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KAI RYSSDAL: Surveys show American workers like creative labor arrangements, but as the economy slows, some employers are reconsidering. The state of Ohio recently changed the rules of the game for its 60,000 employees. As of next month, flextime's not going to be so flexible anymore.
From WCPN in Cleveland, Mhari Saito reports.
MHARI SAITO: Walking around state offices in Columbus, Ohio, Hugh Quill noticed more empty desks on Fridays. So, the director of the state's Department of Administrative Services called a meeting with union stewards on a Friday afternoon.
HUGH QUILL: It sounds like it was Machiavellian, but it really wasn't. I just had an opening at Friday at 2 pm, and it was actually kind of funny though when the person stated that it was the first Friday he'd been at work in 13 years, and I said, "Welcome back."
Thousands of Ohio state workers have used alternative work schedules for over 15 years. At the request of democratic Governor Ted Strickland, Quill is overhauling the system. Telecommuting from home and working 40 hours in fewer days are pretty much out. It's all part of a larger plan, Quill says, to make sure government workers, including cabinet heads like him, maximize their efficiency. Ohio is facing a budget crisis and every dollar counts right now.
QUILL: Performance management has been a real focus here. Especially in a state that has so many challenges as the state of Ohio does, you know 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.
According to the US Department of Labor, about one quarter of full-time employees in both the state and private sectors, nationally, are on flexible work schedules. As the economy tightens, some flexible work advocates say Ohio's plan to change flextime arrangements could be a canary in the coal mine.
ELLEN GALINSKY: And I would hope that they would let some air in for the canary.
Ellen Galinsky heads the nonprofit Families and Work Institute.
GALINSKY: That the solution is not to say that everyone has to be there from 8 am to 5 pm, but to say, how can we reinvent flexibility so that it works for the state, so that there aren't gaps in coverage and so that it works for employees?
Peter Wray is with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. He says the union has gotten dozens of complaints from both workers and managers, and he says the new rules are a step backwards. They unfairly penalize those workers who never interact with the public.
PETER WRAY: When the public hears this about public employees griping about having to go to work 8 am to 5 pm, there's understandably concern of whether or not, you know, public workers are asking for too much, but the reality is this does not involve those that they tend to see. These are, pretty much, behind the scenes employees.
Marcia Collins is one of those people. She works as a clerk. The single mom was working 7 am to 3:30 pm to be home after school for her child with special needs. Now her hours are 8 am to 4:30 pm and she is asking friends to pick up her son from the school bus.
MARCIA COLLINS: This is going to be hard because now I have to base every, I mean day something could come up. So, now I'm not guaranteed everyday I'm going to be in the office because I never know for sure if someone's going to be there to get my son everyday.
Managers like Hugh Quill say flexible work hours are still available at the discretion of department heads, but Marcia Collins was just denied, she says, because her office didn't need anyone to come in before 8 am.
In Cleveland, I'm Mhari Saito for Marketplace.