Austin city manager defends decision to require city workers to return to office

Interim Austin City Manager Jesus Garza is defending his decision to require city employees to return to the office.

That announcement has sparked backlash from some city workers and union leaders.

"We don't have a sense of urgency. And that's what I'm trying to change," said Interim Austin City Manager Jesus Garza.

Garza is confident that a hybrid work week for most city employees will reap benefits for both staff and city residents.

Starting June 5, all city executives must be in the office five days a week. On Oct. 1, all other staff must show up at least three days a week.

"So how did you decide on this specific policy?," asked FOX 7 Austin Reporter John Krinjak.

"Well, one of the things I've been here 90 days, and in that 90-day period, I've been able to make some observations about the organization. And I really came down to about two or three things that we really need to do better," said Garza.

He believes in-person work will improve both teamwork and responsiveness.

"We've got to be more responsive to the community, to its needs, to the questions we get. The organization has to develop a sense of team spirit and connection, connection to each other in terms of the projects and the issues that we're working on," said Garza.

Another piece of the puzzle, he says, is fairness to the more than half of city workers who can't work from home.

"They work in fire stations. They work in Austin. Resource recovery. They've never had the opportunity working because their jobs and Lent does not lend itself to that. And so I really wanted to have some equity," he said.


Outside City Hall on Tuesday, May 16, some workers protested the plan.

"All it's going to do is create inefficiencies and make it really much harder to get our work done," said Lora Lee Tucker, an I.T. worker for the city.

"The commuting in for a lot of staff would probably be detrimental, and I think it would lead to a lot of retirements and attrition," said Marna McLain, I.T. worker for the city.

Union leaders said they feel their voices aren't being heard.

"He's just picked a number and said, 'this is the number, and I'm not changing my mind,'" said Carol Guthrie, business manager for the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

"Well, I didn't know that I was negotiating with the union. I was we got input, and we've got input all along," Garza said.

"How concerned are you that some workers are going to leave?" asked FOX 7 Austin Reporter John Krinjak.

"My wish would be that they wouldn't. But if that is, if they feel that they need to do that, I completely understand it," said Garza.

Garza stresses that although the policy is being announced now, it won't go into effect for most workers until October.

"Change is hard. I recognize that, that's why we landed on a date of Oct. 1 to give people plenty of time to sort through their affairs. To the associates that are disappointed, don't be rash," said Garza. 

"You've got to give it a chance to get used to it, just like you had to get used to all of a sudden going from five days a week in the office to exclusively from home. So, just give us a chance," he added.