This morning, the Flexible Work Time Initiative submitted 4,604 signatures to the Berkeley City Clerk, well over the 2638 valid signatures needed to get the initiative on the November ballot.
This is an advisory initiative, asking the city of Berkeley and state of California to make it easier for employees to choose part-time work and other flexible working arrangements. It advises the city and state to pass laws similar to laws that have been successful for over a decade in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom and laws that have been passed recently in Vermont and San Francisco. For more information about these laws, see http://www.flexibleworktime.com/models.html.
Charles Siegel, initiative organizer and author of The Politics of Simple Living, said, “This sort of law is important to promote better work-family balance. But we also want to emphasize the environmental benefit of giving people the choice of downshifting economically. If people choose to work shorter hours and to consume less, then they will also pollute less.”
Our goal is to make this sort of law part of the mainstream political discussion. We believe that this sort of law will become common, once people start talking about it and see its many benefits, which include:
· Stronger Families: Our standard 40-hour week dates back to a time when families were expected to have stay-at-home mothers. Today, 63% of American families with children have no stay-at-home parent, and 90% of these families say that they have trouble balancing their work and family obligations.
· More Jobs: Employers would hire more people to make up for those who cut their work hours. The Dutch say that promoting part-time work caused what they call the "Dutch employment miracle": unemployment fell from 13% in the mid-1980s to 6.7% in 1996, the lowest level in Western Europe at the time.
· Cleaner Environment: People who choose shorter hours and simpler living will have less impact on the environment. If Americans worked as few hours as western Europeans, it would lower our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and the reduction would become larger with time.
“Many environmentalists say that we need to live more simply to deal with the ecological problems of the coming century,” Siegel said, “but people cannot live more simply as long as they do not even have the choice of working shorter hours, choosing to have more time instead of more stuff. At first, the environmental effect will be small, but over the coming century, this sort of law can make a major contribution to controlling global warming and to improving the quality of life.”