AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many City of Austin employees are being asked to return to the office starting later this year, according to a city memo from Interim City Manager Jesús Garza.
Starting in early June, employees in management positions with the city will be required to work five days a week in person, the memo said. Non-executive staff that have been working from home will have to return to the office no less than three days a week starting in October.
“It is imperative, in my opinion, that we work to ensure the public’s trust. We cannot completely do so if we are not present or responsive to their needs. With this in mind, we must address the various department policies surrounding telework,” Garza said in his memo to employees.
Meanwhile, the union representing Austin and Travis County employees — AFSCME Local 1624 — says it argued against the new policy and that it was prepared to fight it.
“Determining eligibility for employees to be able to clock hours remotely is key, and we do not believe the City has put in the time nor the effort to do this. Travis County is doing this work, and we are going to continue to suggest the City model their process after the County’s,” the union wrote in a statement.
A handful of Austin employees protested outside of City Hall Tuesday including Marna McLain, an IT corporate manager for the city, who said she’s worried about retention in her office. Several of the people she hired had the impression they would have the option to work from home indefinitely.
“When I started teleworking five days a week, I saved 11 hours a week of not being in traffic,” McLain said.
KXAN asked employees to reach out and many did. An Austin Energy employee said she was hired in 2022 with the promise of being mostly remote.
“I bought a house with an extra room in it so I would have a dedicated office…My family has one car because I was not going to have to drive in daily so I didn’t think I needed it,” she wrote. The employee asked to remain anonymous.
Another employee who has worked for the city for five years said: “More and more workers are being pushed out of city limits and now will have very long commutes to the office.”
We took those concerns to Garza, who stood by his decision.
“In the end it’s got to work in terms of the vision,” he explained. “Are we providing the customer service we need? Are we being responsive to the community the way I think we need to?”