Theory and practice


As the current lawsuit over a 40-hour state workweek demonstrates, the kind of Band-Aid budgeting practiced by Governor Schaefer and the General Assembly at the last session works far better in theory than it does in practice.

In theory, the state would require about half its 80,000 employees to work 4 1/2 extra hours a week as part of a plan to help keep Maryland afloat in the face of a shrinking state budget, without imposing substantial tax increases. In reality, however, the mandate requires that a group of people work what amounts to an extra 29 days, or five extra workweeks, a year -- without additional compensation. And a longer workweek may well mean reshuffling car pools and second jobs or locating, and paying more for, such essentials as extended child care or alternative transportation. The political and legal problems are compounded by the fact that the change creates a disproportionate burden for women, who are concentrated in the mostly lower pay grades that will be affected by the longer workweek.

State workers are right, in theory, to be up in arms at being forced to work longer hours. Yet, regardless of whether the courts ultimately decide that Governor Schaefer has overstepped his authority in ordering a longer workweek, the reality is that the state's budget is predicated, in part, on longer working hours -- and the alternative is layoffs.

With the economy moving along listlessly and showing few signs of imminent recovery, a legal decision reinstating the shorter workweek might be little more than a theoretical victory.

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