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Working Hours

Reading blogs keeps making me realize how ignorant I am (this is a good thing, although it does make me hope that nobody is relying on my writing for actual information or insights). Take for example this post by La Lubu at Feministe discussing the history of the 8-hour workday in the U.S. One of the ways she mentions that labor's victory in achieving the 8 hour day has been undermined in recent years is the institution of "4-10s", schedules in which you work four 10-hour days rather than 5 8-hour ones. At first I was confused as to why that would be a big issue as long as the workweek was still just 40 hours -- after all, I voluntarily worked 4-10s back when I had an internship whose workflow allowed it* (and I was upset when the boss decreed an end to it). Then she mentioned the issue of the "second shift" -- the fact that most working women still shoulder the majority of housekeeping work in addition to their paid employment -- and it clicked for me. Much of that second-shift work, such as child care and food preparation and cleanup, comes on a day-by-day basis and can't be shifted around within the week. So a person working second-shift loses more from the pinch caused by the extra two hours at their first-shift job on work days than they can gain from the extra day off. Relatedly, if your job is physically strenuous -- which the jobs of women and poor people disproportionately are -- a 4-10 is going to be worse than a 5-8, because physical endurance is parceled out in daily rather than weekly chunks.

Complicating all of this is the issue of commuting. One of the major benefits claimed for the 4-10 system is that a worker has to do only 4/5 of the commuting as on a 5-8, and the time and money thus saved may make the shorter week advantageous for some people who would otherwise not prefer it. Nevertheless, commuting may exacerbate the pinch on the second shift during work days, since the worker is away from home for the 10 work hours plus perhaps two more hours of commuting. And working longer or weirder hours can be a major burden on people with limited access to transportation -- people who are disproportionately disadvantaged in other ways, e.g. poor and/or female. I can drive my car just as easily at 6 pm or 8, but someone reliant on a crappy public transportation system or shared vehicles may have a rougher time of it. The direction this points us in is that labor issues can't be solved entirely within the shop, through things like working hours. They also require looking at questions traditionally classified under environment or energy (or perhaps more accurately, what I'd call "landscape policy" -- questions of the physical and social layout of the spaces we live in). We live in a world that has -- in many cases through conscious policy, not just the unplanned output of the free market -- been physically laid out for the convenience of a certain type of relatively privileged person.

All of this is, of course, meant in the spirit of raising issues rather than proclaiming generalizations. Jobs and outside lives are far more diverse than usually assumed in thinking about how to arrange a just work system, so it would be wrong to state categorically something like "4-10s are bad for women." The point is to remind myself not to make assumptions that other people's lives are arranged like mine.

*Technically I worked a 5-9 then a 4-9, so I had an extra day off every other week.


Blogger Alon Levy said...

Sometimes, 4-10 works better with public transportation than 5-8. High gas prices are pushing people in the US into transit, which is causing a lot of capacity problems nationwide. People who leave work at 7 instead of 5 may have to endure longer bus wait times, but they'll be able to find a seat instead of cram into a bus with barely enough standing room.

Obviously, this depends on which community you live in. East Harlem has one of the best levels of transit access in Manhattan, let alone the US. At the other end of the scale, there are Imperial Valley and San Bernardino, where transit is a joke.

3:36 AM  

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