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Council calls for expanded telework options

Cite looming hiring freeze, massive number of vacancies


Members of the City Council expressed fears during a Tuesday hearing that the staffing woes plaguing the city’s municipal workforce could be exacerbated by the recent budget cuts and hiring freeze announced by the Adams administration.

With the city’s vacancy rate standing at 6.6 percent and the staffing shortages having a direct impact on services such as processing time for food stamps, slowed mold remediation at NYCHA and fewer new bus lanes, Carmen De La Rosa, who chairs the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, said she was concerned that the hiring freeze set to begin on Oct. 1 will make it even more difficult for the city to provide key services.

“We are in a fiscal crisis at this moment, but we also know that it is important for us to deliver the critical services to New Yorkers and part of that is making sure that we have a workforce that is robust, not only in the numbers, but also in their ability to carry out the critical services to our city,” she said during the hearing held by the labor committee.

Council Members Rita Joseph and Julie Menin also questioned Adams administration officials about the potential impact of the cuts. “How is this not going to be affecting city services?” Menin asked.

In order to fill the 20,000 vacancies across municipal departments, the city in recent months has held 17 hiring halls, where nearly 2,200 prospective city workers were offered jobs. But following the Sept. 9 announcement that city agencies must reduce spending by 5 percent as part of the November budget plan, this month’s hiring hall was canceled. 

“We’re obviously very proud of our hiring halls. … Right now we’re just taking a pause to assess to see whether they will be continuing,” said Stella Xu, the assistant commissioner for human capital at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. She noted that job offers that were still in the pipeline would not be affected by the looming hiring freeze.

In addition to the November “Program to Eliminate the Gap,” agencies must slash another 5 percent as part of January’s preliminary budget, and an additional 5 percent by April’s executive budget deadline. A letter from Budget Director Jacques Jiha stated that positions “that support public health, public safety, and revenue generation” were exempted from the hiring freeze.

De La Rosa emphasized how important it is that city agencies offer telework options so as to help retain city workers. “It is imperative that the city evolve to meet the needs of municipal employees and the demands of a changing workforce,” she said.

Remote-work pilot will expand

In June, District Council 37, in concert with city officials, launched a flexible work pilot program that allows eligible employees to work from home up to two days a week. About 24,000 workers are qualified for the program, which is set to last until May 31, 2025, with the option to be extended for an additional year. 

So far, 20,000 workers across 34 agencies who are represented by the union have started working from home on a part-time basis, according to Daniel Pollak, first deputy commissioner at the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations.

The flexible work pilot program is expected to start at nine other city agencies, including at the Administration for Children’s Services, the Department of Correction and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, where it is set to begin next week. Workers at the Department of Education, NYCHA and NYC Health + Hospital are not eligible for the program.

So far, just DC 37 members are qualified, which was negotiated as part of the labor agreement between the union and the city this past February. But last week, the city and Communication Workers of America Local 1180, which represents about 8,200 supervisors, reached a tentative contract agreement that would allow eligible members to participate in a similar flexible work program.

“There are other unions who have reached agreements but have not yet ratified, and upon ratification, they will also go through the approval process” to begin telework, Pollak said. 

The Council members probed whether the city will offer incentives to employees not qualified for the program; Pollak noted that DC 37's flexible work committee is exploring compressed workweeks. They also questioned whether the budget cuts could affect the telework program, to which the officials did not give a direct answer.

As part of their push for the city to offer even more flexible work options, the Council members are considering a resolution to call on state legislators to pass the New York City Teleworking Expansion Act, which would require city agencies to create a program that would allow employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance,” according to the bill.

Darrell Sims, president of the Managerial Employees Association, and the MEA’s executive director, Alice Wong, expressed support for the legislation, particularly because their members are unable to collectively bargain for a telework program.

A survey conducted by MEA found that “the morale of city managers is low because of no work-from-home option, and other extremely important factors such as the absence of pay raises,” Wong noted.

Daniel Kroop, president of the Association of Legislative Employees, and Vinuri Ranaweera, the union’s vice-president, also backed the bill, noting that last year, Council staff in the finance and legislative divisions were granted a hybrid work option, while Council aides were not.

“This was a significant step forward, but perpetuates the Council’s tiered workplace culture, where some staff have access to hybrid work, but many who serve Council Members do not,” Ranaweera said.


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