Utah workers mixed on returning to 5-day workweek

Published: Monday, May 9 2011 5:58 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — About 17,000 state employees who now work a 10-hour, four-day workweek might be working eight hours a day, five days a week starting in September.

But not all of them will.

That's because the bill the Legislature resurrected Saturday night, HB328, has so much leeway built into it that individual state agencies will have to scramble to come up with their own staffing plans to meet the mandate that state agencies must now operate nine hours a day for five days each week.

"State agencies are going to have to figure this out," a top legislative staffer said. "The good news is, they have until September to do it."

Switching from the current four-day workweek is reopening an old wound for some state workers. Many struggled to get used to four 10-hour days after Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. issued an executive order that changed the state employee workweek in 2008.

"It's very hard on families," said Julie Peterson, a longtime state employee. "They've rearranged their schedules, and child care and transportation are a big deal to a lot of people. And many people have second jobs they work on Fridays, too."

But other state employees like the possibility of greater flexibility under the new law.

State employee Brenda Bryant said there's more of a chance to work in personal business in the context of the five day workweek.

"I think the flexibility afforded to the supervisor is a good thing, and I like the five-day workweek better than 10-hour days," Bryant said.

Gov. Gary Herbert had vetoed the change when it crossed his desk after passing the 2011 Legislature, saying it would be too disruptive and costly. He told GOP leadership and the bill's sponsor — Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab — that he would issue an executive order mandating that by Oct. 1, all state agencies will make "critical, public-facing services" available on Friday either in person, online or with telephone support.

But lawmakers, meeting in a veto override session Friday, apparently weren't satisfied and surprisingly brought back the bill with the House voting to override. The Senate didn't have the votes and convened in a rare Saturday night session when senators absent Friday provided the support needed to override.

Under the law, as long as state agencies are staffed properly and open the nine hours a day, five days a week required, supervisors can set the number of physical locations, the daily hours of operation, the number of employees and the hours an employee works per day.

Still, there's no question many state workers will have to switch over.

"I'm kind of torn," said Terri Johnson, another state worker. "I kind of like the four days, but then it's hard, too."

Alex Yei, an employee at the Utah Department of Health, said he just plans to roll with the punches. "As far as rankling me or upsetting me, no it's not," Yei said. "I think it's just part of state government, accepting those changes."

An unknown effect of HB328 is how much it may cost the state. The governor's office and legislative budget analyst agree that up to $790,000 might be needed in order to pay for heating and cooling, lights and maintenance on state buildings that will have to be open the extra day.

But the cost might be higher when you take into account the greater transportation and child care costs for many of the state workers who are affected, said Herbert's spokeswoman Ally Isom.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said whatever costs are incurred after switching back to the five-day workweek will be funded. Noel had said during the general legislative session that restoring the five-day workweek will better serve the public, particularly business owners.

But Jenkins said the bottom line for the majority of lawmakers was the constitutionality of instituting the four-day workweek in the first place by gubernatorial decree.

"We've had several years to stew on this and there were multiple bills filed (to undo it) this year, and we just thought this was the time to do it," Jenkins said.

Email: Piatt@desnews.com

State workers

Number of state employees: 21,719 counting temporary;17,466 without temps

Number of employees that work 4-day workweek: 17,000

Number of employees that will switch back to 5-day workweek: Unknown

Estimated cost of the switch for the remainder of this fiscal year: $790,000

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