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Big Changes for State Workers on Flextime

Friday, March 28, 2008 at 5:00 AM

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For years, thousands of state employees have taken advantage of flexible work arrangements: finding ways to get their daily job done outside the regular 9 to 5. That is now changing. Governor Ted Strickland has given agencies until May 2nd to implement a new personnel policy that limits flextime, compressed work weeks and telecommuting from home. Ideastream's Mhari Saito reports.

Getting anything done in some government offices on a Friday afternoon can feel like an exercise in futility. Lines are longer. Waiting on hold is inevitable. Walking around state offices in Columbus, Ohio’s Administrative Services Director Hugh Quill noticed more empty desks on Fridays. So, he called a meeting with union stewards on a recent Friday afternoon.

Hugh Quill: You know, it sounds like it was Machiavellian but it really wasn’t. I just had an opening at Friday at 2 o’clock. It was actually kind of funny though when a person stated that it was the first Friday he’d been at work in 13 years. I said, ‘Welcome back.’

Alternative work schedules were introduced when George Voinovich was governor, and thousands have taken advantage of them. Now, at the request of Governor Ted Strickland, Quill is overhauling the system. Telecommuting from home and working 40 hours in fewer days are pretty much out. It’s all part of a larger plan, Quill says, to make sure government workers - including cabinet heads like him - maximize their efficiency. Ohio is facing a budget crisis and right now every dollar counts.

Hugh Quill: Performance management has been a real focus here. Especially in a state that has so many challenges as the state of Ohio does, it really makes it all the more important to get all the bang for your buck that a taxpayer can get from their state services.

The US Department of Labor says about one-quarter of state employees across the country are on alternative work schedules. That number rises slightly for workers in private companies. As the economy tightens, some flexible work advocates worry Ohio’s new labor policies are an indicator of changes to come at other employers.

Ellen Galinsky: There will be people who will cut back, there’s no question. But those who cutback, do so at their peril.

Ellen Galinsky heads the nonprofit Work and Family Institute.

Ellen Galinsky: The solution is not to say that everyone has to be there from 8 to 5, but to say, how can we reinvent flexibility so that it works for the state, so that there aren’t gaps in coverage, and so that it works for employees? That’s what contemporary organizations are doing.

It’s not clear how many of the state’s 64 thousand employees will be impacted by the change. Union spokesman Peter Wray at the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association says he has gotten dozens of complaints from both workers and managers.

Peter Wray: When the public hears this about public employees griping about having to go to work 8 to 5, there’s understandably concern of whether or not public workers are asking for too much. But the reality is this does not involve those that they tend to see. These are pretty much the behind the scenes employees.

One of those people is Marcia Collins, a clerical worker and single mom. Up until two weeks ago, she worked from 7 to 3:30 so she could be home after school for her special needs child. Her new hours are from 8 to 4:30, and she’s asking friends to pick up her son from the school bus.

Marcia Collins: Oh, this is going to be hard because every day something could come up. I’m not guaranteed I’m going to be in office because I never know for sure if someone’s going to be there to get my son everyday.

Managers like Hugh Quill say flexible work hours are still available at the discretion of managers.

Hugh Quill: As long as the business case and the operational needs of the agency and the department are met they have total authority to make that call.

That didn’t help state worker Marcia Collins. She applied for an adjustable work schedule when she learned of the policy change, but was denied. She says she was told her office didn’t need anyone to come in before 8 am.

Mhari Saito, 90.3.

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