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The Boston Globe: “Work week cut to 4 days to save energy”

SHIRLEY

Who wouldn’t want a three-day weekend every week?

Many town employees will get just that this winter as Shirley, like a number of other communities across the Commonwealth, tries to find creative ways to save energy. Town offices will close on Fridays starting this month until the end of April to save money on heat and electricity, the Board of Selectmen decided.

“I guess I’m looking forward to it,” said Tax Collector Holly Haase. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a four-day week.”

Haase will continue to work 40 hours weekly, and will open her office from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Mondays to compensate – the first time the tax collector’s office will be open to the public in the evening.

Assistant Town Accountant Nicole Hunt also likes the idea of a four-day week, which she called “long overdue.” She plans to use the extra day for housework, but said other town employees have been talking about using the three-day weekend to get part-time jobs.

“Especially people who still have families because the cost is going up on everything and we didn’t get a raise,” Hunt said.

For the first time this year, the nonunionized town employees did not get their annual raise, she said.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously last month to shut down town offices on Fridays for six months this winter, expecting energy savings of between $5,000 and $18,000, said Selectman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio. Most full-time town employees – including those in the selectmen’s office, the assessors’ office, as well as town accountant and the office of the building inspector – will work 10 hours Monday through Thursday.

After six months, the town will do an evaluation to see if it saved money.

Shirley is not the first to take this route. Ashburnham, Winchendon, Brookfield, Leicester, and Sherborn are also closing their town halls on Fridays this winter, while Lancaster and Winchester are looking into the idea.

The four-day week has caught the attention of some lawmakers, including state Representative Denis Guyer, who recently sent a letter to Governor Deval Patrick urging him to mandate it for all nonessential state employees.

Guyer, who is from Dalton, which he says has been on a four-day schedule for 15 years, says the shortened week would save the state on utility bills, make government offices more accessible to the public, and reduce carbon emissions.

If the Registry of Motor Vehicles, for instance, stayed open in the evenings, he said, people would not have to take time off from work to renew their driver’s licenses.

Nationwide, Utah became the first state to mandate the four-day work week for state employees this August.

While the new energy bills have not yet been studied, Utah’s director of human resources, Jeff Herring, said employee absences decreased 6 percent during the period between Aug. 8, when the four-day week went into effect, and Sept. 19, compared with the same pay period last year.

But not everyone supports the short week.

John de Graaf, who directed a PBS documentary about being overworked in America, said the four-day week is a good idea only if it’s optional.

“Ten hours a day can be OK for some people, especially for single people who don’t have a lot of obligations, but I think 10 hours a day is a terrible idea for families, especially with small children,” he said.

Ten-hour workdays can extend to 12 hours with commutes and lead people to eat more fast food, exercise less, and feel more rushed, de Graaf said.

Furthermore, he said that there is a lot of evidence that productivity declines after eight hours and cited one study that found that any work done after nine hours needs to be redone.

Finally, he added that there is no evidence that people drive less on their days off.

“What surprises me is that people accept it so totally uncritically,” he said.

Still, several Massachusetts towns are getting on board.

The Winchendon Town Hall will be open only four days a week, for a total of 37 hours, from November to April, after all unionized employees but one voted in favor of the change.

“As far as the union is concerned, we’re not losing any hours, and this gives us an opportunity to get a second job on Friday if we need it,” said union president Ellen Decoteau. “Members of the union are very happy with the change.”

Town Manager James Kreidler also likes the initiative.

“If we can reduce the time Town Hall is open by 20 percent and realize close to 20 percent savings on our heating bill, it’s something we have an obligation to do,” he said.

Sherborn, Ashburnham, and Brookfield town employees have had Fridays off since the beginning of October – a schedule that will continue until spring – while the town of Leicester, which experimented with the four-day week during the summer, recently decided to extend it through the winter, said Town Administrator Robert Reed.

“Personally, I love it. I think there are a lot of advantages to a three-day weekend, even if it’s just getting things done around the house,” Reed said.

Meanwhile, the town of Winchester, which was on a four-day schedule for two months this summer, is evaluating a from residents, said Town Clerk Mary Ellen Lannon.

For town employees, she said, the four-day week was a “morale boost.”

If it hadn’t been for the new schedule, she said, she wouldn’t have been able to watch her children play tennis from the bleachers during the summer.

“That was really special for me personally,” she said.

Winchester will revisit the four-day workweek as the winter approaches, Lannon said.

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