When Mayor Gavin Newsom last week leaked to the press a tentative plan to cut tens of thousands of city workers' weeks from 40 to 37.5 hours, many observers must have felt like Rocky standing alongside Bullwinkle the Magician. Again? But that trick never works!
Slashing work-weeks has a checkered record — though, to be fair, other American cities, counties, and even states have done just that in these troubled times (it's not all that different from furloughing). Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda notes that Oakland's city workers have long punched the clock after 37.5 hours. Yet the most famous instance of the government attempting to slash the work week in the face of a poor economy took place overseas, in France. A decade ago, the nation's Socialist government introduced a 35-hour work week (for everyone — not just the public sector). This was sold as a job-creating measure. And — quelle surprise — that didn't happen. But those who were lucky enough to have a job often complained that they now had less time to do more work.
Some of the city's top number-crunchers assured SF Weekly that the proposed work-week reduction won't put us down a similar path. Peg Stevenson, the director of the city's performance group, stresses that this is not a job-creation measure but a staving-off-mass-layoffs measure. There is a difference. But as for folks having less time to do more work — because there are going to be layoffs, too — we'll see about that.
“There has to be an understanding that there's going to be less work done,” said Zmuda. Again, we'll see how that works. In the meantime, here's some more fun facts about the joys of getting fired and rehired to a curtailed work week: