Minneapolis City Council can work from home, city staff told to come back to office

Minneapolis City Council is allowing itself to work from home until at least mid-February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the city is recalling its workforce to the office sooner than that.

Under the city's return-to-office plan, many staffers who are currently working from home will need to report to the office on Jan. 10. About 60 percent of the city's workforce, which numbers more than 4,000 people, are already on-site.

Some city workers said Mayor Jacob Frey and city administrators should push back their return-to-office plan because of the omicron variant.

"What’s the rush?" said Nick Brambilla, a data analyst and a board member with the Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, which represents about 540 city staffers. "We’re not going anywhere. We’re trying our best at working from home. We’re all stressed about the holidays. People are still going to be traveling to see their families."

The union has not taken an official position. Andy Weyer, the organization's vice president, reacted more favorably to the city's plan.

"Things are still kind of fluid," said Weyer, whose job in the Public Works Department has been on-site during the pandemic. "They're working the plans out as they go, but they're wanting people to return to the new normal."

Some departments will require employees to be in the office for two or three days a week. Minneapolis requires on-site employees to be vaccinated or test weekly.

City Council sets its own rules. On Dec. 10, the council voted to extend a COVID-19 local public health emergency and allow itself to hold virtual meetings until Feb. 13.

The emergency declaration sets guidelines for council meetings and mask requirements in city buildings, said Casper Hill, a city spokesman.

"The Feb. 13 date also gives the new incoming City Council the option of meeting in person or a continued use of the remote option for the first two council cycles of the new year," Hill said. The incoming City Council takes office in early January.

A spokesman for Frey did not return a request for comment.

The omicron variant has confounded return-to-office plans in the public and private sectors. This week, Wells Fargo delayed a return for thousands of its employees.

Metropolitan Council has pushed back a return for some employees until at least Jan. 31. Numerous state government agencies have delayed a return indefinitely.

The city should take a cue from other employers, Brambilla said.

"The city has the potential to become a less attractive place to work by rushing this process," he said.