80,000 City Workers Report Back to Their Desks This Week


For Cheryl Guilford-Jackson, Monday marked the return of an outdated routine.

“I bought up within the morning, bought myself prepared, this time I made lunch,” she mentioned, laughing. 

For the primary time in 14 months, Guilford-Jackson commuted from her house in Lengthy Island to her desk on the Manhattan Municipal Constructing throughout the road from Metropolis Corridor. She was amongst roughly 80,000 metropolis staff who’d been working from house for the reason that begin of the pandemic however at the moment are returning to their places of work this week, in what Mayor Invoice de Blasio believes will ship a strong message in regards to the metropolis’s restoration.

“We’re public servants, we’re right here to assist folks get by means of this disaster and assist the town recuperate,” he instructed WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Friday. However he additionally famous the larger potential impression. The Partnership for New York Metropolis mentioned solely about 10% of Manhattan’s a million workplace employees have been again as of March 2021.

A cubicle with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services sign behind it on a wall, with a Plexiglas barrier


A Division of Citywide Administrative Companies reception desk on the Municipal Constructing

Division of Citywide Administrative Companies

“I do suppose others within the non-public sector will see it as an essential indicator that there will likely be extra exercise round these buildings,” he defined. “It is going to assist small companies, undoubtedly, I feel it’s going to assist deliver again jobs and save jobs however the cause to do it’s the high quality of the work.”

The town required quite a few security precautions together with mask-wearing. Vaccinations should not required, however the metropolis is strongly encouraging them.

Guilford-Jackson, who works on the Division of Citywide Administrative Companies (DCAS) donned a face defend and flat footwear — no heels — in case she was stranded by the subway and needed to stroll. She was a bit of nervous however mentioned everybody was stored at the least six toes aside.

“The occupancy on the ground will not be full, it is like perhaps 20, 25, give or take, coming in,” she mentioned. “I imply, they’re doing all of the precautions to ensure we’re protected.” 

Almost 220,000 different metropolis employees have been already again at their places of work at the least a part of the time. With the remaining 26% reporting to obligation beginning Monday, for a few days per week, this implies no metropolis employee will likely be allowed to telework 100% of the time, although lodging are potential primarily based on medical and different components.

Masked workers holding signs saying "we deserve to be face" and "CDC says no


Employees protesting the return to work outdoors the Municipal Constructing, Might 1, 2021

Beth Fertig / WNYC

Some metropolis employees mentioned it’s unfair to make them return sooner than the non-public sector. Jessica Bristow, an architect with the Division of Design and Development’s workplace in Queens, mentioned  she worries about her well being within the workplace and on mass transit. 

“I will be commuting on the subway to sit down at a cubicle with a masks on all day to make video calls all day after which commute house,” she mentioned earlier than a press convention on Saturday with a few dozen different opponents of the coverage. “It simply would not make sense. And it is a danger to everybody.”

Henry Garrido, government director of District Council 37, the town’s largest municipal staff union, issued a press release saying progress had been made however “we’re not there but.”

However de Blasio mentioned citywide COVID-19 check positivity ranges have been simply above 3% on common and that hospital admissions have been “plummeting.” He additionally mentioned greater than half of all metropolis employees had obtained at the least one vaccination.

The town spent over $200 million since final 12 months to make sure security precautions are adopted for the return. A Mayoral Restart Taskforce labored with all 65 mayoral places of work and businesses concerned, making occupancy calculations for every workplace primarily based on bodily distancing and HVAC-related components.

Quintin Haynes, government deputy commissioner of the Division of Citywide Administrative Companies, mentioned about 1,000 of his staff are coming again in staggered shifts to the Manhattan Municipal Constructing this week. 

“So it could possibly be someday, it could possibly be two days, or it could possibly be some sort of versatile schedule,” he mentioned.

A cubicle at the Municipal Building with Plexiglas barriers


A reception desk on the Municipal Constructing

Division of Citywide Administrative Companies

He mentioned Plexiglas has been put in for public-facing employees and that markers are posted all through the constructing to make sure social distancing in hallways, elevators and loos. Metropolis staff can have every day well being screenings, and Haynes mentioned DCAS can have weekly COVID-19 assessments and vaccinations on web site for anybody who needs them. However staff should not allowed to ask one another about their vaccination standing. 

Marina Sukonnik, an legal professional who works for DCAS, mentioned she was initially nervous as a result of she’d solely come into the town as soon as from Westchester prior to now 12 months. She even walked to work from Grand Central as a result of she was frightened about using the subways. However she was relieved by the protection precautions.

“It is clear, they separated us, we do not sit subsequent to one another, not too many individuals are within the workplace,” she mentioned, whereas ducking out for a break. “So there are numerous precautions, it’s important to fill out a well being survey earlier than you are available.”

One other DCAS worker, Robyn Liverpool, was solely coming in about twice a month till now. She bought her nails painted yellow and dressed up for the event with open toe footwear. “It was like the primary day of college for me,” she mentioned, including that it felt good seeing extra folks in particular person once more.

My outdated supervisor sits subsequent to me. And there was one other younger girl I haven’t seen,” she mentioned. “So it was good to see them, good to catch up, you realize, ask them how’s their household. Some folks have misplaced folks sadly, some folks haven’t.”

Division of Finance worker John Adler mentioned his workplace felt like a “time capsule,” as a result of nothing had modified since March of 2020. He dressed casually for the return however did put on actual footwear. “I haven’t worn footwear for the final 14 months, I’ve solely worn sneakers and sandals,” he mentioned.

The complete return to places of work by municipal staff was greeted with enthusiasm in Chinatown, which is close to the civic heart. Its companies have been struggling for the reason that begin of the pandemic and from continued anti-Asian hate crimes. Chi Vui Ngo, who owns New York Bo Ky restaurant, hoped he’d have a busy lunch hour. Nevertheless it was nonetheless quiet Monday, with simply a few prospects consuming inside and plastic curtains surrounding the tables.

Wellington Chen and Chi Vui Neo sit at a table, with bowls of noodles in front of them


Wellington Chen (left), government director of the Chinatown BID/Partnership with Chi Vui Ngo at his Bo Ky restaurant, the place he’s hoping to get extra prospects

Beth Fertig / WNYC

“We should always give it a bit of extra time to come back in,” he mentioned, optimistically, noting this was simply the primary day again for the 80,000 employees. He thought metropolis employees wanted to get used to being again at work first earlier than heading to his restaurant.

Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York Metropolis, mentioned sending extra metropolis staff to places of work “is essential to native small companies in Decrease Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, and different areas the place metropolis businesses are concentrated.”

However she mentioned the choice “will in all probability not speed up return of personal workplace employees, who wish to see excessive charges of [vaccination] earlier than that really feel protected on crowded streets and subways.” 

Beth Fertig is a senior reporter protecting the town’s restoration efforts at WNYC. You possibly can observe her on Twitter at @bethfertig.