Career and Jobs

Remote Workers Point To Violence, Crime And A Decrepit Mass Transit System As Reasons Not To Return To New York City Offices

New York City has a crime, violence, drug and homelessness problem. This could have serious repercussions for people contemplating returning to work at their offices. Gun violence has become so rampant that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “issued the first-in-the-nation executive order declaring gun violence in New York as a disaster emergency,” which would be “the first step in a comprehensive plan that aims to tackle the surge in gun violence throughout the state,” reported NBC News

Cuomo said about the crisis, “If you look at the recent numbers, more people are now dying from gun violence and crime than Covid-19,” and the problem needs to be addressed “because our future depends on it.” The number of shootings recently skyrocketed in New York City with around 687 people wounded or killed by gunfire.

The Wall Street Journal reported about a recent poll, which showed people were “more concerned about crime than education.” Cuomo said, “The perceived lack of safety could prevent the return of office workers to Manhattan and other urban centers.” He added, “People are going to have to want to come back to work. They’re not coming back unless they feel safe. They’re going to have to want to come back to New York City.”

In light of these facts, it’s not a surprise why many people don’t want to return to their offices in the City. Residents of New York and the neighboring commuting Tri-State area, including New Jersey and Connecticut, are pushing back on returning, citing both physical and health safety reasons. This is in addition to the desire for most people to remain working remotely, as it offers a significantly better quality of life and more reasonable work-life balance.

Commuting into and around New York will be difficult, as the subway system faces delays and disruptions, due to staff shortages caused by previous hiring freezes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sarah Feinberg, interim head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the cutbacks created worker shortages in key departments that “run trains, fix tracks and maintain equipment.”

Growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, I vaguely remember, but distinctly recall the stories from my parents about how bad New York City was in the 1970s and early ‘80s. A trip to Manhattan was referred to in an ominous, dark and menacing way—as going into “the City.” The streets were dirty and grimy, crime ran amok and morale was at an all-time low. New York doesn’t seem as bad now, but there is palpable fear that it’s a possibility if things don’t change.

There is a big incentive for politicians, landlords, corporate executives and business owners to get commuters to return. Consider what would happen if workers don’t return to the Big Apple. It could cause a cascade of business closures. Without the throngs of workers commuting into New York, restaurants, bars, gyms, shops and stores may be forced to close down due to the lack of customers. The deserted landscape could create a vacuum in which crime, violence and open drug usage worsens. This would discourage people who were considering going to the office or tourists coming into town to enjoy a Broadway show and dinner. 

The tax revenue will fall, which means that city officials will be forced to cut both services and municipal workers. With fewer garbage collectors, firefighters, police officers, teachers and hospital personnel, the quality of life would suffer. The decisions made by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley telling their employees to return to the office may have also been prompted by a need to save the city from demise. 

In a LinkedIn post about this serious situation, members shared their insights about returning to New York to work.

S.P., a senior data governance specialist at Bloomberg LP:

“SAFETY is needed. I am in the office 4 days a week. I live in Midtown Manhattan just 3 subway stops to the office, but I won’t take the subway in the morning. I tried it on Friday, January 2 at 7 a.m. and did not feel safe.” S.P. inquired, “Where is the outreach to the people who need mental health services living on the streets, subway stations or temporary hotels? Do you want to stand alone on a subway platform or bus stop, while someone is ranting and swearing a few feet away?” S.P. added, “NYC had more than two dozen people shot over the past long weekend alone. My friend was punched in the face and her phone stolen in Midtown a couple of weeks ago. Yet, de Blasio and Cuomo do nothing. So sad to see the decline in NYC when things should be on the upswing now.”

A.D., assistant facilities planner at NJ Transit:  

“I believe a lot comes down to safety, in particular negative perceptions about illness and crime. Until stations and vehicles are cleaner, crime rates are lower and [Covid-19] is mostly gone, I don’t see a full comeback to 2010s era levels. Another issue is long commute times. People have rediscovered hobbies and home improvement among other activities with the time that they would have spent commuting. But at the same time, there are certain office dynamics that cannot be replicated by work from home.”

 A.A., a bus operator at NJ Transit: 

“Employers have to face facts reinforced with the events of this past year: Many jobs DON’T require physical presence. Commuter costs are quite daunting and a joy to lose. Work-life balance is finally a reality for many, especially those people with families to care for and finally being remote gives a greater control over your workday, your important matters, yourself and family. Why give all this up to get on a train or bus with strangers? Why answer an alarm at 5 a.m. to stand fully dressed OUTSIDE when you can now decide when to rise or roll over and start your workday? I believe with today’s technology. It is nearly impossible for employers to justify pre-Covid commutes, certainly not five times a week.”

A.A. added, “ [The] key word is CONTROL..the employee loses that when she HAS to get on that train/bus. New Jersey Transit cannot guarantee physical safety, let alone safety from a virus Money talks. These employees will have to be compensated somehow for that grind. As a bus operator for NJ Transit, I can tell you that there will be no new bus stops, no more trains to make your commute easier. All you will have is your own cleanliness and your mask to rely on. That is your control. NJ Transit is NOT spraying/washing/disinfecting cabins/buses/common areas for anyone. I am responsible (and always have been) for providing myself a disinfected work area.” 

D.R., professional facility budget research analyst: 

“I’m aware that the MTA does have a lot of measures in place to help ease commuters fears; however, the condition of many subway stations is a major deterrent—not to mention the number of homeless people. This has been a major issue pre-Covid and having to deal with it now is scary, to say the least.”

C.S., administrative assistant at Pride Health Care:

“There is so much crime on the subways. Slashing and the like. NYC has become a crime haven for thugs on and off the subways. They need to control this aspect.”

D.C., chief technology officer at Plaza College Forest Hills, NY: 

“There isn’t enough law enforcement. This leads to crime, homeless occupation and filth below ground. When the word is out that things are safe in the subways again, then you can be certain to see people using the trains again.”

S.K., operations manager at Wireless Channels: 

“They just elected an AG in NY that will not prosecute what he calls petty crimes, shoplifting, turnstile jumping, trespass and wants to empty the prisons. Until law an order is fully restored in the city of New York, nobody is coming back to work.”

 M.L., vice president, human resources at Triton International:

 “For me, the issue comes down to crime, the incredible homeless situation and the overall disgusting condition of the stations (which are not independent of each other). A day doesn’t go by without some report of subway violence in one of the local papers. The poor conditions, coupled with options to work remotely, have led to the decrease in ridership, in my opinion.”

 N.S.A., engineering executive director at NYCDOT: 

“The elephant in the subway car is perceived lack of safety, resulting from the failure of society to address mental health issues, amplified by the pandemic, social isolation and the resulting economic impact. While mental health services have been made available to many during these trying times, for those who are sleeping rough, without steady income or who are anxious of losing a home, such mental health services may appear to be papering over the real cause of mental anguish. The government unwillingness to tackle the root cause of homelessness and despair is unfortunately resulting in what we are experiencing.”

M.K., retired deputy chief of police for the city of Elizabeth, NJ: 

“Until people feel safe, they will not want to return to NYC. While Covid-19 was a factor, the extremely violent anti-police riots last summer and the dramatic increase in violent crime since then have made NYC a very unattractive place to work and live.”

A.L., director at Capital Forensics: 

“The issue may be more around folks from the suburbs taking the LIRR or NJ Transit or Metro-North into the city (and then the subway from Penn [Station] or Grand Central). For them, it is more an issue as to when their offices reopen. The city does need to address the number of mentally disturbed individuals on the trains and platforms—a long-standing issue, now much worse.

I suspect once we have a new mayor, the [New York Police Department] (NYPD) may also come back to work. In my neighborhood and from observation around the city, the NYPD is no longer seen around the streets on foot patrol or even in cars. Once the political situation changes I guess this will change, at least this has been the usual pattern in the city over the decades I’ve watched this.”

M.H., tax consultant: 

“Virtually nothing will convince them to go into a congested, smelly, dank subway car packed to the brim with thousands of people. Try to stand in a train car when the air conditioner has gone out and it’s like 95 degrees and there is virtually no room around. And you are stuck in that commute for one to one-and-half hours one way and two to three hours round trip. Also, include the fact that you are also wearing a mask to protect yourself.”

During the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, there was a similar trend of talking about the possible demise of New York City. James Altucher, a podcast host and best-selling author, wrote a provocative piece, entitled, “NYC IS DEAD FOREVER… HERE’S WHY.” In the post, Altucher said, “I love NYC. When I first moved to NYC, it was a dream come true. Every corner was like a theater production happening right in front of me. So much personality, so many stories.” He continued, “Now it’s completely dead.” Altucher claims the City is in a “death spiral” and won’t bounce back.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld answered Altucher back in a New York Times op-ed piece. Seinfeld wrote, “I will never abandon New York City. Ever.” He proclaimed, “Energy, attitude and personality cannot be ‘remoted’ through even the best fiber optic lines. That’s the whole reason many of us moved to New York in the first place.” Seinfeld goes on to say, “Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together in crazy places like New York City. Feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t go to the theater for a while is not the essential element of character that made New York the brilliant diamond of activity it will one day be again.”

New York has endured Sept. 11, the financial crisis, strikes by municipal workers, blackouts, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and many other challenges, but always seemed to find a way to rebound and reinvent itself. 

In the face of possible threats to the safety of people returning to the office, it would be reasonable and understandable for a majority of workers to say that they refuse to go back.Why should someone be forced to put themselves in danger? This is yet another reason as to why people demand that they should continue working remotely or will quit if forced to return to an office setting. Hopefully, New York will become safer for those people who want—or have to—commute back to the City.

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