking on March 29 and April 12. Hospital workers have been paying about $16 per month for parking, while most students park for free. The proposal creates a tiered system that would raise fees up to 242% for workers and to $10 per month for students.
“Where is the money [they] paid for the last 30 years that was supposed to go toward maintaining the garage?” says Wayne Spence, president of New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF). “Their mismanagement of parking funds should not fall onto the workers, [some of whom] make such minimal money that last year when gas hikes hit they couldn’t afford to come to work.”
Enterprise Risk Management, which operates parking throughout the hospital and school campuses, has proposed a plan that changes the price depending on where a hospital worker parks.
If employees park in the parking garage, where most employees now park because it is closest to the hospital, the price is $50 per month. Other parking spots are located up to a mile away. The furthest spots would cost $10 per month and require use of a shuttle bus service to complete the trip to the hospital. Spots in between are $35 or $40 per month.
The increase in costs is necessary to improve parking infrastructure and to avoid a budget deficit, according to Lawrence M. Zacarese, vice president and chief security officer for Enterprise Risk Management.
An outside financial consultant projected a $11 million budget deficit by 2027 if Enterprise Risk Management did not raise parking fees, and the report was shared with union officials, Zacarese told the Press.
“We remain very eager to negotiate and get to the bargaining table with the unions,” he said. “The proposal is [about] a parking ecosystem and about an overall service to get people from point A to point B, and the proposed rates are markedly lower than other SUNY schools.”
Enterprise Risk Management is also raising fees to fund a sorely-needed parking infrastructure project that includes major renovation of concrete and striping, which will cost about $22 million – $10 million of which is being funded by New York State.
“We have to think about what the future looks like and not be in this situation again,” Zacarese said. “The goal, in cooperation with the unions, is coming up with a long-term financial sustainability model.”
Still, union leaders argue that employees have paid a total of about $1.7 to 2.2 million per year in parking fees that should have gone toward the project and that Enterprise Risk Management has not been forthcoming about how the money was spent.
Amy Lee Pacholk, a critical care nurse in the surgical trauma unit and council leader of PEF Division 225, noted that many hospital employees are low-wage workers, such as the hospital’s food service and housekeeping staff, who cannot afford the increase in rates because of Long Island’s high cost of living. They have also argued that the inexpensive parking lots are too far to walk for those who work overnight shifts, when the shuttle buses do not run or line up with workers’ start times at the hospital. (The shuttles run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
“People are really angry,” Pacholk said. “I’ve never seen the whole entire university campus come together like this – it just checked all the boxes for us to unify together.”
Between students and hospital workers, the two rallies drew more than 1,000 people, according to a union leader. The protesters carried signs that read “Fair Parking for All,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “We Work to Earn Money. We Don’t Work to Pay Stony Brook Money.”