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UT to end remote work for almost all employees in fall. Why union members are ‘horrified’

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The University of Texas is ending remote work for almost all staff members in August, President Jay Hartzell announced in an email Wednesday.

“Staff members can most effectively serve our students, faculty, fellow staff members, and other stakeholders when working together in an environment that fosters collaboration, innovation, availability, and reliability,” Hartzell said. “Our vibrant campus community helps distinguish our great University, and as members of our staff, you contribute to that vibrancy each day.”

Hartzell tasked campus leaders with making a plan for changes by July and fully implementing them one week before the fall semester begins.

A small number of jobs can stay remote if they are “characterized by observable productivity,” are internal or transactional, or require large amounts of individual work, Hartzell said. Individual supervisors would make that call and also approve occasional remote work as-needed.

“We are here because of our students, and your consistent presence will help provide a more complete and engaging learning experience for students throughout campus,” Hartzell continued.

Anne Lewis, a UT faculty member and member of the Texas State Employees Union executive board for Central Texas, said members of the union are “horrified” by the decision.

“It is a very serious economic matter for a great many of our staff, but the other real issue is, what about these populations that really do need to work virtually?” Lewis asked.

Lewis also raised concern for individuals with disabilities or mobility challenges. UT spokesperson Mike Rosen told the American-Statesman that UT will consider American Disability Act and other accommodations through existing policies.

Lewis expressed concern that some staff members may quit because of the decision. She also worries that supervisors will determine remote work unevenly.

“I know we have very kind, thoughtful supervisors sometimes, but sometimes we don’t,” Lewis said.

Rosen said these guidelines were implemented to ensure consistency across UT and many staff members are already in-person full-time.

“We have provided clear guidelines for implementation while recognizing that local leaders are in the best position to make decisions in specific cases,” Rosen said in response to Statesman questions.

UT staff pay concerns

The end of remote work comes after TSEU delivered a petition to Hartzell in March asking for a $10,000 across-the-board pay raise for all employees. Lewis said the union has not received a response to the petition, which she said had more than 2,000 signatures.

“We are continuing to review the total rewards package for employees relative to market competitiveness and are confident that we will still be able to attract and retain the highest-level talent,” Rosen told the Statesman. “Many employees have been working onsite full-time.”

Some full-time UT staff members currently make $15 an hour, according to the university’s pay plan profiles. The living wage as of October 2023, as determined by the city of Austin, is $20.80 per hour.

Though employees can ride city buses for free with their UT ID, some staff members can’t afford to live within bus routes, Lewis said, making for long commutes. UT does not reimburse employees for commuting expenses or pay for parking.

Return to work

Staff members have asked about remote work at Staff Council meetings this year. In February, Roger Cude, vice president of People and Talent, told staff in response to questions that UT was creating guidance in consultation with other senior leaders and looking at other universities and studies for direction, according to meeting minutes.

When asked if the Staff Council was consulted, Rosen said they were aware of the decision.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies and institutions have shifted to allowing some remote work. Though some employers have gradually issued return-to-office mandates, employees who have the chance to work from home will likely do so, USA Today reported.

Owl Lab’s 2023 “State of Work” report found that one of the biggest reasons employees choose to work from home is the cost of being on-site. But institutions have seen an increase in return-to-office mandates following the trend of other companies and arguing for the benefits of in-person work, including collaboration, productivity and culture.

“Certainly, we should have more choice in determining the conditions of our employment,” Lewis said.

Isabel Ocampo contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: University of Texas to end remote work for almost all staff in August

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