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Jenya Cassidy's picture

Have you looked at “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timonty Ferriss?  This book is meant for current and would-be entrepreneurs looking to “Escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich.”

At first glance, Ferriss’ ideas on generating passive streams of income, mini retirements and remote work from exotic locations might not seem at all relevant to, say, an hourly worker at Vons supermarket.  Or to a not-so-new-rich working mother of three like myself.  But, since part of my job is talking to unions about bargaining for flex time, I think about how regular workers can take more control of their work environment.  So in spite of the glitzy title, I was struck by one of the book’s central themes:  Don’t wait for retirement to take control of your work hours and love what you do.

The popularity of this book and its offspring websites and blogs has got me thinking that increased flex time is probably the wave of the working future.  And this has me thinking that unions need to take a second look at the issue.

At the Labor Project for Working Families, we have the opportunity to talk to unions about how flex time can help workers balance their home and working lives.  But we also hear the stories of ‘flex gone wrong:’

  • Management at a Virginia Walmart recently announced that from now on, employees need to ‘stay flexible’ and clear their calendars because the new schedules would be different for each person each week.
  • A woman working for a telecommunications company who was thrilled to learn that she and her entire unit were being asked to work from home.  (Yay!  No more commute!) But when that experiment worked, management’s next move was to push these jobs even further off site – all the way to India.

Too often, flexible work arrangements are designed to help the employer more than the employed.  But unions can make a difference by negotiating for flexible time that benefits workers and employers.  I have heard from grocery store clerks and bus drivers that even being able to change their schedule by one hour would make all the difference in being able to drop kids off or pick them up from school or summer camp.  And, for those of us with family responsibilities, this is even more important than working from Bali.

In fact, I just got back home from dropping my kids off on the first day of high school and kindergarten.  I flexed my time this week to be able to drop them off and pick them up on the first day of school.  Since kindergarten gets out on the early side, I also flexed my time in order to pick my twins up from school two days a week.

Not for the first time, I realize that I am lucky to have this option.  I have friends that make about 5 times my income who don’t get as much time with their kids.  And, while I’m not writing this from Hawaii or France, when it comes to attending school functions and taking maternity leave, I wouldn’t trade my situation in for anything.

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