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City Council moves toward enshrining remote work options

Friday, November 17, 2023 by Emma Freer

City Council recently approved a resolution that initiates amendments to the city’s Climate Equity Plan, Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan regarding remote work policies for city employees. 

The amendments – recommended by the Planning Commission and supported by the city employees’ union – would ensure remote work policies align with the plans’ goals, which include reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips in the region, parking demand at city facilities and the share of Austin residents who commute to work. 

They also diverge from a controversial telework policy announced by interim City Manager Jesús Garza in May, the implementation of which was later delayed until January. 

The resolution – part of the Nov. 9 consent agenda – directs the city manager to draft the amendments based on the Planning Commission’s recommendations by Feb. 15. 

District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes sponsored the resolution, alongside Council Members José Velásquez, Chito Vela, Zo Qadri and Ryan Alter.

“This will bring us one step closer to meeting our climate and mobility goals while acknowledging the importance of working from home for our families and for city employees,” Fuentes said in a Nov. 14 video post to X.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of recommending the amendments.

“Nothing less than the successful implementation of Imagine Austin is at stake,” according to an Oct. 24 memo from the commission. “As one of the largest employers in Central Texas, the City of Austin will not successfully achieve the goals in its comprehensive plan nor prompt the private sector and other public entities to meet these goals, if the City itself fails to model these policies.” 

AFSCME Local 1624, the city employees’ union, also threw its support behind the resolution.

“It is imperative that the amendments relating to telework recommended by the Planning Commission are included in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan,” Business Manager Carol Guthrie wrote in a Nov. 7 letter to Council. “Expanding telework opportunities will help us meet our goals faster and demonstrate our dedication to meeting the community’s demands on mobility and climate action.”

The union previously resisted Garza’s telework policy, which would require most city employees to return to the office at least three days a week, as the Austin Monitor previously reported.

In a Nov. 8 post to the City Council Message Board, Fuentes expressed optimism that this policy could be reconciled with the city’s other plans. 

“I believe it is essential for the City to show leadership in achieving our goals with regard to telework, and I am encouraged that the current work being done by our city management and AFSCME to determine our telework policies will exemplify that leadership,” she wrote. 

The Planning Commission also pointed in its proposal to Travis County, whose remote work program aims to make 75 percent of eligible jobs remote, as an example. The county estimates the program has reduced greenhouse gas emissions from commuting employees by 30 percent, as the Monitor previously reported

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