State explores switch to a 4-day workweek
High gas prices have prompted communities across the country and at least one state to experiment with four-day workweeks for public employees.
Hawaii is considering the concept.
Gov. Linda Lingle has said state agencies are examining the possibility of cutting a day from the regular five-day workweek for some government employees, but no switch is imminent.
"It's something we're looking at very seriously," Lingle said last week. "The bottom line for us is, Can we maintain the same level of public services by going to a four-day workweek? If we can't, then we likely would not make that switch."
Lingle said discussions have been ongoing among the Department of Human Resources Development; the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; union officials; and others.
The concept of a four-day workweek is being attempted in communities across the country as local governments search for ways to help residents deal with the ever-increasing cost of gasoline.
Expanding work shifts to 10 hours and eliminating work on Fridays is seen as a way to get cars off the road and save commuters a day of sitting in traffic. The move also is expected to reduce costs for government by cutting electric bills and costs for fueling state vehicle fleets.
Utah is believed to be the first government to enact the shift on a statewide level.
Beginning next month, that state will launch a yearlong experiment that will give about 17,000 out of 24,000 executive-branch employees a shorter workweek. The order issued by Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman will not cover state police officers, prison guards or employees of the courts or Utah's public universities.
State government is the largest employer in Hawaii.
Any change in the workweek for Hawaii employees would require approval by public employee unions.
"This would be something to do with their hours and their conditions of employment," said Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
With negotiations set to begin on a new contract for the 40,000-member union, Perreira said the union has submitted proposals to shift more workers to a shorter workweek.
He noted that some state offices have the flexibility to implement four-day weeks for employees, but whether the union would support a statewide shift depends on the proposal.
"The devil's always in the details," Perreira said. "It's something we'd have to take a look at."
Essential services, such as prisons and health care offices, would continue daily operations.
But Lingle also noted that cutting a day of some services might not have a dramatic impact, because many government services are available online.
"We want to make certain that we consider everybody's opinion, because it would be a dramatic change," she said.
More energy-saving and cost-cutting measures are likely to be explored in the Legislature next year. House Democrats say staff members are studying strategies such as staggered working hours and incentives for allowing workers to telecommute.