Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday called for a 32-hour workweek with no pay cuts for U.S. employees, pointing to the overwhelmingly positive results in nations that have recently experimented with or enacted shorter workweeks.
“Moving to a 32-hour workweek with no loss of pay is not a radical idea,” Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, wrote in an op-ed in The Guardian. “In fact, movement in that direction is already taking place in other developed countries. France, the seventh-largest economy in the world, has a 35-hour workweek and is considering reducing it to 32. The workweek in Norway and Denmark is about 37 hours.”
The senator also pointed to a recent four-day workweek pilot program in the United Kingdom, where more than 90% of participating companies said the trial was so successful that they have no plans to return to a five-day workweek.
“Not surprisingly, it showed that happy workers were more productive,” Sanders wrote. “Another pilot of nearly 1,000 workers at 33 companies in seven countries found that revenue increased by more than 37% in the companies that participated and 97% of workers were happy with the four-day workweek.”
Sanders also noted that “an explosion in technology” in recent decades, and associated increases in worker productivity, have not prompted any changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the 1938 law that established the 40-hour workweek.
Between 1979 and 2021, according to the Economic Policy Institute, worker productivity rose by nearly 65% while hourly pay rose just 17.3%.
“The result: millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, with the average worker making nearly $50 a week less than he or she did 50 years ago, after adjusting for inflation,” wrote Sanders, who has said he will introduce legislation Thursday that would raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour.
“It’s time to reduce the workweek to 32 hours with no loss in pay,” the senator continued. “It’s time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life. It’s time to make sure that working people benefit from rapidly increasing technology, not just large corporations that are already doing phenomenally well.”
Sanders is one of just a handful of U.S. lawmakers to endorse a 32-hour workweek. Earlier this year, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) reintroduced his Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act, legislation that would cut the standard U.S. workweek by amending the FLSA.
The bill currently has just two co-sponsors: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). The measure has also been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and other organizations.
“Workers across the nation are collectively reimagining their relationship to labor—and our laws need to follow suit,” Takano said in March. “We have before us the opportunity to make common sense changes to work standards passed down from a different era. The Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act would improve the quality of life of workers, meeting the demand for a more truncated workweek that allows room to live, play, and enjoy life more fully outside of work.”
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