AUSTIN, Texas - City of Austin employees are headed back to the office, after many of them spent the last three years working remotely. Later this year, workers will be required to show up in person at least three days a week, a change that isn’t sitting well with everyone.
According to a memo from Interim City Manager Jesus Garza, starting June 5, all city executives will be required to be in the office five days a week. Starting Oct. 1, all other staff must show up at least three days a week.
"We did get a meeting with the city manager. Clearly, his mind was made up," said Carol Guthrie, business manager with AFSCME Local 1624, which represents city workers.
Guthrie tells FOX 7 union leaders met with Garza just a day before the memo came out. She says she and her members feel blindsided by the move.
"They took these jobs thinking they were going to be teleworking, and they have rearranged their lives," said Guthrie. "And now it has all been jerked out from underneath them."
But Garza, who took over city manager duties in February, after Spencer Cronk was fired, said in the memo: "Unlike other employers, we are primarily a public-facing organization. It is imperative that we work to ensure the public’s trust. We cannot completely do so if we are not present or responsive to their needs."
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"This is an effective pay cut," said Whitney Holt, a Health Equity Funding Specialist with the City of Austin.
While Holt lives in South Austin, she says some of her co-workers have moved out of the city due to skyrocketing rents and home prices.
"They've got houses in Georgetown, or they've got houses down south of Hays. And so they're going to be adding like five to six hours of drive time a week. Not to mention the gas for that, the wear and tear on their car. A lot of them have kids, so the additional childcare hours," said Holt.
In the memo, Garza said his goal is to "organize our people and our work, so the organization operates efficiently."
However, Guthrie suggests employees can be more productive working from home.
"Let's face it, you can do eight Zoom meetings in one day versus three meetings if you have to drive all over Austin," said Guthrie.
Now, some workers say they’re looking at other options that will allow them to stay virtual.
"100% of my coworkers have said that they would start looking for new jobs," said Holt.
Garza was unavailable for an interview Monday, but did agree to speak with FOX 7 on Tuesday.