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Workers would prefer long days, short weeksHere's...


Workers would prefer long days, short weeks

Here's a math puzzle: Sometimes 40 is better than 40.

Although a new Gallup Organization survey says most workers would rather put in four 10-hour days a week, employers prefer five eight-hour shifts, even though both provide 40 work hours a week.

Lori Whaley, controller of Hunt Valley-based McEnroe Business Systems, would gladly trade longer working days for three-day weekends. But the small company, which sells and services office equipment, can't afford to let any post go unfilled during the work week, she says.

Someday, she says, when companies like hers train all employees for more than one job, hours may become more flexible.

But right now, she believes, the only workers with flexible hours are people in the accounts payable offices of her clients.

"When we're calling to collect, it seems like the accounts payable people" are out for the day, she says.

The survey, performed for Accountants On Call, a New Jersey-based temporary agency, found that two-thirds of working Americans would prefer working four 10-hour days to the traditional five-day work week.

Not surprisingly, thirtysomethings -- who are most likely to have children at home -- liked the idea best.

Foreign-owned firms pay workers better

Businesses that have some foreign ownership pay their workers better than U.S. companies, a federal study has found.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 79,000 Marylanders who work for foreign-owned companies earn about 10 percent more than average Maryland workers.

That difference is small compared to the national average, though.

Across the country, foreign-owned companies (defined as enterprises with at least 10 percent of their equity in foreign hands) paid workers an average of $2,543 a month in 1990 -- nearly a quarter more than the average salary in American business.

There's one flaw in the data, though, says Alan Paisner, the BLS economist who prepared the local study. He wasn't able to measure the impact of company size.

It's long been established that bigger companies pay better than small ones do. And Mr. Paisner says foreigners are more likely to invest in bigger companies.

But the pay premium associated with foreign ownership is so big that Mr. Paisner doesn't believe size can account for all of it.

Maryland had a lower-than-average ratio of workers at foreign-owned businesses -- 4.6 percent of all nongovernmental workers, compared with 5.2 percent for the nation as a whole.

But in Baltimore City, nearly 21,000 workers have jobs with foreign-owned firms, representing 5.7 percent of the city's nongovernmental employment.

To wait, or not to wait, on tax breaks

Three tax breaks for workers and employers lapsed last July 1. But with the tax filing deadline approaching, some Marylanders don't know whether to pay their higher tax bill or to count on Congress saving them with a last-minute resurrection of the breaks.

Albert J. Bartlinski, who runs an accounting firm in Glen Burnie, says his self-employed customers, especially, are caught in a bind.

If they file now or in the next few weeks, they won't get to deduct as much of their health insurance payments as they did last year. As a result, they'll probably have to pay more taxes this year.

People whose employers paid for legal assistance or nonwork-related classes after their tax breaks lapsed are caught in the same squeeze, he said.

But Congress is considering a bill that might revive the lapsed tax breaks retroactively.

If the deductions are reinstated, people who've filed early will have to send in amended forms to get a refund. And the cost of having those prepared could eat up the refund, Mr. Bartlinski says.

If Congress doesn't bring back the deductions, people who've waited will have to pay their full bill -- and interest and penalties, if they underestimated their IRS debt by more than 10 percent.

Mr. Bartlinski says he's not sure what the best strategy is, but he leans toward "being conservative" -- so that even those betting on Congress won't have to pay too much if they bet wrong.

The Internal Revenue Service recommends making no bets on (( Congress. Spokesman Sam Serio says people should file now and apply for a refund if Congress revives the tax breaks.

Job training offered to hospital workers

Essex Community College and the Maryland Hospital Association have received a grant to offer literacy classes, high school diploma courses and job training to hospital workers in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

The $483,000 federal grant will allow the college to provide classes for the next 18 months to as many as 700 dietary, clerical, laundry, maintenance and security workers from seven area hospitals.

Catherine Crowley, vice president of the association, says the workers in those categories are the ones most likely to get fired.

The hospitals hope to reduce employee turnover by improving the workers' education and by giving them skills needed to advance their careers.

The classes, which will start in May or June, will be offered at each hospital and will be voluntary. Workers will be paid their hourly wage for half of each two-hour class.

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