Philadelphia city employees represented by labor unions are pushing back against Mayor Cherelle Parker’s mandate for full-time office work. The unions, including District Council 47 of The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed a lawsuit claiming that the requirement violates their contract and will harm city workers. This lawsuit comes after negotiations for remote work arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The lawsuit, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, argues that the mandate to return to the office five days a week without bargaining with the unions is unjust. The unions are seeking a temporary order to block any work policies that were not mutually agreed upon. A hearing on this request is scheduled for July 11, just days before the return-to-office deadline imposed by Mayor Parker on July 15.

Mayor Parker justified the move to full-time in-office work as a way to enhance communication, social connections, collaboration, innovation, and inclusion among city workers. However, the unions argue that the sudden shift disregards the agreements made during the pandemic for flexible work arrangements. The unions also filed an unfair-practices complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

Despite the unions’ allegations that the mayor’s office is not negotiating in good faith and violating labor laws, the city denies these claims. Mayor Parker’s office maintains that the changes are meant to be worker-friendly, including extending paid parental leave and adding new holidays.

Most of the city’s municipal employees have already transitioned back to full-time in-person work, but around 3,000 unionized workers have been working remotely at least one day a week since 2020. The unions argue that the city’s refusal to negotiate over the changes goes against labor laws that require employers to bargain in good faith with unionized workers over employment terms.

The National Labor Relations Act and the Pennsylvania Public Employees Relations Act outline the necessity for employers to negotiate changes in wages, hours, and employment conditions with unionized workers in good faith. The unions feel that the city’s unilateral decision to end remote work arrangements without consulting them is a violation of these laws. The mayor’s office, on the other hand, believes that the laws do not apply to the changes in working arrangements.

The unions point out that many employees who joined the city’s workforce post-2020 were promised flexibility in their work arrangements indefinitely. The outcome of the lawsuit and the subsequent hearings could set a precedent for how employers and unions navigate work arrangements post-pandemic.