NYC city workers still call for hybrid work in the face of city hall email

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is not waiving the city’s mandatory back-to-office policy for city workers. In an email to agency heads, the mayor’s chief of staff, Frank Carone, urged superiors to continue enforcing the work-in-person policy, Politico New York reported.

“Please note, the mayor has repeatedly emphasized, for the City to continue its re-entry, we need employees in all sectors to return to their offices,” Carone wrote.

While many city employees — including uniformed and public-facing employees — have been working in person throughout the pandemic, many office workers have been able to work from home until 2020 and part of 2021, when COVID-19 tore through the city rapidly and vaccines were not yet widely available. These employees gradually returned to the office in the spring of 2021, then had to work full-time in person in September.

Although this policy began under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Adams continued it and showed no signs of letting up any time soon, despite what some city workers called a morale crisis and shortages of staff. personal. (Adams said in a press Q&A on Wednesday that “there will come a time when we can say that one day a week we can do a different type of release,” seeming to suggest some openness at a partially distant time at some point in the future.)

Several city workers who expressed their frustrations with the work-in-office policy at City & State earlier this year said today they were beginning to lose hope the policy would change, despite indications that which municipal unions could prioritize the fight for a telework policy in future contract negotiations. “I’ve been beating that drum long enough. I’m too tired to be really mad about this,” said a city employee, who asked not to be identified in order to speak openly.

The employee added that his frustration with the policy has only grown since the latest outbreak of COVID-19 in the city accelerated in recent weeks – and begins to to come down. “The pandemic is still a thing,” the worker said. “We are facing increasingly transmissible variants with increased vaccine evasion. We have a better, if still imperfect, understanding of long COVID.

Although employees from different agencies report that the application of office work policy may vary depending on the agency and the manager, they said that there was generally no additional leeway given for working from home during the current wave – or during the peaks earlier this year or in 2021.

District 37 Council, the city’s largest public employees union, recently sent out a survey to members asking what their priorities were, and one option included telecommuting. But while employees who spoke to City & State said they hoped their unions would fight for a remote work policy, they acknowledged it could come at the expense of other priorities at the bargaining table. , such as protecting health benefits or getting cost-of-living increases.

That’s part of why City Workers for Justice — a group of current and former city employees fighting for remote work — pushed Albany to pass an invoice which would allow city workers who are able to do some or all of their work remotely to work from home. But that bill hasn’t moved forward, and the chances of it passing with a day remaining in the state legislative session are slim.

Several City & State employees have spoken have considered leaving city service in search of jobs that offer more flexible work policies, despite the benefits of city work, including fulfilling public service. “Retirement is beautiful, but I have a life to live now,” the city worker said. “The two and a half hours a day that I lose because of a commute, it adds up.”

Others have already left. Jeremiah Cedeño, co-founder of City Workers for Justice, recently left his job in human resources administration to work at a mental health nonprofit that offered the option of working from home. “They believe that we are adults and that we can meet all of our deadlines and do our job if we are not in the office,” Cedeño said of his new employer.

To a greater extent than de Blasio ever did, Adams pinned the city’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery on workers returning to office buildings — especially in Manhattan — and said the labor- municipal workforce should “lead the charge”. “I try to fill office buildings and I say to JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, I say to all of them, listen, I need your people back in the office so we can build the ecosystem,” said Adams Wednesday. . “How does it feel like the city workers are home while I’m telling everyone it’s time to get back to work?” Adams also acknowledged the inequity in the fact that some city employees were never able to work remotely, even during the worst of the pandemic. “The conductor cannot do it from home. The school security guard can’t do it from home,” he said on Wednesday.

But some employees said they resented having to carry that load when they could do good — if not better — work from home. “City employees aren’t stupid,” said an employee of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who asked not to be named in order to speak openly. “We know that we are in some way tasked with maintaining pedestrian traffic in Manhattan for the Sweetgreens and all commercial real estate tenants.”

This employee said he saw colleagues leave, largely due to the lack of flexibility of remote work. “We absolutely cannot retain, hire, maintain staff at appropriate staffing levels, and it affects my day-to-day,” the employee said of his division within the health department. “It has certainly gotten worse since (March).”

From mid-May, the New York City Independent Budget Office Report that the city’s current full-time headcount was around 283,000 – compared to the pre-pandemic headcount and the currently planned headcount, which are both over 300,000. “As we reported in Marchthe city has struggled to keep up with the post-pandemic attrition rate, and the impact is felt unevenly across agencies,” the office wrote.

The health department employee added, “The walk to the exits becomes a jog.”

Melissa C. Keyes