Mayor Parker doubles down on Philly’s employee return to office order

Union leaders say some workers are prepared to quit over the mandate. Parker holds firm, saying the decision was “not made lightly.”

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Cherelle Parker speaking at a podium

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker announced that city workers must return to the office five days a week starting July 15. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

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Mayor Cherelle Parker is holding firm on her order for all Philadelphia city workers to return to work in person.

“I need us all, right now, to make a sacrifice for the city. This decision I made, I didn’t come to it lightly,” Parker said Tuesday. The official news conference comes on the eve of a hearing for a lawsuit filed on behalf of white-collar workers to stop the return to work order.

Robert Harris, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 47, the union representing many city workers, said some members are prepared to quit because of the mandate.

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“She [Parker] wants the best and the brightest, she’s about to lose them,” he said.

Greg Boulware, the newly elected president of the AFSCME 33, representing blue-collar city workers, said about 1,700 members will be impacted. He called for all to meet in the middle.

“This is going to impact their lives,” Boulware said. “Particularly when there [are] childcare issues going on.”

The summer is a difficult time to face childcare changes, Boulware said, which would happen as a result of the return to work mandate.

Many other major cities have kept a hybrid work schedule, some better than others. Mayor Parker cited Washington, D.C. as a place where it’s not working well.

“Remote work has tanked D.C.’s growth and is causing a budget nightmare,” she said. “That’s an actual headline.”

Parker said she wants people to be able to “see, touch and feel,” their government, and believes that can’t be done when workers are at home.

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The unions say the change should be part of their contract negotiations, an idea the mayor rejected.

Harris, with AFSCME DC 47, said maintaining hybrid schedules has been an ongoing conversation for union members, both during negotiations and outside of them.

“We’ve heard a lot from them that they would seek employment elsewhere,” he said. “This benefit is so important to them. They have changed their lives in a way. We have all learned from COVID that this is possible in other cities and other businesses in other spaces.”

He went on to say that productivity among the city workforce is up with the hybrid schedule and there is no reason to change that.

No matter what the judge in the case decided, the verdict is likely to be appealed to the Commonwealth Court and possibly the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, since the change is being closely monitored on a nationwide basis.

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