Austin city employees rally in protest of return-to-work announcement

Austin City employees gathered outside City Hall to once again protest the Interim City Manager’s proposed return-to-work policy.

"We stand together to question the policy change, not out of defiance, but out of genuine concern for the well-being of our dedicated public servants and for the need to remain agile and adaptable as a public facing organization," said Yasmine Smith, chair of PUMA.

In a memo sent out by Interim City Manager Jesus Garza last month, city executives will be required to return to the office five days a week starting next week. All other city staff will have to show up in the office three days a week starting October 1st. 

It is a decision these workers say came out of nowhere and made without input of the city workers it directly affects.

"Mr. Garza has made it clear that he isn't interested in what we have to say. He sent this as a top-down memo without any warning, and I, as a manager, had no chance to tell my employees that this was happening," said Sadie Lambert, City of Austin employee.

The local union that represents city employees organized this rally. They want Garza to postpone any telework changes until March 2024 so data can be collected to make an accurate decision regarding any policy changes.

"This is an opportunity for the City of Austin, as one of the largest employers here in town, to be progressive, support workers, and base your policy on valid data. That is all we're asking," said Carol Guthrie with Local 1624.

The city workers believe the data will show telework works just as well as being in office. 

"The benefits of teleworking will be commuting time, environmental impact, enhanced productivity, and the improved work-life balance for employees. [These] are just a few of the benefits that should not be dismissed so lightly," said Smith.


Members of city council were in attendance of the rally including Council Member Ryan Alter.

"I'm here to support the concerns they have with the telework policy," said Ryan Alter.

He believes it is important for some employees to come back to the office, but says if that risks losing employees due to this policy change, it is worth a conversation to figure out other options.

"What we know today is that we have staffing challenges [and] just getting the people we need, and if we are going to implement a policy that potentially results in us losing more workers, I think that's really important to weigh as well," said Alter.

Interim City Manager Garza told FOX 7 Austin previously that he backs his decision and thinks this change will benefit the city.