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State's move back to traditional work hours causes backlash among employees

For years thousands of state employees have taken advantage of flexible work schedules: finding ways to get their daily job done outside the regular 9 to 5.

Now that's 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.

Getting anything done in some government offices on a Friday afternoon can be difficult. Lines are longer, and waiting on hold is almost inevitable. Walking around state offices in downtown Columbus, Ohio's Administrative Services Director Hugh Quill noticed more empty desks at certain times, particularly late afternoons and Fridays. So, he called a meeting with union stewards...on a Friday afternoon.

"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 by former governor George Voinovich 15 years ago, and thousands have taken advantage of the system. But soon telecommuting from home and compressed work weeks will pretty much be a thing of the past. It's all part of a plan, Quill says, for the state to maximize efficiency.

"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."

Statistics from the Department of Labor show about one-quarter of state employees across the country are on alternative work schedules. That number rises slightly for workers in private companies.

It's not clear how many of the state's 64 thousand employees will be impacted by the change. Peter Wray is a spokesman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. He says the move back to traditional schedules is a step back for a state government that bills itself as progressive.

"Some of these things, like telecommuting, were in part efforts to hang onto IT professionals," Wray says. "The state is often losing qualified to the private sector, where telecommuting and flexible work hours are pretty much a given."

Wray says the majority of those affected are behind the scenes employees.

That includes Ray Bauman. He's an environmental inspector with the Department of Commerce. For years he's worked four nine-hour days to do inspections, and four hours on Fridays for paperwork. He says it's the most efficient way for him to do his job.

Going back to five eight-hour days, he says, will likely leave him stressed for time on inspection days, and looking for things to do on Fridays.

He also oversees several other inspectors who drive around the city, and has concerns about forcing them into already-congested rush hour traffic.

"All these people are timing themselves to get downtown at 8 o'clock during the peak rush-hour period, and they're all leaving at 5 o'clock, the other rush-hour period," Bauman says. "So you're just dropping these employees on top of that."

But DAS director Hugh Quill says some managers will still be able to grant adjusted work schedules in special circumstances. One example would be for medical reasons. But that won't help Bauman. He already applied for an exemption, and was told his previous schedule of 7 to 4:30 is not possible.