Republicans pan Sanders’s 32-hour workweek bill

GOP lawmakers pushed back against Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) new proposal for a 32-hour workweek during a committee hearing Thursday, saying such a mandate would hurt workers and crush small businesses.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Sanders chairs, met to discuss “new technology and increased productivity” and focused on the possibility of a standard four-day work week.

“In reality, there is no free lunch,” Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said of the proposal.

“Workers will be the ones who would pay — not get paid extra. The government mandating a 32-hour workweek requiring businesses to increase pay at least an extra 25 percent per hour, would frankly destroy some employers.”

Sanders introduced a bill Wednesday that would lower the threshold required for overtime pay from 40 hours to 32 hours over four years, arguing the shortened workweek would increase productivity.

Cassidy said many jobs would be shipped overseas or replaced with automation, or businesses would be incentivized to hire more part-time employees to avoid penalties associated with requirements for full-time workers.

“If this policy is implemented, it would threaten millions of small businesses operating on a razor-thin margin because they’re unable to find enough workers,” Cassidy said. “Now they’ve got the same workers, but only for three-quarters of the time, and they have to hire more.”

Sanders argued that Americans have become more productive over time due to technological innovations and that workers should benefit from this increase. He cited research saying Americans work more hours than other wealthy nations and that shorter work weeks have been effective in places like France, Norway and Denmark.

“The question that we are asking today is a pretty simple question, do we continue the trend that technology only benefits the people on top?” Sanders said. “Or do we demand that these transformational changes benefit working people? And one of the benefits must be a lower work week.”

Liberty Vittert, professor of the practice of data science at Washington University in St. Louis, said while some companies may be able to be more productive during a shorter week, that isn’t a possibility for many businesses and industries.

“Over 70 percent of the U.S. job economy is people working with their hands,” Vittert said. “They don’t necessarily have extraneous meetings, or too many coffee breaks to cut out. So statistically, you can’t apply this type of cutting of hours across the entire economy.”

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said it could be beneficial for larger companies to voluntarily offer shorter hours to attract workers, but retail and small businesses would suffer.

“I’m not worried about big corporations,” Braun said. “They generally are going to land on their feet anyway and I believe they ought to be negotiated with for all the things you might do to improve the position of a worker there. But what about Main Street and small business?”

Cassidy also called out Sanders for his own employment practices.

“I’ll note that the chair has not done that with his staff,” Cassidy said of a 32-hour week. “Why? Because there’s a certain amount of work required for the continuity of the work. That’s just basic.”

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