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Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker defends return-to-office policy as union lawsuit looms

Philadelphia Mayor Parker defends return-to-office policy amid union lawsuit
Philadelphia Mayor Parker defends return-to-office policy amid union lawsuit 02:52

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker isn't budging on her demand to have all city workers back in the office starting next week despite being sued by a coalition of unions.

"I made a decision that I stand by firmly," Parker said Wednesday during a press conference at City Hall.

Parker's move has sparked controversy among workers currently working on remote or hybrid schedules and from unions that represent them, but the mayor claims she remains staunchly pro-union and pro-worker. She wanted Wednesday to be an opportunity to explain her reasoning behind the policy.

"I believe that employee presence at the workplace allows for more personal and productive interactions, facilitates communication," Parker said, "and promotes social interactions along with collaboration, innovation, inclusion and belonging."

The mayor said 80% of the city's workforce is already back in the office full-time and rattled off a list of jobs that never had the opportunity to go remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, including sanitation workers and police officers.

Parker hopes the city's move can set a standard for private companies to return workers to downtown offices. She said the change is part of her administration's plan to adjust the way they provide city services.

"We're using every tool in the toolbox to make sure that you can see your tax dollars at work in your neighborhood," Parker said.

Mayor Cherelle Parker full press conference on return-to-office policy 30:05

Union officials representing city workers on remote and hybrid schedules watched on as Parker stood her ground on the policy.

"I think the mayor today made a lot of comments in which she chose to use the word equality to actually be very divisive to our members," Robert Harris, vice president of AFSCME District Council 47, said.

AFSCME District Council 47 has been against Parker's move and filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the change. The union says it needs to be negotiated with union representatives, something leaders say has not happened.

Harris told CBS News Philadelphia the city has not reached out to him about negotiating the policy.

"There should be some room for compromise and meeting and discussing to fully encapsulate the needs of what Philadelphia workers need," District 33 Council President Greg Boulware said.

Union leaders said the ability to work remotely has been a major benefit to its members, offering more time with family and cutting down on the cost of things like child care. Officials also maintain there has been no drop-off in productivity by those working these schedules.

"There's been no statistics, there's been nothing shared saying that our services have been affected in a negative way," AFSCME Local 2186 president Gennifer Reed said.

Parker said the administration gave the workers eight weeks' notice to get their affairs in order before returning to the office full-time.

While union leaders said they aren't advocating for anyone to disobey Parker's order, which goes into effect Monday, July 15, they do believe there will be long-term consequences from the move.

"I suspect there may be a contingency of people that may decide not to return at all," Boulware said.

"She wants the best and the brightest, she's about to lose them," Harris said.

Neither Parker nor any union leaders would comment on the pending litigation over the return-to-office policy, but there should be some movement on that soon.

Union leaders said their lawsuit is slated to go before a judge Thursday morning.

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