The Du Pont Co. learned something in this northeast Georgia town -- weekends are made for Michelob . . . and for church, family and farm.

The lesson came when production needs forced the Delaware-based chemical company to keep its textile fiber packaging plant here running seven days a week.

Plant officials at first asked regular hourly employes -- most of them from the Athens area and many farmers turned factory workers -- about working weekends. Most said no.

So Du Pont came up with an unusual alternative. For the weekends, it brought in a whole new work force, made up almost entirely of students from the University of Georgia, which is also here.

The double work force is flextime written large -- part of a trend throughout the U.S. economy, as companies seek to accommodate to shifting needs of workers and shifting attitudes toward work. Not everyone any longer wants to work a standard eight-hour day or five-day week, or work overtime. Companies are bending the work week out of its traditional shape.

Here, the workers' response to the idea of weekend work reflected in part a feeling that their jobs should not control their lives. But it also reflected a long, partly social and partly religious tradition in this region, where "Sunday work" is still frowned upon.

"A lot of people who live around here don't give a hill of beans about working in somebody's plant on Saturdays and Sundays," said Mary Beth Brutsman, a DuPont receptionist and born-again Christian. "Weekends are for God, family and some good fun.

"That's what most of us told Du Pont, and Du Pont listened," Brutsman said.

Some of Du Pont's northern facilities are unionized, but the company has no union here. Both managers and their largely conservative work force in the Athens plant seem to like it that way.

That is one of the reasons the company did not push its regular employes on the weekend issue, said plant personnel director Charles Henry.

"We saw no need to antagonize our people," Henry said. "I'm a supporter of unions where there's a need for them, but there isn't a need here. We try to do everything we can for our employes to avoid the need for a third party," he said.

So, still faced with the need to increase production, the company reluctantly turned to the University of Georgia -- this town's largest employer and, with some 22,000 students, its single largest supplier of labor.

That was four years ago. The split work force has won enthusiastic local support and has drawn much attention from companies operating in other college towns across the nation.

"I think we've really started something here," said Tom Lauderdale, director of the university's student employment department.

"There are a lot of places that might use students as 'help' in their operations. But there are none, to my knowledge, that actually use students to run the plant," he said.

Eighty-five percent of Du Pont's 500-member weekend crew consists of students. The rest of the weekend employes are housewives and single mothers, a few farmers, and townspeople in need of extra cash.

The weekend schedule begins midnight Friday and ends midnight Sunday, running three eight-hour shifts each day. Basically, the work involves beaming -- rewinding small packages of synthetic yarn produced at other Du Pont plants onto large spools, and shipping the rewound spools to textile firms that use them for weaving fabric and carpets.

Student workers get no employe benefits, such as medical insurance. But they are paid the same salaries as regular workers, from $4.37 an hour to $6.26 hourly, depending on job classification. Eighteen students have been promoted to weekend supervisors and get even higher pay.

For Lauderdale, it is a sweet victory.

"We had been trying to get some of our students at Du Pont long before its regular hourly people told the company that five days a week, 40 hours a week was enough," he said.

"But, like many people, they thought students would be unreliable. . . . They were also concerned that students would ignore safety regulations and mess up the company's good safety record," Lauderdale said.

"But," he added with a grin, "we fooled 'em."

Henry, the plant personnel director, agrees that the student-run shifts "have worked out much better than we expected." Generally the students' production is on par with that of the regular workers, he said. But student production "tends to fall off in the jobs that require more skill and dexterity," Henry said.

Students applying for jobs at Du Pont must commit themselves to at least one year of weekend work at the Athens plant. Often that means many of them, many of whom come from small southern towns, must miss holiday weekends at home.

That is anathema to some on the campus, like Jeffrey Lynn Boozer, a 23-year-old candidate for a masters in business administration.

"I could have used the money that Du Pont was offering, but I figured it just wasn't worth it," Boozer said. "I grew up in the South and our weekends were always sacred times when you didn't bother people. They still are sacred to me," he said.

Boozer has opted for a weekday, minimum-wage, part-time job, at $3.15 an hour, one of the other local businesses.

"We may not get the same money as the Du Pont workers, but we don't get burned out either," Boozer said.

The seven-day schedule -- five days of classes, two full days of work -- is rough on students. Du Pont's attrition rate for the weekenders -- 80 percent for the weekenders, compared to 17 percent for the regulars -- attests to that.

But there are many students who have been on the program for two years or more. Some are black students who, as put by one black student counselor at the university, "wouldn't be in school if it weren't for Du Pont helping them to pay their way."

Others are married students like Wallace and Donna Bell, both senior business majors at the university.

"Sometimes, Wally and I gripe about going to work on weekends when we should be out partying," Donna Bell said. "But the money is good, about $160-a-week for the both of us. And then, again," she said, laughing, "When you're married, you learn that you can do a lot of things during the week that you used to save for the weekends."