In a Tuesday afternoon vote—right after lunch—Idaho Republican lawmakers opted to not offer the public the opportunity to weigh in on proposed legislation on breaks in the workplace.
The so-called “sandwich bill” would have allowed half-hour lunch breaks to Gem State workers during shifts of at least seven-and-a-half hours. The bill’s sponsor, Boise Democratic Rep. Phylis King, touted the benefits in personal health and productivity for workers who are allowed breaks during a presentation to the committee.
“I think this bill is good for workers, it’s good for employers, and it’s the right thing to do,” King said in her presentation.
According to King, 21 states already have meal break requirements for wageworkers. Seven states have requirements for additional rest breaks.
King said studies have shown a marked increase in the productivity of hourly workers who are allowed breaks during long shifts. She also shared stories from state workers who say they have suffered health problems as a result of being denied time away from their desks. Among those were pharmacists and prison guards, said King, who work long days, but are not allowed to leave their posts for any length of time. King said this could be one factor contributing to the State Department of Correction's 11 percent rate of employee turnover.
“One in 10 employees at the Department of Correction leaves the job,” she said, speculating that if that rate were lowered, it would reduce costs incurred by the state to train new employees.
Committee members expressed concerns, however, about how the bill was written, especially how it addressed enforceability and about whether an employee or his or her employer would hold the burden of proof in a dispute. Several also wondered about the necessity of such a law, saying that in some fields, a half-hour break in the day is simply not practical.
“I’m a state employee and I eat well, but I don’t get a break,” said Meridian Republican Rep. James Holtzclaw. “I don’t take breaks because the work is there and it needs to be done.”
In a committee vote, the bill was returned to King with only two votes in favor of its advancement.
“I kind of expected it, but I thought I’d get a couple of people,” said King. “I think it’s dead for this year. It’s too bad. If someone comes to me and tells me how I can change it to make it pass, I’ll do it. But I didn’t see any indications of what I could do to change it.”
The two affirmative votes came from King and her Democratic colleague, Boise Rep. Holli High Woodings.
“To me, what this legislation does is it protects those low-wage workers in small towns who are unable to vote with their feet and find a new employer if necessary,” said Woodings.
“It’s a fairness issue,” she said, “and I do think that they didn’t get that.”