Monday marked the return of 80,000 municipal workers to their offices.
But hundreds of city employees think the return is coming too soon.
City Workers for Justice held a rally outside City Hall May 1 to express their concern over the plan and to demand it be postponed until September.
“It’s not just important to be safe. It’s important to feel safe. Sometimes feeling unsafe can be just as bad,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said Saturday afternoon. “You can’t have a bunch of people coming into buildings in small spaces and small elevators. That is not going to be a good feeling for just coming off a year of a pandemic.”
Williams reiterated the concern that the reopening plan was happening too quickly and wasn’t fleshed out enough. City Workers for Justice said there was no real purpose in bringing workers back into their offices other than as a symbolic gesture that New York City is returning to normal — in-person gatherings would not be allowed in the offices.
Mayor de Blasio had been planning to send municipal employees back to their offices on May 3 since March. The plan includes staggered schedules so that some employees are in the office while others continue to work remotely. Strict safety measures, such as mask requirements and social distancing, would be in place, but there is no Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
“I’m very confident that folks will be able to come back safely. And by coming back, they’ll be able to serve New Yorkers better and we need to start sprinting now as part of this recovery,” de Blasio said last week. “We need to bring New York City back strong for everyone. And clearly, we have the ability to do that by getting our city workforce back.”
The following day, de Blasio told Brian Lehrer as a guest on his WNYC radio show that the city found workers are more productive in the office rather than in their own homes.
Those workers who rallied May 1 found several flaws in the plan, such as the impact on public transit and around policies that would force workers who test positive for Covid-19 to use personal leave. Most importantly, a return to the office would disrupt childcare plans for parents who had been staying home with their children since the pandemic began over a year ago.
“The entire response to the pandemic has been riddled with mistakes. The political dynamics put profit over people. We can’t continue doing this. We have to learn from all of the lessons this pandemic is leaving us,” said state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst), a former city employee, who stood in solidarity with the ralliers.
Despite the opposition and hesitancy, de Blasio remained optimistic that sending workers back was the right choice.
“Look, we need people to do the work that is so important to bring back this city,” the mayor said Monday. “It’s the right time for office workers to come back. People are obligated. It’s as simple as that. If they’re told this is when they have to show up at work, that’s when they have to show up at work, just like anytime would have been true before the pandemic.”