BRING A THERMOS: While Mayor de Blasio insists New York City is back, municipal workers in and around lower Manhattan encounter vacant storefronts like this former Starbucks near City Hall. District Council 37, which represents most of the 80,000 employees who have worked remotely throughout the pandemic, says the Mayor's in too much of a rush to bring them back as the Delta variant produces thousands of deaths daily nationwide.

District Council 37, which represents nearly 40 percent of the municipal workforce, Sept. 15 filed an unfair-labor-practice petition contesting Mayor de Blasio's order that 80,000 employees who had been working remotely for the past 18 months "return to work." 

The union took that action two days after that order took effect, after weeks of trying to persuade the Mayor to delay the return as the virus's Delta variant surged.

'Won't Be Guinea Pigs'

"With the Delta variant and all the others, the landscape of COVID-19 is too uncertain to needlessly force people back to their desks," DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement. "We will not let our members be used as guinea pigs. The city must allow non-essential works to work from home until we are certain it's safe."

The union cited "over 200 inspections of members' work locations" in contending that the city's "indoor office spaces—largely unused since the start of March 2020—are not equipped to the new safety standards and therefore not ready for the return of workers. Further, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services removed the social-distancing requirement still recommended by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Mr. Garrido had previously noted in a Daily News op-ed article that because the public-health situation had deteriorated since early summer because of the variant, the state postponed its return-to-work mandate until next month, and that some private employers were "telling their workers to get comfortable at home until at least the start of 2022.

But the Mayor dismissed his concerns when questioned during his Sept. 15 media briefing, saying, "We respect the State of New York, but we don't make our decisions based on the state. We make our decisions on what is right for New York City."

'Work Better in Offices'

He continued, "Our schools are back. Our public servants do their best work when they are in-person at their offices. We are putting in place, as of this week, the vaccine or test mandate for every single employee. We can do that best when people are in-person. It's time for people to be back at work at their offices doing the job they are required to do."

Robert J. Croghan, chairman of the Organization of Staff Analysts, said the Mayor's hard-line stance on the issue  was counterproductive and made a tense situation worse.

"The city had two very easy options here—they could have negotiated with us a few weeks earlier to the mutual satisfaction of both parties, or alternatively, pushed back the return date to Sept. 27, giving everyone the time to negotiate," he said. "Either choice would have avoided this adversarial action."

Mr. de Blasio disputed the unions' claim that workers were being put at risk because agencies were not fully complying with CDC guidance.

'Following Standards'

"We are following all appropriate health and safety standards," he said. "This has been done thoughtfully, working with our health leadership, and the whole concept here has been to create safe and healthy workplaces but also get people back where they can do the best work and where we could maximize the vaccination, which is ultimately the way we end this crisis."

Close to 400 municipal workers have died during the pandemic, which required more than two-thirds of the city's 320,000 employees to report to their regular work locations. This included workers assigned to emergency services, vehicle maintenance, health-care services and jobs maintaining the city's vast physical plant, road network and parks system.

Mr. Garrido said in the op-ed article that as the Delta variant spread here, "Our daily positivity rate hovers around 3%, this week even nearing 5%. In the past, a daily average of 3% positivity was enough to start shutting things down again. Today, City Hall looks the other way while asking its workers to return."

Mr. Croghan said the "major objections" he was getting from his members who were being compelled to return to agency offices involved the city backing off the CDC's guidelines for social-distancing and the shifting mask guidance.

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