Dozens of city of Austin staffers gathered June 1 to send a message to interim City Manager Jesús Garza: if he doesn’t revoke the new in-person work policy, they might quit.

How we got here

Garza released a memo May 11 announcing executives will be required to work at the office five days a week starting June 5, and nonexecutive employees will be required to work in the office three days a week starting Oct. 1.

The impact

The city employs 16,747 people, and 5,817 of them work from home as of April, according to documents from the city’s human resources department. More than half of Austin employees live outside city limits, said Carol Guthrie, business manager for AFSCME Local 1624, the labor union that supports city employees.

​​Austin's move is a public example of how one of the area's largest employers is handling telework policy following pandemic office closures.

Environmental concerns

The in-person work policy will lead to thousands more cars on the road, increasing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, said Robert Eby, a San Marcos resident and employee of the Austin Energy green building.

Ebay added the new policy goes against the City Council’s Climate Equity Plan, which has a goal to reach net-zero communitywide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

What they’re saying

Marna McLain, an IT corporate manager for the city of Austin, said seven out of the 10 staffers in her department said the new telework policy would not be sustainable for them, as some of them live in Cedar Park and Pflugerville. Further, McLain said she leads a niche department, and finding qualified staff is difficult.

“As a manager, shouldn’t I be the one that decides what’s best for the services I support?” she said.

Minda Weldon, an epidemiologist for Austin Public Health, said her department is more resilient working from home, as they were able to respond to residents during storms and outages.

What’s next

Guthrie said the labor union plans to meet with Garza next week to discuss a compromise.

“We think that this will certainly show the city manager that he needs to step back, because he made a decision on nothing, no data,” Guthrie said. “And we believe he will step back.”