Return-to-Office Rates Eclipse 50% in Major U.S. Cities
Workspan Daily
February 03, 2023

Per reporting by the Wall Street Journal, workers in the U.S. are spending more time in the office again, with occupancy rates surpassing 50% for the first time since the start of the pandemic.  

Average office use the week of Jan. 23 was 50.4% of early 2020 levels in 10 major U.S. cities, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks security swipes into buildings every business day. This is the first time occupancy has topped 50%, according to Kastle, since March 2020 when the pandemic forced most workplaces to temporarily shut down.  

All 10 of the major cities it tracks surpassed 40% for the first time, Kastle said.  

Workers are still staying home ahead of the weekend, however. Offices are emptiest on Friday, according to Kastle, and they are the most crowded on Tuesdays. In New York, for example, occupancy rates dropped to 26.5% on Friday from 59.8% on Tuesday. 

Changing economic conditions have emboldened many employers to require or strongly encourage employees to return to the office. Additionally, there’s been a push to require the return of federal workers back to the office, the Journal reported.  

According to Kastle, San Jose, California had the lowest return-to-office rate last week, at 41.1%— though it increased 3 percentage points from the week before. The city is home to many tech companies.  

Two cities in Texas — Austin and Houston — had the highest return-to-office rates at above 60%. 

Judge Finds Amazon Broke Labor Law 

As reported by the New York Times, a federal administrative judge has ruled Amazon violated labor law in advance of unionization elections last year at two warehouses on Staten Island.  

The judge, who hears cases for the National Labor Relations Board, ruled on Monday that Amazon supervisors had illegally threatened to withhold wage and benefit increases from employees at the warehouses if they voted to unionize.  

The judge, Benjamin W. Green, also ruled that Amazon had illegally removed posts on a digital message board from an employee inviting co-workers to sign a petition being circulated by the Amazon Labor Union. The union sought to represent workers at both warehouses. 

The ruling ordered Amazon to stop the unfair labor practices and to post a notice saying it would not engage in them. 

In the same ruling, the judge dismissed several accusations brought in a complaint by the labor board’s prosecutors, including charges that Amazon indicated take-home pay would fall if workers unionized; that Amazon promised improvements in a program that subsidizes workers’ educational expenses if they chose not to unionize; and that Amazon indicated that workers would be fired if they unionized and failed to pay union dues. 

The judge found that these accusations were either overstated or, in the final instance, that the action was not illegal. 

Amazon can appeal the ruling to the labor board in Washington. 

“We’re glad that the judge dismissed 19 — nearly all — of the allegations in this case,” Mary Kate Paradis, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement, adding: “The facts continue to show that the teams in our buildings work hard to do the right thing.” 

The union declined to comment, according to the Times.  

The violations occurred at a vast Amazon warehouse known as JFK8, where workers voted to unionize in an election whose results were announced in April, and at a smaller, nearby warehouse known as LDJ5, where workers voted down a union the next month. 

U.S. Economy Add 517,000 Jobs in January  

Despite numerous reports of layoffs, especially in the tech industry, the labor market got off to an unexpectedly strong start in 2023. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 517,000 in January, well above economists’ estimates, according to the Department of Labor’s jobs report on Friday.  

The unemployment rate fell to 3.4%, which is the lowest jobless level since May 1969. Average hourly earnings increased 0.3%, making for a 4.4% year-over-year increase.  

Leisure and hospitality led the way with 128,000 jobs added, followed by professional and business services (82,000), government (74,000) and healthcare (58,000).  

“Today’s report is an echo of 2022′s surprisingly resilient job market, beating back recession fears,” Daniel Zhao, lead economist for job review site Glassdoor, told CNBC.  “The Fed has a New Year’s resolution to cool down the labor market, and so far, the labor market is pushing back.” 

Despite the initial positive labor market news, most economists are still cautioning that some form of a recession should be expected, though the labor market’s resilience could cause some rethinking of that. 

“Our base case is still recession likely toward the latter part of the year,” Vanguard senior economist Andrew Patterson told CNBC. “One report is not indicative of a trend, but certainly if we continue to see upside surprises, our baseline is up for discussion. This does increase the marginal probability of a soft landing.” 

PayPal to Lay Off 2,000 Employees  

PayPal on Tuesday announced plans to lay off 2,000 employees, or around 7% of its workforce, CNBC reported.  

PayPal president and CEO Dan Schulman wrote in a release on the company’s website that PayPal is working to address the “challenging macroeconomic environment.”  

“Change can be difficult — particularly when it includes valued colleagues and friends departing,” he wrote. “We will face this head-on together, drawing on the unparalleled scale of our global platform, the strategic investments we have made to strengthen our core capabilities, and the trust and loyalty of our customers.”  

The digital payment platform becomes the latest tech company to announce plans for significant layoffs, along with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Salesforce.  

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

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