Senator Bernie Sanders Leads Push for 32-Hour Work Week While Maintaining Weekly Pay Rates

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation this week that would reduce the federal workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours — while maintaining the same level of compensation for employees.

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, argues that the productivity gains brought about by automation and artificial intelligence should benefit workers, not just corporate executives and wealthy shareholders. 

His proposed “Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Act” seeks to enshrine a shorter workweek into federal law without any loss in pay for American workers.

The 40-hour workweek has been the national standard since 1940, just a couple of years after the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

“Today, American workers are over 400% more productive than they were in the 1940s. And yet, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages than they were decades ago. That has got to change,” the senator said. 

“The financial gains from the major advancements in artificial intelligence, automation, and new technology must benefit the working class, not just corporate CEOs and wealthy stockholders on Wall Street.”

Sanders’ bill is being co-sponsored by Senator LaPhonza Butler, a Democrat from California, who states that the legislation would allow “hardworking Americans to spend more time with their families while protecting their wages.”

If passed, the new legislation would:

  • Reduce the standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours over four years by lowering the maximum hours threshold for overtime compensation for non-exempt employees.
  • Require overtime pay at time and a half for workdays longer than eight hours, and overtime pay at double a worker’s regular pay for workdays longer than 12 hours.
  • Protect workers’ pay and benefits to ensure that a reduction in the workweek does not cause a loss in pay.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021 by Congressman Mark Takano of California, though it has yet to gain traction in the Republican-controlled chamber. Takano’s bill proposed phasing in a 32-hour workweek over three years and standardizing overtime pay regulations.

While some countries, including France, Denmark and Norway, already have standard workweeks below 40 hours, no other country currently follows a 32-hour workweek.

The proposed change has drawn criticism from some business groups, with the Society for Human Resource Management opposing a “one-size-fits-all approach” in 2022. However, major labor unions such as the United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, and SEIU have voiced support for the 32-hour workweek legislation. 

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