New York City’s Deal with Largest Union Would Include Remote-Work Plan
Mayor Eric Adams announced a tentative contract agreement with New York City’s largest municipal union on Friday that includes a plan to allow some city employees to work remotely starting in June.
If approved by the union, District Council 37, the five-year deal would increase wages 3 percent a year in the first four years and 3.25 percent in the fifth. Workers would also receive a $3,000 ratification bonus and a minimum wage of $18 per hour.
Remote work was a major issue during negotiations, and Mr. Adams had insisted that city employees work in person five days a week, even as private employers allow more flexibility as New York recovers from the pandemic. Mr. Adams has criticized remote work, saying: “You can’t stay home in your pajamas all day.”
But the mayor relented on Friday, agreeing to create a “flexible work committee” to find a way to offer some employees a remote option in a pilot program that would start by June 1.
“There are jobs in this union and in this city that cannot work remotely — our police officers, our nurses, our fire fighters, our transit operators — so as we make this shift into the post-pandemic reality, we must do it in a thoughtful way in partnership with the union,” Mr. Adams said at a City Hall news conference. “A knee-jerk reaction of just saying that everything is remote work overnight would disrupt our city and disrupt our economy.”
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Mr. Adams, a Democrat who is known for working long hours, acknowledged that the concept of work had changed and not everyone needed to be in person full time. He characterized himself as “a seven-day-a-week in the office person,” but allowed that was no longer “the reality of the universe we’re living in right now.”
Even the mayor’s work habits have shifted. He often works remotely by joining Zoom meetings with staffers while traveling between events.
The tentative contract, which still requires ratification by District Council 37’s members, affects about 90,000 employees or roughly a quarter of the city’s unionized work force. It is the mayor’s first major labor contract agreement and is likely to be used as a basis fornegotiations with unions representing police officers and teachers.
Andrew Rein, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, said the contract proposal served both sides well.
“This is a very reasonable middle ground that provides reasonable raises without radically blowing up the city’s budget,” Mr. Rein said.
The Adams administration had set aside money in the city’s budget for raises of only 1.25 percent and must find additional funds or make spending cuts to cover the cost of contract. At the news conference, the city’s budget director, Jacques Jiha, declined to offer specifics about how the city would pay for the deal.
“We’re going to be looking for savings throughout city agencies,” he said.
The union’s executive director, Henry Garrido, said the new “flexible work committee” would examine ideas like staggered shifts and a four-day workweek. Some workers’ jobs, he said, could be done outside offices, like the processing of food stamp benefits online.
“It’s not just, can you remote work or can you not, but can we be flexible enough to reflect the challenges of the workplace today?” Mr. Garrido said.
Nearly three years into the pandemic, many workers in New York City have not returned to offices five days a week. Mr. Adams referred to the challenges outlined in a recent Bloomberg News article, which reported that Manhattan workers were spending more than $12 billion less each year because of the shift to remote work.
Mr. Adams’s strict requirement that municipal employees work in person has contributed to a staffing crisis in city government. Many city agencies, including the Department of Buildings and the Department of Social Services, have vacancy rates of 20 percent or higher, slowing critical work that New Yorkers rely on.
Mr. Garrido is a close political ally of the mayor’s, and his union endorsed Mr. Adams during the competitive Democratic primary in 2021. District Council 37 represents 1,000 different job types, from accountants to zookeepers.
The negotiations with other unions could be more contentious. The city’s major police union, the Police Benevolent Association, released a statement saying officers “need a contract that addresses our unique needs and challenges” and that “far too many police officers have left for better pay and better quality-of-life in other policing jobs.”
Mr. Adams noted on Friday that his mother, Dorothy Adams, was a District Council 37 member when she was a food service worker. With her low wages, he said, she struggled to pay for groceries for her six children.
“This is in my blood,” Mr. Adams said, “and it was so important for me to settle this contract with this union.”