May 21, 2024

Jasper County reverses decision on summer hours for secondary roads workers

Despite concerns, supervisors agree to let crews have four-day work schedule following appeal

Following the Jasper County Board of Supervisor’s decision to return summer hours of secondary roads maintenance employees to five, eight-hour work days from four, 10-hour work days, the Public Professional and Maintenance Local 2003 union on April 16 successfully petitioned against the action.

As a result, the board of supervisors voted 3-0 to change the summer hours back to what is colloquially referred to as “4/10s” despite some of the officials taking issue with the practice. Jason Knight, representing PPME, defended the use of 4/10s by secondary roads workers at the board meeting.

Knight said county engineer Michael Frietsch suggested in the past that going to 4/10s would save the county money; approximately $7,500 back in 2022, but he said with the costs of fuel going up it might be a little more than than that now. He also disputed Frietsch’s past comment that 50 percent of employees want 4/10s.

“We got signatures from just employees,” Knight said, later stating he received about 25 signatures from employees in favor of 4/10s. “We didn’t make it union/non-union thing. We’d like you to reconsider the 10-hour summer hours. I also got some statistics about that from companies of 300 and above that.”

In addition to working one day less than usual and offering employees more time to spend recreationally or with family, Knight argued it improves retention and recruitment. Knight said the new generation of workers are looking for hours like that; about 67 percent of Gen Z workers would rather work four days.

“Which is surprising,” Knight said.

Supervisor Brandon Talsma quipped, “I think a lot of that generation would like to have less than 40 hours a week.”

“Yes, yes! I agree!”

Knight added that a number of employees who did not sign said they did not feel strongly for or against 4/10s. Judd Keuning, a secondary roads employee who has advocated for 4/10s in the past, reinforced the idea that it helps recruitment, saying for some it is a good selling point during the interview process.

“I’m assuming all of you guys have extracurricular activities that you do after your work environment, whether it be with your kids, friends, different things. It just gives another extra time for people to spend with their kids on a camping trip or a three-day weekend versus … a whole week vacation,” Keuning said.

Union members of the secondary roads department also argued 4/10s are not adversely affecting productivity, and the work schedule is a morale booster for employees. Supervisor Doug Cupples reiterated past arguments that bad weather has a more negative impact on the 4/10 schedule.

“I’m torn inside,” Cupples said. “…I really want to know if it’s really feasible for us to get as much work done when we have a rainy day or we have five people off that decide to take a vacation that day. Because now it’s a three-day work week for them. All that stuff just adds up.”

Keuning said workers have other jobs and projects they can do on rainy days, like machine maintenance and ditch cleanup. He also argued it does not make any different when people are gone for vacations on a 4/10 work week rather than a 5/8 work week. Crews always pick up the slack when there are vacations.

Talsma said his viewpoints on 4/10 work weeks really hasn’t changed, noting there are pros and cons to them as well as 5/8 work weeks. He does not see it increasing productivity and he also agreed with Cupples that it does become problematic when there are rain days. Kuening pushed back a little bit.

“When you take all the coating off the top of the cake, it’s still rain days you’re missing days of maintenance on the roads. Whether it’s a 10-hour day or an eight-hour day. I guess I just don’t totally understand that situation myself,” Keuning said, again emphasizing the selling point of 4/10s for employees.

Talsma added, “I’m never been sold on it and I don’t think I ever will be. I mean, if I was an employee I’d want that four, 10-hour day, too. I’d be fighting for it tooth and nail as well.”

Union workers continued to advocate for the practice, saying the county doesn’t lose anything from having them and only gains from them. They pitched to the supervisors to tag-a-long on a project and see how much work they can get done in a 10-hour day versus an eight-hour day.

Supervisor Denny Stevenson has no problem with 4/10s and thinks they make sense, and he doesn’t think it is an unproductive work schedule.

“I haven’t seen anything that shows that it’s unproductive,” Stevenson said.

When pressed by supervisors over his own thoughts on 4/10s, Frietsch said he tries to keep an open mind. He has not seen a substantial increase in productivity or completed work with 4/10s, but he has not seen a substantial loss from going back to 5/8s either.

“You might gain an extra load of rock every day if the weather cooperates,” Frietsch said of 4/10s. “If the weather doesn’t cooperate, then we lose a day … I don’t see a substantial difference from what we’re getting done in the summer months versus what we’re getting done prior to that in spring and fall.”

Still, the board seemed willing to cooperate with the union workers on this matter. With Stevenson for it and Talsma against it, Cupples was left in the middle. He would then go on to make a motion to approve the union’s request for a four-day work week during the summer.

The motion passed in a 3-0 vote.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.