It’s the Labor Day weekend, and no doubt all of downtown Buffalo will soon be full of marching workers like it was in 1901, celebrating the role of organized labor in building the City of Light.
But Labor Day only comes once a year (while actually, it comes twice; it was originally on May 1st). What if every weekend was a long weekend? For one thing, it would save a lot of energy and significantly reduce our carbon footprints. A 2006 study found that if Americans simply worked fewer hours, say the European average, it would reduce energy consumption as much as 20 percent. Another 2009 study found that going to a 3 day weekend for everyone would make an even bigger difference. Alex Williams of the University of London writes in The Conversation:
With a four-day week, huge amounts of commuting to and from work could be avoided, as well as the energy outputs from running workplaces. At a point when we need to massively cut back our carbon outputs, instituting a three-day weekend could be the simplest and most elegant way to make our economy more environmentally friendly.
Williams notes that this was actually tried in the State of Utah in 2007, which extended hours of work from Monday to Friday and went to a four day week. It directly saved the state $1.8 million in energy for lighting and air conditioning, and the reduction in greenhouse gases saved by less driving by employees was estimated to by about 12,000 tons per year. They gave it up in 2011 because of citizen complaints about unavailability of services on Fridays, but if everyone did it, that would not be as much of an issue. And Williams finds other benefits:
Working less would improve the elusive “work/life balance”, and help to restore our mental health and physical well-being. It would also give us more time to spend on social activities, to care for children and the elderly, and to engage with our communities. Experiments with reduced working hours at select workplaces in Sweden in 2015 reduced sickness and even increased productivity.
Of course if Martin Ford, author of The Rise of the Robots is correct, there won’t be many 5 day a week jobs to go around. Even service industry jobs like flipping burgers are at risk. And as I noted in MNN, nobody is bringing jobs back from Mexico or China; they don’t exist anymore, the robots have taken them.
Back in the days when the labor unions could fill the streets of Buffalo, it took a lot of people to make stuff. Even in 1979 when General Motors was at its peak, Martin Ford writes that it had 840,000 employees to ear $11 billion. In 2012, Google earned $14 billion with 38,000 employees and GM is down to 77,000 employees in the USA. There really aren’t enough full-time well-paying jobs to go around anymore.
So maybe it really is time to make every weekend a three day weekend, to spread those jobs among more people, and perhaps to cities with a lower cost of living than New York or San Francisco. Like Buffalo.