New York City

NYC Municipal Workers Start Staggered Return to In-Person Office Work

Several hundred employees protested the mandated return to work over the weekend, citing an inconsistent approach and rushed timeline

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Some 80,000 municipal workers in New York City started returning to in-person work on Monday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered offices last March.

Getting tens of thousands of city employees back to their office posts has been a key reopening focus in Mayor Bill de Blasio's road to recovery. It's one of several steps that lead to the full reopening of the city - a goal the mayor has set for July 1.

"City Hall is abuzz today. It's a great feeling. I have been at City Hall throughout the pandemic, as has many of my colleagues, but for the first time in a year-plus we really have the spirit and energy of this place back," de Blasio said a press briefing Monday morning.

"This is why we are doing this so we can serve New Yorkers better because when we're all together we get more done for the people."

Returning to physical office spaces is expected to look different depending on the city agency and physical office layout. Different workspace sizes will require adjustments in social distancing protocols and the type of protective barriers setup between employees. A guide for a return to office work released by the city outlines necessary safety protocols -- which include information on health screenings, creating one-directional flows of foot traffic and distancing guidance.

The return is also said to be staggered, but it's not exactly clear what that will look like across the entire group. The union representing municipal employees said inconsistencies in daily in-person work across city agencies "does not make sense and makes clear everyone is guessing."

"Some agencies are bringing everyone back every day, others once a week," DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said in a statement Monday. "We need to figure out the safest approach and apply it evenly across city government."

Still, the mayor has emphasized, city workers must be back working in person for maximum productivity. "There's no question in my mind, people get a lot more done in person," he said Monday.

New York City is aiming for a full reopening on July 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday, suggesting a total removal of COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for well more than a year by early summer. He did not specifically detail steps to achieve that goal, nor did he lay out which COVID precautions may stay in place through summer or any other requirements. Meanwhile, in Jersey City, in-person learning kicked off after months of remote learning. Andrew Siff and Gaby Acevedo report.

Not everyone is ready to head back. Hundreds of city employees protested outside City Hall on Saturday the decision to go back into the office and the employees' union .

"We as city workers are concerned that the mayor's hasty return to office planning is all risk and no reward," one employee shouted through a megaphone at the weekend rally. Alongside the group were state Senator Jessica Ramos and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Together, the protesters called for a delay to the return, until at least September, for all parties to create a collaborative plan for working together in person.

"City workers are also demanding the administration establish a permanent telework policy, establish broad exemptions and accommodations policies that err on the side of safety, provide transparency around the physical upgrades and policies related to offices, and reallocate resources to better support workers who have already been working in-person," a release from the group said ahead of its protest.

Through the criticisms and concerns raised of a return to office work, the mayor has leaned on his health advisers and the increasing vaccine success across the city, particularly in city employees. At last count, the mayor said some 180,000 city employees had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

"I have been at City Hall every day since March 1st. A lot of my colleagues have, 80 percent of City workers have been at their posts, even in the toughest times," de Blasio said during his weekly WNYC radio appearance Friday. "No, people need to come back because we have work to do, to bring this city back."

De Blasio hit the halfway mark to his goal of fully vaccinating 5 million New York City residents by the end of June on Thursday, the same day New Yorkers of any eligible age got the walk-in option at all state-run mass vaccine sites.

The city's seven-day positivity rate was 2.86 percent on Sunday, according to the mayor. Statewide, the rolling positivity rate was 1.93 percent, Cuomo said Friday -- the lowest rolling average since Nov. 3.

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

May 3 marks another reopening step for many of New York City's bars and restaurants. Bar seating across the five boroughs can return Monday for the first time in more than a year.

The return of bar seating aligns with Cuomo's rules for the rest of the state and will give New York City its biggest nightlife jolt in more than a year. The governor recently extended his indoor food and beverage service curfew by an hour, to 12 a.m. It will be lifted entirely for outdoor dining areas beginning May 17 and for indoor dining areas beginning May 31, he said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made some reopening news across the river last week, too, announcing indoor capacity limits for weddings, proms, performances and more rises to 50 percent on May 10. Outdoor carnivals can return at 50 percent capacity the same day, while outdoor gathering limits will increase to 500, Murphy said.

Asked Wednesday, as he revealed new state guidance for day and sleepaway camps this summer, for a response to Cuomo's latest move on bars, given the proximity between New Jersey and the city, Murphy said to expect developments this week.

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