Timing's everything, right? With the Deseret News undergoing a restructuring, it's probably not a good time to ask for any special considerations. But if it's good enough for some state employees, why not me?
I HEREBY REQUEST TO WORK A 10-HOUR, FOUR-DAY WEEK.
My editor's response? A firm, succinct, "NO."
We don't do four-day weeks around here, not unless one wants a 20-percent pay cut. (ATTENTION BOSSES: I'M NOT ASKING FOR THAT!) Because of the Internet, we're practically a 'round-the-clock news operation. I can't imagine that we or any news organization could commit to a four-day work week.
I hope it works for state employees, though. If the state can save energy by closing offices on Friday, that would be good because we taxpayers pay those bills, too. Give Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. his due for attempting this experiment.
But as taxpayers, the four-day work week has to work for us when we need to access state services. Many are online, which means they're available 24/7. Some transactions have to be conducted in person. Perhaps some people will go to the Division of Motor Vehicles when the office opens early, but it's more likely that the bulk of consumers will visit during normal working hours since most of us don't work four-day weeks. Will those extra work hours be as productive?
How will this affect state employees who are parents? Will child care be available early and late? Starting work early and ending late makes it difficult if not impossible to drive the morning carpool or pick up kids from school, as some people are able to do. But on the other hand, many elementary schools have shortened schedules on Fridays, which would dovetail nicely with parents not working that day. But there also are a number of early-dismissal days that could leave some families in a lurch.
Won't the energy savings derived from shutting down offices and any reduced motor fuel use and pollution from vehicles be blunted by energy use by state workers on their day off? They will, presumably, want to cool, heat and light their homes. Others will run errands, which means they'll be burning fossil fuel. Some may want to travel over those three-day weekends, which will become four-day weekends when holidays are celebrated on a Monday. True, heating, cooling and lighting homes will be on the individual's dime, as will their motor fuel purchases, but the carbon emissions will be a problem for all of us.
One thing is certain. The state needs to cut costs and energy consumption. The unanswered question is how fuel costs will affect local governments, particularly school districts that rely on buses for student transportation, activity travel and field trips. Will school districts be forced to reduce the number of trips to balance their budgets?
Will municipal governments have to raise taxes to address their rising fuel and utility costs? Can consumers take tax increases on top of consumer price hikes?
A new poll by Yahoo and The Associated Press found 90 percent of Americans expect ballooning costs to squeeze them financially over the next six months. Half think that hardship will be serious. Americans are attempting to drive less, curtailing vacations and setting thermostats higher in the summer.
Americans are looking to elected officials for leadership. Political proposals are all over the map, from increased oil and gas drilling to laws that level taxes on coal-fired power plants that owners say could put them out of business. Meanwhile, there is a lot of discussion about alternative forms of energy, such as solar, tidal, wind and even nuclear power.
Will a four-day work week make a dent in the state's overall energy use and carbon output? It should help, to some degree.It may have a more psychological benefit than environmental boon or cost savings. But that's OK, too. When Americans are fretting more about the price of gas than the economy, health care, the war in Iraq, something's got to give.
Marjorie Cortez, who's trying to do her bit for the household budget and the planet by riding the bus and TRAX as much as possible, is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail: [email protected]