Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fordy Hours

by the Sandwichman

There seems to be a bit of a buzz around Utah's 4-day, forty-hour workweek. Last Friday, Scientific American posted an article, "Should Thursday Be the New Friday? The Environmental and Economic Pluses of the 4-Day Workweek,". Then on Monday, the New Republic's environment and energy blog, The Vine picked up on "The Case For A Four-Day Workweek," channeling the Scientific American piece. Tuesday it was Derek Thompson's Atlantic magazine business blog echoing TNR echoing SA in "In Praise of the Four-Day Workweek." Today the "A Four Day Work Week" meme surfaced at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.

What's wrong with this picture? For starters, the four-day, 32-hour week was the big story back in 1957. That's more than a half century ago. Chevrolets had big tail fins, then. Remember? There's nothing sacred about 40 hours. But there appears to be an apprehension that there is something sacred about that number. Hey, that's the length of the workweek that Henry Ford introduced in 1926, one year before he introduced the Model "A" Ford. "The five day week is not the ultimate, and neither is the eight hour day," wrote Samuel Crowther in 1926. The forty hour workweek is, at best, a "Model 'A'" workweek.

Will you ever work a four-day week?
Do you really want a four-day week
By Sid Ross and Ed Kiester
Parade Magazine, September 1957

Will you ever work a four-day week?

Vice President Nixon thinks you will. During last fall's Presidential campaign, he predicted an industry-wide four-day schedule “In the not too distant future.”

Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, thinks you should. Next year, he has announced, he will ask auto manufacturers to place workers on a shorter workweek without reducing their pay. Battle lines already are being drawn.

But do you really want a four-day week? Is it really “inevitable,” as the UAW likes to suggest, in view of automation and increased production? Or is it more likely to disrupt all of America — its jobs, its homes, its schools, its likes and dislikes?

One of the “hottest” controversies in the U.S. today is wrapped up in the answers to these questions. To find them, PARADE talked to industrialists, labor leaders, Government spokesmen, economists, sociologists, psychologists, educators, clergymen— all of whom have a stake in a four-day week. Briefly, here are highlights from what they had to say:

Some Differences of Opinion

• Most Americans don’t want a four-day week, even at the same pay, according to the Trendex News Poll and the American Institute of Public Opinion.
• Increased productivity will make the four-day week a strong possibility by 1970, a Department of Labor expert says, if workers prefer it to extra income.
• A four-day week might be short-sighted. We Americans, some economists and industry groups claim, could double our standard of living in 25 years by staying on a five-day week.
• If a change comes, it will be gradual, beginning in assembly-line industries and working down to service jobs like police, hospitals, stores.
• Many workers probably would take a second job in preference to a third day off.
• Some businesses probably would have to adjust, but others would boom: sports equipment, vacation resorts, garden supplies, gasoline, autos.
• Prices probably would increase further; crime rates might rise. Family breakups might be more widespread. But, conversely, some families probably would be drawn wore tightly together.
• The whole question may be decided not by workers but by their wives. Do you think,’ one psychiatrist asked PARADE, “that American women can stand to have their husbands underfoot three days in a row?”

And women, according to the American Institute of Public Opinion (the Gallup Poll), are more opposed to the shortened workweek than men. Gallup’s figures show that 67 per cent oppose the idea (after all, their workweek wouldn’t be reduced) while only 54 per cent of men do.

Trendex, surveying union members, learned that 47 per cent favored a five-day week. Nearly 30 per cent wanted a four-day week now, and 14 per cent suggested keeping the five-day schedule a little longer, but voted for a four-day week eventually.

Most workers told Trendex they need more income, not more free time. When the poll suggested a choice between a four-day week at present pay levels or a five-day week with increased pay, most workers voted for the pay raise. Businessmen point also to Akron’s rubber workers, who work a six-hour-day, six-day week.

They are openly opposed to returning to a five-day schedule. Reason: More than a third of them use their free time to hold down a second job.

Some industrialists— and some labor leaders —think the Reuther campaign is aimed not at more time but at more money. (Ford’s top negotiator, John Bugas, has called the plan “a smokescreen,”) The UAW, these sources say, wants to work the same number of hours but wants overtime pay to start earlier. In any case, they contend, the auto industry is unlikely to grant a four-day week next year.

“We could work a one-day week right now,” says a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, if we wanted to give up a lot of things. But of course no one does. Adds Dr. Solomon Fabricant, a New York University economist: “I doubt that a four-day week is likely in the near future without a reduction in pay — and people won’t pay the price.”

But by 1970 things may be different. Increasing productivity will make four days at slightly higher pay a strong possibility, according to Charles D. Stewart. deputy assistant secretary for standards and statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Even then, would you want to work four days—or shoot for more money by working five?

Three Months Off at a Time?

The answer: No one is certain. Some union officials think you might prefer to stay on a five-day week and take the extra time off in long week ends or three months off every five years. When Trendex asked one machinist how be felt about a four-day week, he replied, “With a four-day week, I’d have another day at home with nothing to do.”

What would you do with an extra day off? Many businessmen predict a further boom in leisure-time industries. More families would tackle the mushrooming outdoor sports, like boating, skiing, skin-diving.

Husbands would attempt new and more involved do-it-yourself projects. Movies would draw more customers, more television sets would be sold, sports events would play to bigger houses.

The nation would need more highways because more people would use their spare time to travel. More cars and more gasoline would be sold; vacation resorts would be overrun. (But one businessman points out, logically, that more leisure requires more spending money. Could you afford a four-day week?)

A switch to four days’ work would give you more time with your family, but this is a two-edged sword, PARADE was told repeatedly. One psychiatrist predicted a four-day week would mean more broken homes. “There are a lot of marginal families based on keeping out of each other’s way,” he told PARADE. “Husband and wife are thrown together just two days a week; they can stand that. But the extra day might be enough to push them over the brink.”

For other families, another psychiatrist says, three days together could be a great boon “It could be the answer to the problem of father-son relationship we see so much of now,” he says. The Rev. Dr. Ralph W. Stockman, of National Radio Pulpit, adds: “The American family could well be drawn more closely together, and stronger moral fiber might be the result. But with three days of leisure, Americans might face many, many more temptations.”

Dr. Stockman does not subscribe to the idea that work is virtuous and play sinful. It’s simply that, mathematically, there’s more time to be tempted. Unfortunately, psychiatrists told PARADE, many people do regard work as “good,” and play as “bad.”

These are victims of what psychiatry calls ‘the Sunday neurosis.” At work, they feel satisfied, convinced they really are worth something; at rest, they are gnawed by feelings of guilt.

One psychiatrist who has specialized in the psychological overtones of leisure believes Americans can’t cope with three days off unless they have definite interests and hobbies with specific goals. For them to get the most from it, their spare hours will have to be planned — by themselves or others.

Dr. Eli Ginsberg, a Columbia University economist, once studied a group of movie projectionists who worked a four-day schedule. He found the same leisure-time pattern as for a two-day week end— only more of it.

“Time definitely did not hang heavy on their hands,” Dr. Ginsberg says.

“These men occupied themselves helping their wives, or with do-it-yourself projects, or watching ball games.”

But one psychiatrist predicts further scrambling of the jobs of husband and wife: “If the husband is home three days a week and spends his time washing dishes or cleaning the living room, how can a child tell who’s mother and who’s father?”

One of the biggest dislocations might be in the schools. Recently Dr. William E. Stirton, vice president of the University of Michigan, urged educators to plan now for an avalanche of students as workweeks shorten, Other educators also anticipate a boom in adult education — either by workers looking for “something to do” or by those trying to reach executive ranks (where, one hard-pressed executive told PARADE acidly, “they can then work 60 or 70 hours a week”).

Will the schools follow the pattern and cut back to four days? Many educators don’t see how the number of school days could be reduced without children being short changed. Dr. Earl J. McGrath, former U.S. commissioner of education, points out that many elementary schools already are experimenting with even longer school terms.

From parents, however, Dr. McGrath anticipates pressure to bring schools into line with the workweek. Absenteeism may increase as parents utilize three-day week ends for family trips.

“At the moment,” Dr. McGrath says, “most educators would oppose shortening the school week. It’s not the same as speeding up an assembly line.”

To many experts, this is the big stumbling block to a four-day week. As Reuther begins dickering with the Big Three of the auto industry, you’ll hear more and more of the UAW arguments: that a four-day week would spread jobs, that automation is displacing workers, that continually increasing productivity means workers are making more goods in less time, and this savings in time should go to the workers.

Today, however, nearly 50 per cent of Americans are providing services, not manufacturing products. Automatic assembly lines don’t include them. Yet if factories should cutback to a four-day week, inevitably a cry would go up for a four-day week in these fields, too.

One economist told PARADE a cut in hours would mean another rise in prices — and again the service workers would be the victims. Dr. William Haber, a University of Michigan economist, suggests that the most practical course would be to continue a five-day week. American living standards would increase and the nation could mop up some of its shortages — in highways and schools, for instance.

The Labor Department’s Stewart thinks industry might drop back to a four-and-a-half-day week, then to four days, just as the six-day week went to five and a half, then five. Other experts agree that the progress of the shorter workweek — if and when it comes —will be uneven, touching an industry here and there and leaving others on five days and some even on six.

Reuther’s demands have dramatized the issue. But no expert interviewed by PARADE believed a switch to four days of eight hours each is practical now, or even five years from now.

Both the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have assigned study committees to the subject, knowing that it will crop up frequently in the future. (Other unions already have taken their cue from the UAW and made similar demands.) They want to know, among other things, whether Americans really want to work only four days.

“Maybe what we’ll see is people trying to hold down two jobs,” says one industry spokesman. “Instead of a five-day week, they’ll choose a seven-day week.” Like many business figures, he feels that the abbreviated week will be theoretically possible someday — maybe in 20 years, maybe in 30 years, maybe more. Whether it will ever come true in fact is another question.

Will you ever work a four-day week? You can tomorrow, if you want to. But do you really want to? These, as the experts see them, are the terms.


Jazzbumpa said...

Increased productivity will make the four-day week a strong possibility by 1970, a Department of Labor expert says, if workers prefer it to extra income.

My favorite comment from the PARADE article. Truth is, all of the economic benefit of the improved productivity went to already-rich.

Instead of a choice between working less and making more, American workers have had to work more to keep from falling behind. Decades of double income families shielded this decline from public view.

Anonymous said...

We'll still get our chance ... the law of gravity can't be anulled by an act of Congress ... Have a martini and wait for the fireworks - hehehe!