City Hall has agreed to consider municipal workers' demands for a hybrid schedule as part of ongoing contract talks, marking a significant shift in its stance toward remote work, according to a municipal union.
“Previously, the city had made it clear that they were not interested in negotiations regarding telework/hybrid schedule for the union’s members,” wrote Carl Cook, a vice president for negotiations and research for SSEU Local 371, in a letter to union members. “However, after the persistence of the union and its representatives, the city has changed its position and will now review the demand.”
Reached for comment, Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for the mayor, said the administration does not comment on ongoing contract negotiations.
SSEU Local 371, which mainly represents social service workers, is part of DC37, the city’s largest municipal union that is among those whose contracts have expired. The letter, which was framed as an update on DC37’s negotiations, was published Tuesday on SSEU Local 371’s social media sites.
The issue of whether to allow flexibility around remote work is likely to become one of the major sticking points, along with raises, in the ongoing contract discussions between the city and the municipal unions that represent office workers.
Mayor Eric Adams had previously drawn a line in the sand against allowing city employees the option of working remotely for part of the week. He has argued that the city needs to set an example for the private sector, where the return of office workers is seen as critical to the survival of the business districts. The mayor has also expressed concerns that such an arrangement would be unfair for essential workers, who cannot work from home.
City employees, meanwhile, have argued that they proved they could be productive working from home during the height of the pandemic when many city offices shut down. Many have also cited the lack of a remote option as one of the leading reasons for the wave of departures that have hobbled some city agencies.
On Thursday, the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group, released a survey that found 82% of employers indicated that a hybrid work model will be their “predominant policy” in 2023.
Still, it is not clear how seriously city officials are taking the demand for hybrid work.
Thea Setterbo, director of communications for DC37, also declined to comment on the letter and negotiations.
Political experts say the mayor is facing a difficult choice.
“It is a tricky moment,” said Joshua Freeman, a labor historian at CUNY. “No one really knows what post-pandemic urban life will look like. Both pieces of the mayor’s concern are understandable.”
On the other hand, he added: “At some point, it’s pretty hard to have a successful and motivated workforce if you’re forcing them into something they hate doing.”
The mayor has at times acknowledged that the traditional 9-to-5 office work model may be a thing of the past.
“Yes, we're going to have a combination of remote work,” Adams said during an event with Gov. Kathy Hochul before business leaders in December. “We're going to have to have a real conversation on how that impacts those mom and pop stores that depend on the foot traffic.”
“Then we're going to think differently and bold,” he added.