Philadelphia workers unions sue mayor over return-to-office mandate

(Reuters) – Labor unions representing thousands of workers for the city of Philadelphia are suing Mayor Cherelle Parker over her effort to order municipal employees to return to offices five days a week starting this month without bargaining.

District Council 47 of The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents more than 3,000 unionized workers for the city, who negotiated remote-work arrangements beginning in 2020 in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, Parker, a Democrat, told all city workers that hybrid-work arrangements were coming to an end and they must all work in offices or on work-sites full time, beginning July 15.

District Council 47, which represents several local unions that sued Parker on Monday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, said the mayor’s office has refused to negotiate over the change in work arrangements and is violating labor law and existing collective bargaining agreements, which the city denies.

Both the National Labor Relations Act and the Pennsylvania Public Employees Relations Act say employers must negotiate proposed changes to “wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment” with unionized workers. The law generally requires employers to negotiate with workers in good faith either to agreement or an impasse.

Parker’s office has said they do not believe those laws apply in this instance, but declined a request to explain their reasoning on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Parker, who took office in January, said the city’s lawyers were reviewing the lawsuit, which asks the court to issue a temporary order blocking implementation of any work policies not negotiated with the unions. The court will hold a hearing on that request on July 11.

In announcing her order, Parker said working full time in offices would improve communications between workers and promote “social connection along with collaboration, innovation and inclusion.”

The unions say many employees who have joined the city’s workforce since 2020 were told the flexible workplace policies would be in effect indefinitely.

The majority of Philadelphia’s municipal employees have already returned to full-time onsite or in-office work schedules. But some 3,000 unionized workers have secured agreements with the city since 2020 to work at least one day a week remotely, said District Council 47, which did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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