It will be up to Twin Falls Republican Rep. Stephen Hartgen, chairman of the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, and his GOP colleagues whether to hear from the public on proposed legislation that would afford Idaho workers a break during their workday, but proponents say the time to consider the measure has come.
"I was amazed at how many people wrote to me when they got wind of this," said Boise Democratic Rep. Phyllis King, sponsor of the bill. "And the calls. ... I received so many poignant calls. That's when we knew something was up."
King said she heard from a good many state employees.
"The ones who had the worst complaints said, 'Please don't share this with anybody. I'm afraid of losing my job,'" said King. "It's because they need the insurance. Those workers stay with a lousy job and with a lousy boss. And it's almost always because they need the health insurance."
The proposal, dubbed "the sandwich bill," would require an employer to offer a 30-minute unpaid break to any employee working seven and a half hours or more. But there would be exemptions, including any employer who employs two or fewer employees at one location at any one time. Corrections officers and anyone covered by a collective bargaining agreement would also be exempt.
"This bill does nothing to benefit union workers," said labor attorney Marty Durand. "Some people have very strong anti-union sentiments here; some people are very strong pro-union. The big chunk is in the middle."
Durand adds that the benefits outweigh any perceived inconveniences.
"Fatigue leads to workplace injuries. Plus, you're seeing more Idahoans in low-wage, high-pressure jobs. And that's where you see more people pressured to be more productive to make quotas. The more pressure placed on workers, the easier it is to exploit them," said Durand. "If you want a productive work force, you have to treat them like human beings."
You can read about the measure in the current edition of Boise Weekly.