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Bernie Sanders to Push 32-Hour Work Week Bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is leading renewed efforts to institute a 32-hour work week nationwide — one that crucially does not result in a decrease in pay.

Sanders, who helms the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), will introduce a bill Thursday that seeks to reduce the standard federal work week from 40 hours to 32 hours, without a reduction in compensation. Sanders justified the shift in work hours by citing productivity increases made via automation and AI.

“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 said in a statement.

The 40-hour federal standard work week was established in 1940, a couple of years after the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sen. LaPhonza Butler (D-CA) will co-sponsor Sanders’ legislation, saying in a statement: “the Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Act would allow hardworking Americans to spend more time with their families while protecting their wages.”

In the House, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced similar legislation in 2021, though it has failed to make waves in the GOP-controlled legislative body. Takano’s bill, which was reintroduced last year, would shorten the standard federal work week from 40 hours to 32 hours over a phase-in period of three years. The bill would also standardize language around overtime pay for workdays more than eight hours long.

Similar legislation had been proposed in California, which would reduce the hours of the standard work week to 32 per week for companies with more than 500 employees, though it has not made its way through the state legislature.

Although such legislation has yet to reach the point of a legislative vote, some trade organizations have voiced criticism of the 32-hour work week. The Society for Human Resource Management, a trade association for HR professionals, came out against the California bill in 2022, with its Chief of Staff Emily M. Dickens calling it a “one-size-fits-all approach” that would “create a significant logistical burden for human resource professionals.”

Though no country has a standard 32-hour work week codified into law, many have shorter work weeks on average than the United States. France has had a 35-hour federal work week since 2000, and several Scandinavian nations, such as Denmark and Norway, also have work weeks under 40 hours. Advocates for the 32-hour work week legislation include United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, SEIU, and several other major labor unions.

“It is time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life,” Sanders said. “It is time for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay.”

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