City workers ask for remote work option as Omicron spreads

As the Omicron variant rises, vaccinated city workers say they aren’t notified when someone in their office tests positive for COVID-19 – and they’re begging Mayor Bill de Blasio to let them work remotely.

Below advice distributed by the city, only unvaccinated employees and those more than two weeks from a second injection are notified of positive cases in their office.

Some employees who spoke to THE CITY said they discovered positive cases through word of mouth – or, as one Children’s Services Administration employee put it, when they noticed that the offices of the colleagues absent for more than a week were cleaned without explanation.

“City workers have already sacrificed too much. How many positive files do we have to go through before the town hall decides to protect them? Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37, New York’s largest municipal workers’ union, said Thursday – calling a telecommuting option “a long time ago.”

“Our members have proven that they can do their work from home,” he added. “They cannot continue to be used as pawns in a political game.”

Remote working has become the norm for most of the city’s office workers after the first COVID outbreak in March 2020. But at the end of this summer, Once vaccines became widely available, de Blasio ordered staff to return to full-time in-person work.

A spokeswoman for the mayor, Danielle Filson, highlighted the city’s high vaccination rates and other safety measures as part of the city’s protection for workers.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from COVID, and every employee in the city is vaccinated and masked, thanks to the strong mandate that the mayor put in place months ago,” she said in a communicated. “We are in constant communication with our health officials and any decision regarding remote working will be based on health and science, as well as recommendations from our doctors. “

The number of hospitalizations for vaccinated people was significantly lower than for unprotected people. Still, they can still catch and spread the Omicron variant, because was the case with New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.

Nearly 23,000 people tested positive in New York City for COVID on Wednesday, breaking records set earlier in the week, state data showed.

The growing workload has many municipal workers on edge.

“It seems to me that it is more about the mayor who says to himself ‘All is well, all is well’, but it is to the detriment of the employees of the city”, said a senior official of the Ministry of Social Services, adding that there had been clusters of positive cases in their office over the past two weeks.

Set to work

On Wednesday, agency and unit heads of city administration departments received a reminder of the attendance policy – doubling the retention of employees in their offices, even if they have been exposed to COVID.

“Please remember that all city employees have returned to work in the office and telecommuting is only allowed on a very limited basis,” reads the email, sent by “the restart team of the agency “at the town hall and obtained by LA VILLE. “Agencies do not have the discretion to implement a teleworking policy on their own. “

A COVID testing site outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall on December 20, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Employees who test positive or show symptoms of the virus are urged to stay home, as are any workers who have not been fully vaccinated and who have come into contact with someone who has had COVID in the past. Last 10 days, according to the missive.

But employees who are vaccinated and may have been in close contact with an HIV-positive person should still come to work as long as they are asymptomatic, the email advised.

“Close contact” is defined as a person who has been within six feet of a person for at least 10 minutes in a 24 hour period.

Filson said every city employee who may have been exposed to someone with COVID should be notified.

De Blasio defended the city’s response on Wednesday and noted that 94% of the workforce is vaccinated.

“We care a lot about our workforce, which is why we provided a healthy environment and this is why we made vaccination mandatory,” he said.

“If someone tests positive, then of course they are entitled to a very generous sick leave,” added de Blasio. “If they get a negative result, they are negative. It’s simple in that sense. But we have to make this city work and it is our responsibility as public servants. We have to make this city work and that is what we intend to do.

Double standards and fears for safety

But the workers, who asked not to be nominated by THE CITY for fear of reprisal, said there was a double standard in some agencies – with top bosses and commissioners working remotely while their subordinates were forced to go. ‘enter the office.

And at least one agency, the Financial Information Services Agency, instituted a remote option this week, while officials in other departments insist agencies can’t set their own telecommuting policies, according to emails reviewed. by THE CITY.

City employees LA VILLE spoke to said they feared for their safety at work, despite high vaccination rates.

Some have also decried the lack of consistent application of masking.

“I started using a different bathroom months ago so I wouldn’t have to walk through a division where almost everyone was in cubicles without a mask,” said an employee of the Department of Consumer Protection and workers.

And some COVID-positive city workers said they could only take advantage of a paid vacation policy if they had the results of a PCR test, not a rapid test – a point of frustration given long queues at test sites.

Not accommodating

Meanwhile, city workers with increased health risks or disabilities that affect their jobs say they have continued to fight for the accommodations they are entitled to under federal law. Americans with Disabilities Act and that of the city law. They continue to face the absence of a teleworking policy in the city.

A Ministry of Education employee is prohibited from working from home even though she first requested to telecommute as a reasonable accommodation in the summer after finding out she was pregnant.

DOE officials have closed or denied his requests, saying they are no longer providing accommodations for COVID-related risks, according to emails reviewed by THE CITY. This is an apparent violation of the guidelines of the city’s Human Rights Commission.

The pregnant employee said she was working with UNHCR to try to find a solution with the education department, but she is still waiting.

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