Push to reduce standard US workweek to 32 hours being held up in Congress – for now

By Marta Garde

Washington, May 23 (EFE).- A bill introduced in the lower house of the United States Congress is taking aim at a longstanding feature of American life: the standard five-day, 40-hour workweek.

With the pandemic having made flexible schedules much more commonplace, a Democratic congressman from California is looking to ride that wave by sponsoring a bill that would chop eight hours off the workweek for non-exempt employees (those typically paid by the hour and entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week).

Rep. Mark Takano’s proposal would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 – which set the federal minimum wage, created rules for overtime pay and established the 40-hour workweek – to make non-exempt workers eligible for overtime after working only 32 hours (essentially four days) a week.

Its purpose is to “necessitate that employers either compensate workers for those additional hours or hire more workers to fill in the gaps,” according to a one-page description of the bill prepared by Takano’s office.

The merits of the proposed legislation are being discussed at the committee level, although its chances of prospering are slim for the time being due to a lack of support from Republicans.

The pandemic made many Americans rethink the balance between their personal and professional lives and make more flexible work hours and non-work pursuits a greater priority, Takano, a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee that must approve the bill before it could be put to a floor vote, told Efe.

The bill, which had previously stalled in Congress in 2021, is not merely symbolic.

It would make employers think twice about trying to save money by keeping workers at 32 hours, according to Takano, who said they would find it difficult to find someone to fill in just one day a week and have no choice but to pay overtime.

Takano recalled that although technology has increased productivity in recent decades, workers’ wages have remained stagnant even as they put in long hours on the job and sacrificed time with their families.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont and two-time presidential candidate, also is a prominent supporter of the bill.

“It’s time for us to move to a 32-hour work week with no loss in pay. Technology and worker productivity has exploded in recent years. That transformation should benefit all, not just the few. It should create more time for friends, for family, for rest and for relaxation,” he tweeted earlier this month.

Takano’s office estimates that around 100 million people would benefit.

But Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has signaled her opposition.

“Blanket federal regulations often cause more harm than good and do not account for the unique needs of industries, communities, and small businesses,” she said after the bill was reintroduced in March.

Even so, an international trial conducted by the not-for-profit advocacy group 4 Day Week Global, which promotes a 32-hour workweek, yielded positive results.

Thirty-three telecommunications and other companies employing around 1,000 workers in the US, Ireland and Australia tested out a four-day, 32-hour workweek over a period of six months in 2022.

Of the 27 companies that provided feedback for the final report, two-thirds said they would continue with that new system, while 16 companies that provided a data comparison said their revenues increased by 37.55 percent relative to the same period of 2021.

Among surveyed workers, 96.9 percent said they were in favor of the shorter schedule. The feedback also showed they experienced lower levels of fatigue (66 percent pre-trial and 57 percent post-trial) and sleep difficulties (59 percent pre-trial and 51 percent post-trial).

The chief executive officer of 4 Day Week Global, Dr. Dale Whelehan, told Efe that a 32-hour workweek would help companies retain staff and attract new workers.

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