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In our opinion: Reconsider four-day workweek

Published: Sunday, July 25 2010 12:02 a.m. MDT

In July 2008, when then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. imposed a four-day workweek on a trial basis, he said closing offices on Fridays could save the state $3 million annually.

Not even close.

A recent legislative audit found that the actual savings that can be attributed to the four-day workweek total less than $1 million. The audit also found that some state workers were not putting in their full 40 hours under the arrangement. That finding was confirmed by a recent KSL-TV investigation.

State lawmakers who weren't fans of the plan when it went into effect two years ago have ample reasons to insist upon the return to a five-day week in state government. For that matter, Gov. Gary Herbert could rescind the executive order with seemingly little cost to taxpayers.

While the actual savings achieved under the four-day week was far below its billing, the Herbert-Bell administration appears to support continuing this practice. This is a bit difficult to comprehend given the evidence that the cost savings were vastly overstated and that some workers aren't working 10 hours a day, as the schedule demands.

While patrons and state workers alike have adjusted to the four-day week — and some agencies such as the Department of Workforce Services have managed to handle a growing caseload for food stamps and people seeking work — shuttering government offices on a Friday sends the wrong message in this economy. If you're out of work and hungry and don't have access to a computer or aren't tech savvy, finding a "CLOSED" sign on the agency door would be horribly demoralizing.

We note that a state-commissioned poll conducted last year found that most Utahns like the extended office hours during the four-day week.

We do not have to conduct a poll, however, to know how Utahns feel about some government workers cutting corners on their workdays. The audit found that some workers eat their lunch at their desks to shorten their workday. Some count work done on bus and train trips toward their 10-hour shifts. Others use state-approved exercise time to trim a half-hour off their shifts at the end of the day.

While the governor is correct in that these sorts of issues are not specifically tied to the four-day work schedule, he must surely recognize that this sort of behavior is irksome when Utah's unemployment rate exceeds 7 percent.

If the four-day workweek is to continue, the executive branch must demand, at a minimum, that employees better comply with established work rules.

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