Tuesday, July 01, 2008

UTAH STATE EMPLOYEES PUT ON FOUR DAY WEEK TO SAVE GAS

STATELINE In the face of $4-a-gallon gasoline, a growing number of states are offering their employees four-day workweeks to help relieve commuting costs and save on state energy bills. In the boldest step so far, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) announced June 26 that he is imposing a four-day workweek on about 17,000 state employees starting the first week of August and continuing for at least a year. Employees will work 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and about 1,000 of the 3,000 state buildings will be closed on Fridays. Essential services, such as highway patrols, courts, public schools and colleges, will not be affected by the changes, which are expected to save the state $3 million, said Lisa Roskelley, the governor’s spokeswoman.

While Utah is the first to make four-day workweeks mandatory, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) announced two weeks ago that her office was considering work-schedule alternatives to help commuters save fuel. And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) has ordered each state agency to adopt a policy for telecommuting and alternate work schedules by Sept. 1.

High gasoline prices led Kentucky and South Carolina to offer compressed workweeks to a handful of its state employees this summer. A smattering of other states - Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Vermont among them - are considering expanding existing programs to more state agencies.

Some state universities and community colleges are moving to four-day work weeks for the summer, and the trend has emerged in numerous city, county and other local governments.

Supporters say four-day workweeks help commuter-clogged roads, give people access to government services for longer hours, reduce emissions and conserve energy at state facilities - a residual benefit that saves taxpayers money. Keeping workers home once a week is particularly appealling in rural states where mass transit is limited or non-existent.

Critics of the compressed workweek charge it’s an inconvenience for the customers government is required to serve. Others argue the extended workdays burden those who require daycare for children or have special commuting arrangements.