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News Blog

The Four-Day Fail?

by Jerre Wroble
Posted // 2011-06-02 -

The State of Utah's newfangled four-day workweek is about to sunset. The more cynical are already decrying Gov. Herbert's decree to wait until after Labor Day to return 13,000 state employees from four 10-hour days to five 8-hour-days, claiming the guv gave state workers the gift of three-day weekends for the summer.

The power struggle between the governor and the Legislature aside, this is a change that needed to happen. The four-day schedule simply misfired with the public.

For starters, who wakes up at 7 a.m. ready to do business with the state offices? Those early hours had to have been light duty for state workers: time to surf the Web, read online news, eat a breakfast snack at their desks--many of us do that at home at that hour! (Of course, they will dispute that characterization but it would be a slow time.)

The worst aspect of the state's schedule are the Friday closures. Having all those offices shuttered on a day when the private sector is still hard at work and in need of bureaucratic response is a fail. Here at City Weekly, for example, our reporters file their stories for our weekly print edition on Friday. God forbid if they didn't phone a state bureaucrat for needed comments by Thursday. Invariably, there is a hole in the story awaiting a hastily gathered quote on Monday morning. If the quote changed the story, there is little time to revise the story in time for our print deadline.

They're called "business hours." The government needs to operate in roughly the same time frame because that's when business gets done, and the state is a player/regulator in that game. When Jon Huntsman Jr. first unveiled his idea, I admit I was interested in the promised savings. But I remain unconvinced of the savings no matter what figures are bandied about.

The costs of commuting is a big one. But why do I see so many cars heading out of town packed for weekend camping trips Thursday night/Friday morning? It's not like state workers stay home on Friday. They're driving around as much as anyone does on their days off.

The four-day schedule has at least one overlooked and potentially sizable cost: That extra day each week, when combined with state holidays, makes at least 10 four-day weekends for state employees. If City Weekly offered four-day weekends every other month or so, it's likely that few on our staff would use their entire vacation allotment each year.

And state workers can bank their unused leave to a greater degree than we can here at City Weekly. According to the Department of Human Resource Management:

"The maximum carry over [of annual leave] is 320 hours [8 weeks]. ... Additionally, with special approval from the legislature, portions of unused annual leave in excess of 320 hours may be converted into a 401(k) or 457 account at URS."

It will take some research (by that I mean GRAMAs), but I am betting that state employees have banked a decent amount of leave since the four-day change took place. All that costs taxpayers in a variety of ways.

Look, I do not begrudge state employees their benefits or their wages. Work is work, no matter where one toils. But the four-day experiment is not Huntsman's proudest moment. It had costs, both acknowledged and perhaps hidden. But mostly, it was just inconvenient. Come September, I'll welcome them all back to a five-day schedule with open arms.



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