NYC to pilot remote work in tentative city worker contract

The city reached a labor agreement with DC 37, setting the pattern for other municipal workers unions.

New York City mayor Eric Adams announces a tentative contract agreement with District Council 37 to pilot remote work for some city employees.

New York City mayor Eric Adams announces a tentative contract agreement with District Council 37 to pilot remote work for some city employees. Annie McDonough

New York City’s “seven day a week in the office” mayor has resigned himself to a future that just might include remote work for some city employees. Announcing a tentative contract agreement with District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal union, on Friday, Mayor Eric Adams said that the city and the union will create a committee to explore options for greater flexibility in employees’ schedules, including “remote work, compressed and flexible work schedules, and improved transit benefits.”

The tentative five-year contract, which still needs to be ratified by DC 37’s members, includes 3% wage increases for the first four years and a 3.25% increase in the fifth year. That does not keep pace with inflation. In 2022, consumer prices rose about 6.4%. The contract is retroactive, lasting from May 26, 2021 to Nov. 6, 2026.

The openness to exploring remote work – and a commitment to pilot a program that includes remote work by June 1 – marks a shift for Adams, who has repeatedly stressed that employees with desk jobs need to be in the office full-time. Gothamist first reported earlier this month that the administration would consider demands for remote work flexibility in contract talks.

But in a City Hall press conference on Friday, Adams rejected the premise that he’s had an evolution in his stance on remote work. “People keep defining it as my evolution. My personal beliefs cannot get in the way of running the city at this level of complexity,” he said, adding that the city needs to consider equity in a potential move to allowing remote work. “There are jobs in this union and in this city that cannot work remotely – our police officers, our nurses, our firefighters, our transit operators. And so as we make this shift into the post-pandemic reality, we must do it in a thoughtful way, in partnership with the union. A knee jerk reaction of just stating that everything is remote work overnight will disrupt our city and disrupt our economy.” 

“We need to remain competitive in city government,” said Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37. “And that means thinking differently in the way that we hire, recruit and retain. That means a flexible schedule, one that acknowledges that the workplace has changed. One that provides the possibility for remote work where available.”

The city’s contract talks come amid stubborn staffing shortages across city agencies. Some office workers, who are officially required to work in person full time, have advocated for greater flexibility to work hybrid schedules. Some current and former employees have cited a rigidity on in-person work as a reason for quitting or considering leaving.

The flexible work committee in the tentative agreement with DC 37, along with several other measures, appears to take those staffing challenges into consideration. “We realized that the post-COVID era has brought a new dimension to work, and how we are retaining and having flexibility in work schedules is something we must face,” Adams said. 

City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa, who chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, told City & State that she was pleased to see the wage increases included in the tentative agreement, as well as the exploration of flexible work arrangements. “I have to say that I'm breathing a little bit easier at this point because I know that retention has been difficult, and that staffing levels are at a crisis point right now,” De La Rosa said on Friday afternoon. “Just knowing that 90,000 employees are securing pay raises and supports, it means that we are on our way to actually having a municipal workforce that is compensated for their work.” De La Rosa added that her committee is holding a hearing on Feb. 28 that will discuss a telework option for city employees.

The agreement also includes a commitment to an $18 minimum wage for all covered employees, as well as a $70 million “equity fund” to make salary adjustments for hard-to-fill titles.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the wage increases will entail more cuts to the budget – in a time when Adams has already been warning about the possibility of severe service cuts. The mayor’s preliminary budget plan included funding for 1.25% wage increases, which is well below the new 3% pattern this contract would set. 

But it’s possible that City Hall just didn’t want to publicly admit that it had budgeted for a larger increase while negotiations were still ongoing. Budget Director Jacques Jiha insisted the city had a plan, saying that all of the agency budget reductions that Adams has already instituted were done in anticipation of this bigger wage increase. “We knew. We were preparing for this,” he said at the press conference. “We have a plan to address this.” City Hall said that the total cost of the contract through fiscal year 2027 is $4.4 billion, a portion of which is offset by the city’s labor budget reserves.

In a statement, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander praised the agreement for including a pathway to remote and flexible work arrangements. “The majority of employees in the Comptroller’s Office have been successfully working on a hybrid schedule (three days a week in-person) for the past year, and we recently finalized new hybrid work policies in consultation with staff and union representatives,” Lander said.

Advocates for remote work for city employees expressed cautious optimism on Friday. “While we have questions on how most of these agreements will be carried out, we also remain hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Jeremiah Cedeño, a former employee at the city's Human Resources Administration and co-founder of City Workers for Justice, a group advocating for flexible work arrangements. “City workers have been asking for telework for almost two years, so finally being close to it is encouraging.”

Adams, however, suggested that he won’t be Zooming into meetings anytime soon. “I’m a seven day a week in the office person,” Adams said. “That’s not the reality of the universe we’re living in right now. But we have to be thoughtful.”