UM drops plan to raise workers' parking fees

Newly organized union prevails in first showdown

July 09, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland, College Park has withdrawn a proposed 50 percent increase in parking fees for service and clerical workers, granting the newly unionized employees a victory in their first showdown with the college administration.

In a letter mailed last week to the state university system's Board of Regents, UMCP President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. asked the state university system's Board of Regents to withdraw the increases for the 1,900 workers. The regents will vote tomorrow on the university's proposal to increase parking fees for College Park students, faculty and nonunionized staff. The fee increases are from $220 a year to $330 for faculty and staff, from $191 to $287 for students who live on campus, and from $94 to $141 for students who commute.

The increase had become a major point of contention between the administration and the college's newly formed chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Service and clerical workers voted to create the chapter last winter under a new state law that allows collective bargaining among nonfaculty staff on state campuses.

Union officials argued that the fee increase amounted to a pay cut and should have been addressed in collective bargaining. Last month, they filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the State Higher Education Labor Relations Board.

For months, university officials stuck by the proposed increase, which will help pay for garages being built to ease the campus' parking shortage. They held out the possibility that the university could negotiate parking discounts for the workers after the increases were passed, and after the university studied possible changes to its parking fee structure, such as setting different rates for faculty and lower-paid staff.

The university strategy changed last week. In his letter, Mote said the administration would agree to take up the parking fee increase at the bargaining table, so that the unfair labor practice complaint would not "prolong a point of tension" between the two sides.

"We did this because we simply want to get it behind us," said university spokesman George Cathcart.

AFSCME spokesman Joe Lawrence hailed the decision as proof that new collective bargaining units at UMCP and other system campuses will be formidable forces.

"There's been a drumbeat of organized activity on this by university staff," he said. "The importance of this reversal is that College Park, the flagship institution, understands it has to live within the law when dealing with the working conditions of its staff."

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