Despite Mayor de Blasio's assurances that city offices would be safe to return to May 3 and the 80,000 employees who had been working remotely since last year would be more productive once back inside their agencies, skepticism abounded among some union and elected officials, as well as workers who protested the mandate two days earlier.
During his weekly interview on WNYC April 30, the Mayor said, "We do not find that people are more productive at home. We find that people are more productive in the workplace, and we are public servants...people need to come back because we have work to do, to bring this city back."
Some Sharp Dissents
He said previously touted a $200-million program to improve conditions in city work spaces and the vaccination of 180,000 of the city's 310,000 workers, while pledging to collaborate with our "labor partners" to make the transition a smooth one for those returning.
But before they did, District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido whose 125,000 members include a large number of the 80,000 returnees, declared in a statement, "Progress has been made, but we're not there yet. For starters, we are only aware of 34 percent of our workforce being vaccinated. The city should focus on bringing that number up before bringing everyone back to work gradually."
He continued, "Second, the inconsistency across the agencies tells you everything you need to know. Some agencies are bringing everyone back every day, others once a week. It does not make sense, and makes clear everyone is guessing."
At a May 1 rally, dozens of city workers were joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is not yet bringing back his staff to offices at 1 Centre Street, and State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the State Senate Labor Committee in protesting the required return.
Holding signs that read "Public servants not public sacrifice" and "Show us the metrics that prove that we are less productive working remotely," protesters cited concerns about workplace safety and mass transit, as well as finding child care with in-person learning not universally up and running.
"My message to Mayor de Blasio is for him to sit at my desk five days a week and see how his breathing is," Robert Cuffy told WCBS-TV.
"I was alarmed when city workers came to me and told me they didn't feel there was a right plan in place to keep them safe at the working place," Ms. Ramos said.
In a May 2 phone interview, Mr. Williams said "we are rushing this before we have all the answers." He expressed concern about the large number of city buildings that were managed and owned by private landlords.
Get More Vaccinated
He said the administration also needed to worker-vaccine numbers up in communities of color that were particularly hard-hit by the virus.
Close to 400 city workers died during the pandemic, with thousands temporarily sidelined by the coronavirus, some of whom are still suffering long-term effects.
The the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a union-supported nonprofit, 250,000 essential workers came down with the virus and another 150,000 had asymptomatic cases, which health experts have said may have health consequences later in life.
NYCOSH advises that essential workers who contract asymptomatic COVID file a claim with the state Workers' Compensation Board to document their exposure.
Momentum is growing in Albany to create a health registry for essential workers who have been infected.
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