Thursday, August 18, 2011

Turning State Employees into Outlaws (and other side effects of the new Utah Work Week law)

I have prepared these talking points for a meeting this week with my local state senator, Aaron Osmond, who has kindly and responsively agreed to meet with me about the new work week law (explained previously here).  Did I miss anything in my talking points?  (My local state representative, Merlynn Newbold, has so far ignored my emails and voice mail.)

The work week law will cost Utah taxpayers at least $800,000 annually, in energy, janitorial, overtime and transportation expenses (Reference 1).  Of course, this number was derived by comparing costs of the 4-day work week to previous costs under the non-mandated 5-day system.  I predict the overtime costs will be even higher because of new demands on employees to work overtime to maintain legal compliance.

The work week law adds at least 10,000 annual metric tons of pollution to Utah air, by requiring buildings to operate heating and cooling systems on Fridays and requiring employees to commute 20% more often (Reference 1). Again, I predict that the effect on pollution will be even greater, since my agency is helping to pay for the extra workload by eliminating employee public transit passes.

The work week law turns state employees into outlaws.  Here is the text of a letter I recently wrote to the Deseret News describing the ludicrous difficulties of complying with this law:

Here's another side effect of the new five-day work week law, besides the annual $800,000 price and the 10,000 annual tons of new pollution. This legislative management requires state agencies, including "offices," to operate in at least one physical location nine hours per day, Monday through Friday. 

My office employs two and a half full-time employees and does research and web design. We do not do any customer service like issuing licenses, accepting applications or collecting fines. However, this new law forces us to guarantee an employee is present at the office every day, all day, all week.

Here are just a few ways our tiny office could break this new law:

Two employees could eat lunch together, leaving the office empty for an hour.

One employee could get sick on a day when another employee is on vacation.

One employee could quit or go on maternity leave. The remaining employee could continue to take her required lunch break (Reference 2).

Of course, I only spoke to my personal situation in the letter. Other state "offices" have only one employee. They will always be out of compliance with this law, unless that one employee works overtime every day and never gets sick or takes a vacation.

The work week law prevents state employees from doing their jobs. The legislators who wrote the law were apparently under the impression that all state employees are receptionists; people whose top work function is to be available at their desks to greet visitors.  In fact, the state employs about 17,000 people, very few of whom do direct customer service.  The vast majority of state employees need flexibility to conduct business away from their desks, just like any other business person.  During the nine years I have worked for the state, I have frequently worked late or on weekends to meet with people in different areas of the state, participate in special events or meet pressing deadlines.  I avoided unnecessary overtime by taking time off on a different day of the pay period.  Now that I am legally required to man my desk from 8 to 5 every day, I do not have these options. 

The work week law is anti-progress.  Who really wants to travel to a state building to pay a fee or process an application in person? Instead of forcing state employees to be available in person for such tasks, legislators should be encouraging employees to make services available online or by phone, so people can conduct state business in the privacy of their own homes at any hour of the day.

The work week law prevents state agencies from fulfilling their missions. Take this example. I have been invited by a national organization to travel to Washington, DC at their expense to participate in a policy planning meeting with important implications for my agency and the state of Utah. However, the meeting coincides with another employee's previously scheduled annual leave in which she will be traveling out of the country. The only remaining employee in the office has been coerced to work 45 hours that week to keep us in compliance with the work week law. Next time, I will think twice before accepting such an invitation, no matter how beneficial to our agency mission. 

The work week law is anti-family. The co-worker I just mentioned, who is being required to work a 45 hour work week to comply with this law, is a mother who will have to make special arrangements for her children so she can work overtime. 

The work week law is bad for customer service.  In a survey of Utah citizens, only 20% wanted to return to the 5-day schedule and lose the extended hours Monday-Thursday (Reference 1).  I have spoken with state employees who actually do work in customer service and they have said that their busiest time of day is after 4:OO pm until 6:00 pm. People like to be able to do state business after they finish working at their own job.

The work week law makes Utah look bad.  Legislators recently “normalized” Utah liquor laws so Utah could stop being so weird, just to turn around and become possibly the only state to legislate employee work hours and legally glue state employees to their desks.  The 4-day work week experiment had been generating good PR for Utah, with flattering articles in such national venues as Time (Reference 3) and the New York Times (Reference 4).  But just when the founder of the successful program, Jon Huntsman,  began officially running for president, the Utah legislature scrapped his program.


1 comment:

  1. April, this is great. Good for you for actually talking to your representatives instead of just griping about it.