Danny De Gracia: A 4 day work week should now be on the table

With energy costs are explodingit may be necessary for our state government to take drastic short-term measures to alleviate the economic consequences high fuel prices.

We live in bizarre and unprecedented times. Between the lingering fallout of the Covid pandemic, food disruption due to climate change or war, and seemingly unrelenting inflation, life in Hawaii has never been more challenging.

Making ends meet in Hawaii was difficult many years before our present day, but now it’s downright unbearable. Our policymakers are often unaware of the lengths of effort many locals go to just to survive between paychecks due to fuel prices, even in middle-class households, let alone the poor and vulnerable.

We already know that many people on the islands have decided to carpool to work and school to cope with gas prices, but few realize that some have to skip meals to save money, or just to get up an office potluck or family reunion hoping to have an excuse to bring home some food.

We hear nothing about how rising fuel prices have made it almost impossible for some to balance rent, insurance prices, medical bills, or how even the smallest unfortunate event can mess up someone’s entire budget and make one turn to others for money or help .

This isn’t drama; This is the Hawaii we live in now, where a precarious and delicate personal financial balance must be maintained at all times lest we lose our home, car, business, or everything in the blink of an eye.

For these same reasons, we must do everything in our power to offset or mitigate the effects of inflation on Hawaiians. One option that has been debated for years is the use of a four-day work week, which some believe is not just possible lower energy costs through fewer commutes or office occupancy, but can also have psychological benefits.

With a four-day week, offices would be open longer than usual and full-time employees would work four 10-hour days, but they would save money by commuting less and their buildings would be closed for a day, saving on the cost of electricity. The idea was experimented with even earlier, with the state of Hawaii having a limited pilot in 2008 with a four-day workweek.

This last legislature Simultaneous Senate Resolution 147 brought up many of the benefits and previous precedents of a four-day work week and called for the establishment of a task force/study group to explore the potential for further exploration of this concept.

Unfortunately, the Senate Labor, Culture and Arts Committee canned the resolution because the usual crab-in-a-bucket department and union credentials warned that the idea was too difficult and complicated, requiring collective bargaining to make it a reality.

Volunteers from the Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa Church load 250 bags of groceries into the trunks of needy parishioners during their pop-up food distribution event in Kalihi on Tuesday, October 12, 2021.  (Ronen Zilberman, Photo Civil Hitting)
Volunteers from the Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa Church load 250 bags of groceries into the trunks of needy parishioners during their pop-up food distribution in Kalihi last fall. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2021

But sometimes making a difference means doing things that we find difficult or unfamiliar, and we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the benefits of changing work schedules when they can save people money.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that we have been able to carry out certain functions of business and government from home. This also changed the way many workers viewed their career choices, leading some to expect more flexible work options.

Given the problem of inflation and rising energy prices, we should give serious thought to the potential benefits we could derive from temporarily introducing four-day workweeks, possibly even in combination with telecommuting when five days work is absolutely necessary.

This could initially be done on a voluntary basis, for example for the duration of the summer or until energy prices stabilise. Workers who have to travel longer distances to work could opt for four-day work weeks or remote work one day a week, which would save money. If that proves to be a viable concept, lawmakers could even introduce a series of bills in the next session that could provide four-day weeks or more remote work options for both government and private employees.

It seems odd that in an era of advanced communications and digital connectivity, we’re still clinging to 20th-century practices bound by outdated industrial-age constraints. Certain jobs require a physical presence in the office, but many other jobs in Hawaii do not, and reducing our energy bills and use of automobiles is a goal worth changing our policies and traditions.

in sri lanka, things have gotten so desperate with fuel and food problems, that her government instituted a temporary four-day work week to give workers an extra day off to attend to their personal needs. How long do we have to let things get worse in Hawaii before we start making concessions for our people?

We need to be more responsive to the needs and concerns of our local people. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say “tsk, tsk, good thing I drive an EV and have a good time, too bad for the rest of you.”

Hawaii is reaching a critical juncture where we all need compassion and proactive efforts to mitigate skyrocketing costs. It’s time to do things we’re not used to and make concessions for our workforce.

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