BROOKLYN — After years of paying a nominal fee for parking their cars while they are on the job, SUNY Downstate workers are about to face a steep fee hike that many CSEA members employed at the hospital find odious and unaffordable.

“I wouldn’t mind (paying it) if the salary would also go up,” said Felix Smith, a CSEA member and supervisor in the hospital’s Buildings and Grounds Services Department. “I can’t afford it.”

For as long as SUNY Downstate workers can remember, the fee for the multilevel parking lot across the street from the hosptial was about $70 annually.

However, for as long as anyone can also remember, there was little to no maintenance of the building.
After a series of mishaps and complaints about dangerous conditions, the lot was inspected, condemned and permanently closed in May.

Until a new lot is built, workers are being asked to pay fees upwards of $200 per month for other lots nearby.

CSEA is currently working with other unions at the hospital to negotiate a lower monthly fee, but management isn’t budging.

“We haven’t budgeted those fees into our budgets for years,” said SUNY Downstate Local president Althea Green. “We don’t make those kinds of salaries.”
Indeed, an offer to bring the fee in line with the cost of a monthly public mass transit card is being considered.

In the meantime, some SUNY Downstate workers such as Darlene Allgood have had no choice but to change their schedules in order to get to work on time.

“I have to leave much earlier in order to arrive by 6 a.m.,” said Allgood, a CSEA member and nursing station clerk in the Ambulatory Unit. “I live in [a former Metropolitan Transportation Authority]two fare zone and have to take three buses [to work]. By car, I would arrive in 30 minutes. Now, it takes an hour and a half or more.”

CSEA and other unions representing hospital employees have inquired to hospital administration whether a multi-million dollar grant provided to the institution thanks in large part to advocacy from the unions could be used to offset the cost of parking especially for some of the lowest paid workers who need parking.

They have also questioned the costs associated with a name change the hospital will soon be undergoing and whether it was more prudent to invest in the hospital’s workforce than on costly and cosmetic changes to the hospital’s brand.

“Our members are the most important part of this institution,” said Green. “Without us, the hospital cannot function. Shouldn’t they make it easier and more convenient for us to get to work while also helping us keep a little of our hard earned money?”

— David Galarza

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