By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor
INDEPENDENCE TWP. — After going through a four-day work week pilot program since the beginning of June, Independence Township made the schedule permanent at its Nov. 21 regular meeting of the Township Board of Trustees by way of unanimous vote.
Township business hours had been 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and those will continue.
Township attorney Nancy Olind, of The Kelly Firm, gave a presentation at the latest trustees meeting of township data gathered from the township since the pilot started.
“We were looking at potential benefits that were going to include resident and contractor early access to services, extended access to service and attraction and retention of high-quality employees and engaged township employees,” said Olind. “We also said there are other communities that are engaging in a four-day work week and we provided these examples.
“The directors reported that they have seen no operational adverse impact and they continue to make decisions about how to run their shops the same way. That would apply to scheduling, folks requesting time off, overtime, stand-by assignments, and call back.”
Olind also discussed resident and customer interaction at the township before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
“The clerk’s office is seeing RFP (requests for proposals) responses coming in prior to 8 a.m. and are gathering them during the day and not seeing them after 5 p.m.,” Olind said. “Within the building department, they paid attention to the calls that were coming in between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and are now seeing about 6-7 calls coming in between that time and 4-5 calls after. They are seeing people use these extended hours, absolutely. Foot traffic is also something they paid attention to and they are seeing people coming in before 8 a.m. and between 5 and 5:30 p.m. In the treasurer’s office, 22% of the posting transaction are occurring between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., so we’re absolutely seeing an adoption of the use of that time and being able to be efficient with it. They are also seeing an increase in foot traffic month over month. We take that as a sign that it is being adopted and handled well.”
“We’re doing nearly a quarter of our work for the day in that first hour,” added Township Treasurer Paul Brown.
Olind also explained how voicemails coming in on Friday are being returned on Monday.
“What we have seen is people have gotten used to it and that has decreased,” saod Olind. “They used to have maybe about 20 calls they had to respond to, and now they are getting maybe 3-4.”
Operational expenses was another topic Olind discussed, saying that decreases have been seen in time-off requests, with no increases in overtime costs. There has also been an $1,800 decrease in costs for DTE services.
Olind brought up complaints and how people have adjusted to the new hours of operation.
“Overall, anecdotally, customer feedback has been very, very positive,” said Olind. “There have been some complaints and each one of those has been addressed, whether it’s been a resident through a phone call, email, or a sit-down face to face with those residents. We have also had employees that have raised concerns. In that instance, each of those individual employees have been met with. In one instance, the employee talked about the difficulty or dislike of the four-day work week, the township was willing to work with them and say, ‘Alright, where you’re at, it could be a five-day operation and we could change that.’ When the opportunity was provided to switch back to the five-day to make it better for that employee, they said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to switch. I just want you to know I don’t like it.’ The township has responded to those types of requests and tried to find solutions.
“We also had some concerns with the union and they were more towards clarifying parts of the LOU (letter of understanding) and how that practically got implemented. We had a special conference with the union and it came out to be worked out really, really well. What we did is we ended up developing two different LOUs that amended and clarified how PTO (paid time off) was used and how it could be requested so that folks didn’t feel like they were being shortchanged. Without giving any additional benefits or taking any away, we were able to come to that agreement.”
One of the initial confusions from residents when the four-day schedule began was that some were under the impression that four days meant less than 40 working hours from the township employees. Olind said that was never the case and required clarification from those residents voicing that concern. It was then understood that hours weren’t being cut but rather consolidated into four days rather than five.
Olind said another union concern was related to holidays and how the schedule would change based around observed holidays. That was all clarified and agreed to during the special conference. Olind added the schedule doesn’t apply to the fire department as those employees are on 24-hour shifts and the 40-hour union employees are already using the schedule.
“Morale in the township fluctuates, and I only see a snapshot of it, but I think the stability of (the four-day work week) is important,” said Township Trustee Sam Moraco. “We have to peck away at it and we have to stick with it because everyone’s lives are affected by those schedules. I know that happy employees work better. It’s hard to make a decision against it when the positives certainly outweigh the negatives, in my opinion.”
Township Supervisor Jose Aliaga chimed in, saying productivity across the township has “gone up.”
“A lot of things are getting done,” said Aliaga. “The directors report to me, and we have great directors, great people, great employees, and I enjoy working with them every day. I think this four-day work week, which, when I Google it, I see a lot of reports that say it reduces stress, and improves productivity, two things that are very important. Getting the job done, providing good services, and still working 40 hours, we still provide the same services and actually improve in services.”
PHOTO: Independence Township Hall. File photo: Matt Mackinder