State returns to five-day workweek after Labor Day

Published: Friday, Sept. 2 2011 6:12 p.m. MDT

Utah State Capitol building Monday, October 8, 2001.

Jason Olson, Deseret News archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — It's back to five in the Beehive for state workers next week.

On Tuesday, state government returns to a five-day workweek after three years of closing most offices on Fridays in an attempt to save on energy bills.

The state's 17,000 workers who shifted in 2008 to working 10 hours a day, Mondays through Thursdays, have mixed feelings about the change, mandated as a result of legislation passed earlier this year.

"It's been really polarized," said Todd Sutton of the Utah Public Employees Association. "There are people who want to keep the four-day workweek and they're angry or sad. Others are ecstatic the five-day workweek is back."

The 2011 Legislature approved a bill requiring state agencies to offer services on Fridays but allowing the longer workdays to continue. Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the bill, but lawmakers overrode his action.

So Herbert issued a letter to state workers in June, telling them the only way to comply with the new law without spending an extra $800,000 is to go back to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday schedule.

Sutton said workers appreciated the time Herbert gave them to make arrangements to accommodate the new schedule, such as finding child care on Fridays. Workers had raised concerns about the extra commuting costs and a few, Sutton said, will have to give up second jobs on Fridays.

There is still some worry that the new schedule won't be permanent. The four-day workweek was ordered by former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as a way to save an estimated $3 million annually in energy costs, but the actual savings fell far short.

And while both employees and the public generally liked the four-day week, lawmakers said the new schedule was needed because some companies and local governments were frustrated they couldn't do business with the state on Fridays. 

"The overall feeling from employees is this is just another top down directive," Sutton said. "They're will to adapt. They're willing to do it. But they really question how many times they're going to have to."

There are tradeoffs for everyone, Jeff Herring, executive director of the Department of Human Resource Management, said of the new schedule. "The extra hours morning and afternoon will be shortened, but the extra day will be expanded."

At a Salt Lake Department of Motor Vehicles office, the return of the five day work-week generally drew a positive reaction.

"So more public places are open that aren't open on Fridays?" Maurice Godoy of Murray said Thursday. "Yeah, that will be good."

Devin Ogaard, who works a job four 10-hour shifts at the airport said he favors the switch and state employees should, too.  "I work a four-10 myself. It's a long shift," he said. "So it's probably better on them and their sleep and that kind of stuff."

But Shannon Robison of South Jordan liked the four-day workweek for her and state workers. "I think it's better they have the four-day workweek. It gives them more time with their family."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, jdaley@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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