O C F I T B L O G Business Opportunity Bernie Sanders wants to establish a 4-day workweek for all Americans

Bernie Sanders wants to establish a 4-day workweek for all Americans

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The United States was the first country to establish a five-day, 40-hour workweek, a landmark move for labor. But 84 years later, the country lags behind when it comes to work time reduction: Americans work an average of 400 more hours a year than workers in Germany, and 200 more hours a year than those in France, the United Kingdom, and more. Now, Senator Bernie Sanders is hoping to bring Americas’ working hours down with a bill to enact a 32-hour workweek—with no loss in pay.

Sanders introduced the bill, called the “Thirty-two Hour Workweek Act,” on Thursday ahead of a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing on the four-day workweek. Testifying at the hearing were supporters of a shorter workweek—including United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain; economist Juliet Schor, who led four-day workweek trials with the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global for more than 100 companies; and Kickstarter CSO Jon Leland, whose company established a 32-hour week in 2021.

“I’m here to talk about one of the most important issues to any union leader, any working class person, any U.S. senator and any human being, and that’s our time,” Fain said at the beginning of his testimony. “Time, just like every precious resource in our society, is not freely given to the working class.”

Fain has called for a 32-hour workweek throughout his career, and particularly through his union’s Stand Up Strikes against the Big Three automakers. And his union’s push has even deeper roots; he noted during the hearing that the UAW fought for a 30-hour workweek in the 1930s and 1940s. Ultimately, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which enshrined a 40-hour workweek into law. Since then, worker productivity has increased 400%, “but nothing has changed,” Fain said. “Who’s going to act to fix this epidemic of lies dominated by work? Are employers going to act? Will Congress act? How can working class people take back their lives and take back their time?’

That drive in productivity—driven by technological advancements like automation and artificial intelligence—is one reason Sanders introduced the bill, according to his office. The bill, which he cosponsored with Sen. Laphonza Butler (a companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Takano), would reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours incrementally over a course of four years.

Sanders has been vocal in his criticism of the wealth inequality that has surged in the U.S, especially CEO wages that have skyrocketed in recent years. Economist Schor noted that as inequality increases, so do working hours, “and so the rise in inequality in the United States . . . is one of the primary causes of longer working hours in the United States.”

Opponents of a reduced workweek also spoke at the hearing, including statistician Liberty Vittert and labor attorney Roger King, who both raised issues about productivity and claimed that even if a reduced week has benefited some companies, it couldn’t be established across all sectors. Though companies that took part in Schor’s four-day workweek trial reported higher productivity even with reduced hours, Vittert said that those studies were flawed, and that the correlation didn’t necessarily mean that the productivity increase could be attributed to the shorter workweek. King called for the market to handle the issue of workweek lengths, rather than legislation. “If Shawn Fain’s union can negotiate a 32-hour workweek, so be it,” he said. “[But] let the market determine the distribution of wealth.”

Sanders, however, contested that suggestion. “For the last 50 years, the market has done just that, and the result has been a $50 trillion transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% to the top 1%,” he said. “So after those 50 years, there are millions of workers today who are worse off. We have more income and health inequality than we’ve ever had in the history of the country, so I am not quite in favor of letting the market decide.”

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