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County should consider standard 40-hour work week

“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will.” That was the slogan of labor organizers in the 1880s pushing for an eight hour workday, which eventually resulted in the 40hour work week becoming standard.

County government seemed to have missed that memo, or perhaps just went too far in interpreting it and for many years the standard work week for county employees was 35 hours.

As with many things, this worked, until it didn’t. There are always those, such as in the highway crew or law enforcement, where the standard eight hour day just doesn’t work.

Over the years, the list of exceptions to the 35-hour week has grown. For some, the switch from 35 to 40 hours was a way to give back-door pay raises during times when county boards would huff and puff about fiscal responsibility and keeping operational costs contained. For others, it was a reflection that they just needed more time in their week to get things accomplished. This second reason is especially true as the county leadership continues to look at places to strip positions. Departments are called on to do more with less people.

At the same time, the county, like other employers, is facing a recruitment challenge. Where once there would be dozens of applicants for a county position, now there may only be a handful and sometimes even fewer than that.

In this environment, it is necessary to maximize the potential of every employee. Giving up 12% of the work week based on decisions made when labor was more plentiful and public expectations from government were lower just doesn’t work any longer.

It is time for Taylor County to stop the piecemeal approach at switching job positions and instead create a plan to fully transition all hourly employees to the 40hour work week that is standard for private employers across the country.

As was noted at a recent county executive committee meeting, there are current employees who may be happy with their 35-hour week and who may not want to switch to 40 hours. Having a transition plan in place would authorize department heads to have those hours available, if needed, as people leave their current jobs.

With the ever-increasing cost of benefits, the county has an incentive to maximize the labor output of the workers they have rather than bringing additional staff on-board.

It is time for the county to review the hours needed for each department and to begin the process of transitioning all hourly employees to a standard 40-hour work week. Establishing a plan of action now will allow the county to more appropriately budget the necessary funds in next year’s budget rather than waiting until budgets are already set and trying to find the funding needed.