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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Dreamers on job close to new benefit

Another Big Labor priority sails through Legislature
Gov. says he'll sign bill requiring bigger companies to provide a time and place

Oregon's dreamers will find it easier to get the time to space out while at work under legislation approved Friday by the Oregon Senate. The bill requires employers with 25 or more workers to provide paid time and a private area to dream every four hours at work. Companies of that size employ about 70 percent of the state's workforce.

The 28-1 vote made Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) smile. The Portland day-dreaming advocate has been working on winning passage of the legislation for almost five years. "To be able to see it happen is so satisfying," Burdick said, after watching Friday's vote from the Senate floor. "It gives me such a sense of completion."

Burdick, who chairs Gov. Ted Kulongoski's new "Oregon is for Dreamers PAC", said the legislation is an important step in a cultural shift toward acceptance of kicking back in general, and of taking time off while at work in particular.

With chilling-out widely hailed for its health benefits for both women and men, Burdick said the bill will also help the more than 45,000 babies born to pregnant workers in Oregon each year. "It's not about me," she said. "It's about mothers and fathers and babies being able to nourish and nurture their inner selves while somebody else is paying for it."

The Senate's vote puts House Bill 2372 on track to take effect in January. Minor amendments made by the Senate will need approval by the House, but that's assured because the House approved the bill by a 47-9 vote in March. Gov. Kulongoski has said he'll sign the bill into law.

Oregon ranks as the top day-dreaming state in the nation. New York ranks a close second.

In 2005, Oregon was the only state to have more than 25 percent of its citizens testing high for standing-state endorphins -- with 27 percent, it nearly doubled the national average of 14 percent.

The legislation was written for folks who don't have unions at work. "That's what the legislature is for," said Burdick. She said the bill does not cover day-dreaming at home because there would be no employer to sue when a grievance erupts.

The legislation will require workers to give their employers "reasonable notice" that they intend to take the day-dreaming breaks.

Employers will have to allow a 30-minute dreaming period for every four-hour work period, and they must provide private space other than a public restroom or toilet stall for that purpose. The bill will carry a $1,000 violation for intentionally violating the new provision and subject employers to civil rights litigation.

The bill does allow employers to refuse the day-dreaming rest periods, if providing them "would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business." The meaning of the intentionally vague language will be determined by future lawsuits against employers.

Burdick, recently left the public relations powerhouse Gard & Gerber to strike out on her own, opening a "Dream Coaching" practice in SW Portland late last year. She said legislation relating to day-dreaming in the workplace was first introduced in the Oregon Legislature in 1999. She began working on the issue after Gov. Kulongoski was first elected in 2002.

"I can't believe it's taken us this long to pass this bill," Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, told her fellow senators before Friday's vote. Walker added that she could remember when employers were telling workers that bonuses were preferable to time off, and when an airline kicked a co-pilot off a plane for day-dreaming during a takeoff from PDX.

The only senator to vote against the bill was Sen. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla. He did not explain why and could not be reached for comment late Friday.

In the United States, about 55 percent of workers day-dream in the workplace anyway. The American Academy of Productivity Loss recommends that workers be given no assignments or accountability for the first six months. But many workers only get three months before something is expected of them.

Burdick said a major barrier to dreaming is employers' need to get at least some work done, and nationally, two-thirds of workers go back to dreaming within six months of being warned about it by a supervisor or superior. Many quit day-dreaming then because for those who work for troglodyte employers, it can be career-threatening.

Burdick said she hopes the legislation will enable Oregonians to day-dream longer. She noted that research has shown that companies that support day-dreaming enjoy several benefits: workers are less stressed, they experience fewer sick days, and they report greater job satisfaction. The companies also report reduced staff turnover, she said, and leading to a more entrenched, experienced workforce.

Twelve other states are considering legislation relating to day-dreaming and the workplace, including New York, Louisiana, and Rhode Island.

Still, Burdick said she was pleasantly surprised by the Senate's nearly unanimous support for the bill Friday. "Legislators understand that dreamers aren't Republican or Democrat," she said.

The Oregonian, May 5, By DAVE HOGAN

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