Sanders Leads the Charge Toward a Four-Day Workweek

Senator Bernie Sanders is pushing ahead with legislation to introduce a four-day working week to the Senate, a hot-topic issue that many Democrats have been rooting for for a while. Here’s the full story.

Sanders Sparks Debate

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Sanders’s bill will reportedly establish a standard 32-hour work week, a 4-day week for many, with no reduction in pay.

Sanders Bill Challenges Traditional Work Schedules

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Sanders said that his bill was “not a radical idea” and came out of necessity, as “millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages than they were decades ago. That has got to change.”

Technology’s Impact

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Sanders went on to state that rapid advancements in technology – AI, production automation, and other technologies – must “benefit the working class, not just corporate CEOs and wealthy stockholders on Wall Street.”

Global Precedents

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Sanders pointed to several studies, pilot programs, and other countries in which a four-week work day had been tried or adopted to drive home his point.

Senate Discussion

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Sanders introduced his bill alongside two other senior Democrats and revealed that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which he chairs, would meet later in the week to discuss it. 

Expert Testimony

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Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, and Juliet Schor, a sociology professor who has led a team analyzing global data on four-day work weeks, will speak at the hearing.

Union Influence

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One of Fain’s initial demands during the recent UAW strike was a 32-hour work week, while Schor recently co-authored a paper in which she wrote, “Of more than 100 companies with thousands of workers around the world, nearly 70% experienced reduced rates of burnout. Stress fell. Reported physical and mental health improved. People felt less anxious and fatigued, exercised more, and slept better. Their life satisfaction rose, and conflicts among work, family, and life plummeted.” 

Studies Show Benefits of Four-Day Work Weeks

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Should it pass the Senate, this could be a welcome act. Past trials of a four-day work week, which has been steadily being experimented with in countries worldwide, have shown promising results. 

Research Backing

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In Britain, at least 70 companies tested the four-day workweek and reported no loss in productivity and higher work rate satisfaction.

Similar results have been seen in Iceland, which has had a four-day workweek for years, as well as Spain, Germany, and Belgium. 

Majority of U.S. Employees Favor Shorter Week

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In a poll from software vendor Qualtrix, dated February 2022, 92% of U.S. employees said they would support their employer if they chose to implement a four-day workweek. 

Work-Life Balance

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88% of respondents said it would improve their work-life balance, and 79% said it would help their mental health.

Productivity Concerns

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While employers are worried about a loss in productivity, 82% of U.S. workers believe a four-day workweek would make them more productive, and 74% were willing to work longer days to enable a four-day workweek. 

Past Efforts to Enact Four-Day Work Week

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However, this isn’t the first time Democrats have pushed for a four-day workweek.

Californian Democrat Mark Takano introduced a similar bill in 2021, which would have made a 32-hour week the standard federal work week, but with a Republican-controlled House, it was quickly forgotten. 

California’s Attempt

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Takano reintroduced the bill last year, which was referred to a House Committee, but so far, it hasn’t had much of an impact. Similar efforts have been tried elsewhere, but the legislation has yet to pass.

Legislative Amendment

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Sanders’ bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, reducing the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 per week, and would also force employers to pay time and a half on any hours over 32 – which would increase to double time for days longer than 12 hours. 

Bill Aims to Safeguard Pay and Benefits

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It would also protect workers’ pay and benefits to ensure no one lost out as a result of the new workweek.

Union Support

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Multiple labor unions have endorsed Sander’s bill, including the UAW, AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union. 

Trade Organizations Voice Concerns

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Similar bills have faced criticism in the past, notably from trade organizations. In response to the Californian bill, one HR trade organization said that it would “create a significant logistical burden for human resource professionals.”

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