Many Americans are looking for new ways to save money, due to the rising price of
gas. With nine out of ten Americans driving to their jobs ? about
three-quarters of them alone in the car ? and many more on the road for work,
one solution gaining popularity is the four-day workweek. Erika Celeste
examines how the policy is working in the southeastern city of Birmingham,
Birmingham, Alabama, city employees did not get their usual four percent cost of living raise this year. Instead, they got something that nearly everyone thinks is better: a four-day work week.
new policy began July 1, and Carolyn Turner, who's worked for the city for eight
years, says she can already see an improvement in her office. "Most
everybody I run into in the mornings when I'm coming in, they love it. They're
happy, energetic, enthused. We just see a difference in the employees'
admits the enthusiasm could be simply because the policy is new and exciting,
but, she insists, "everybody just seems so refreshed."
switch from the 9 to 5 routine
American businesses operate five days a week, 8 hours a day. But the idea of a
longer workday and a shorter workweek to save fuel and money is gaining
popularity with city and state governments across the country.
Wisconsin, road crews are putting in fewer days a week? 80 percent of Utah's
state employees will go on a four-day schedule in August? and lawmakers in
Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho and New Mexico are considering legislation to move
government workers to a four-day workweek.
However, unlike a similar plan in Avondale, Arizona, in which the City Hall is
now closed on Fridays, Birmingham's city offices will remain open all week.
Participation in the four-day plan is optional, and most departments, with the
exceptions of police and fire, have opted to stagger their schedules.
Vance, Mayor Larry Langford's chief of staff, explains, "We asked them to
look towards Mondays and Fridays to take off, but we have some situations where
people are taking off Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays." She stresses
that the mayor is not shutting down city business just to do this.
Carolyn Turner notes that having two more hours during her workday means she's
able to provide extended service before and after regular business hours.
"When I'm driving in, in the morning, the traffic is not as bad, so that's
a really good thing." The easier commute helps her save on gas.
when I come into work at 7, there's not a whole lot of people here and the
phones are not just constantly ringing."
Turner says that gives her more time to do paperwork.
she says working a little longer doesn't bother her when she knows she'll have
an extra day off. She's now off on Mondays, which gives her a chance to take
care of personal chores and relax around the house.
schedule benefits more than the commuters
While the abbreviated workweek helps city employees save on gas,
Deborah Vance says it has an even larger impact on the municipal government.
"A large part of our fuel savings comes from the public works
department," she explains, pointing out that more than a quarter of the
city's gasoline is used by its fleet of trucks and cars. "We will realize
by the end of the year a direct savings in fuel." That savings is
currently estimated at one million dollars.
Vance says there are also environmental savings. "In a place like
Birmingham where there is no mass transit, coming up with a solution to get
more cars off the road and less emissions, [is] better for the entire
says Mayor Langford, there are social benefits, especially for a city like
Birmingham, which is wrestling with high crime. "I now have mamas and
daddies back in their homes to spend time with their own children," he
says happily, explaining that he hopes that has an impact on crime as well as
saving money. "The more mamas and daddies I can have at home, acting like
mamas and daddies, I don't have to hire a cop."
trend in private sector
to a May survey from the Society of Human Resource Management, one quarter of
American businesses are also offering flexible schedules to help workers offset
the cost of fuel.
Larry Langford isn't surprised. He notes that the problem is not unique to Birmingham or the state of Alabama. "Throughout the world, we have abused what God has given us to the point that nature's now fighting back. We don't get the message that you can't keep taking, taking, taking, until you reach a point where the whole system, earth itself is going to rebel against us." He says there is still a chance to reverse the process, "but we've got to get real serious about it."