Let us make the three-day weekend permanent.
What do you remember about Labor Day? My bet is you remember not the Monday holiday but the Sunday, because the middle day of a three-day weekend is a day of luxury. It begins in the blessed minutes after waking, when you lie there in a cocoon of warmth; an indulgent few minutes that will begin to slip away with the movement of an arm or the opening of eye.
If you are with someone you love, it is luxury redefined up; guiltless indulgence, secured by the knowledge that work and stress are at bay. The chores have been executed on the previous day and — wonder of wonders — work will not cloud the horizon until Tuesday.
That mounting anxiety, which creeps into Sunday as the evening approaches, will not arrive until late Monday. You wonder, as you creep from your place of reverie to keep a flexible appointment with coffee and the bathroom, why every weekend cannot contain one day without care, one day, as the French say, sans souci.
When I worked for the BBC in London many years ago, we worked three days and took three days off. Longer work days but fewer of them.
Having worked every shift in the book, I was convinced that for journalists at least this was the perfect setup. My colleagues were more productive than any other set of workers I have labored with and happier. Many turned down jobs outside of the BBC just to keep the shifts they loved. Long, hard days followed by the triple crown of three days off.
This showed. Several wrote books, one finished a play and all kinds of gardens flourished, along with hobbies and sports. You can get on a golf course more cheaply and more easily on a Tuesday than you can on an over-stretched Saturday.
Years later, when I was president of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, during contract negotiations I suggested the idea of longer work days but fewer of them. The Washington Post management was ecstatic; many of their staffing problems, particularly on weekends, would be solved along with the complexity of compensatory time for well-paid employees who did not get overtime.
Win-win, you say? Not so fast. When I asked the permission of the Newspaper Guild International to put the proposal formally in negotiations, the worthies in the union hierarchy exploded. We had a model contract, blessed in the 1930s by the great journalist Heywood Broun (actually, a reluctant unionist like so many in the Guild) and we were not going to depart from that contract. Moreover, the model contract called for shortening work days, not lengthening them.
Unions may be the most liberal part of the political spectrum, but internally they are incredibly conservative and change-averse. Journalists were not to have the quality of their lives improved and The Washington Post was not to improve its staffing situation.
Well, I am back at work. And working people are talking about resetting America.
So I say, let us look afresh at the four-day work week. First let us resolve the problems of physical work, where a longer day is a bigger burden. But for the great majority of America’s workers (the paper-pushers, if you will), the virtues of a four-day work week might fit with the resetting of so many things in our lives.
Everything else is changing; newspapers are struggling, information technology dominates our lives and our transportation infrastructure is overloaded.
Fewer, longer work days would ease the stress on so many services and improve the ratio of commuting time to work time. Employers would get a happier workforce and the quality of life in the working world would be so improved.
Please join me in my campaign to abolish Monday. We can win. It has no core constituency. It is vulnerable.