Bernie Sanders Proposes Reducing Americans’ Workweek to 32 Hours

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Senator Bernie Sanders this week unveiled legislation to reduce the standard workweek in the United States from 40 hours to 32, without a reduction in pay, saying Americans are working longer hours for less pay despite advances in technology and productivity.

The law, if passed, would pare down the workweek over a four-year period, lowering the threshold at which workers would be eligible to receive overtime pay. The 40-hour workweek has stood as the standard in the United States since it became enshrined in federal law in 1940.

In a hearing on Thursday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on the proposed law, Mr. Sanders, independent of Vermont, said profits from boosts in productivity over the decades had been reaped only by corporate leaders, and not shared with workers.

“The sad reality is that Americans now work more hours than the people of any other wealthy nation,” he said, citing statistics that workers in the U.S. on average work for hundreds of hours longer each week than their counterparts in Japan, Britain and Germany.

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, said at the hearing such a reduction would hurt employers, ship jobs overseas and cause dramatic spikes in consumer prices.

“It would threaten millions of small businesses operating on a razor-thin margin because they are unable to find enough workers,” Mr. Cassidy said.

Mr. Sanders is far from the first to propose the idea, which has been floated by Richard Nixon, pitched by autoworkers and experimented with by companies ranging from Shake Shack to Kickstarter and Unilever’s New Zealand unit.

But the concept has gathered steam in recent years, as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused fundamental shifts in work culture and reset expectations about employment. Representative Mark Takano, Democrat of California, introduced the 32-Hour Workweek Act in the House in 2021, and has reintroduced it as a companion bill to the one sponsored by Mr. Sanders in the Senate.

In proposing the legislation, Mr. Sanders cited a trial conducted by 61 companies in Britain in 2022, in which most of the companies that went down to a four-day workweek saw that revenues and productivity remained steady, while attrition dropped significantly. The study was conducted by a nonprofit, 4 Day Week Global, with researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and a think tank, Autonomy.

Juliet Schor, an economist at Boston College who was the lead researcher on the study, testified at Thursday’s hearing that 91 percent of the companies that switched to a four-day workweek had stuck with the new arrangement a year later.

“Participants tell us the new schedule is life-changing,” Ms. Schor told senators.

Critics, including some who testified at this week’s hearing, say many of the pilot programs narrowly focus on the types of companies that can afford the flexibility in work schedules, and disregard many companies with employees doing on hands-on work.

“There is no statical evidence to merit a nationwide mandate of a 32-hour workweek,” said Liberty Vittert, a statistics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “If it works for some companies in some sectors, that is great, but it cannot be applied to all sectors.”

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