House Progressives push for 4-day workweek

by mcardinal

Chris Lange, FISM News


The Congressional Progressive Caucus this week endorsed a proposal to reduce the traditional work week for Americans from five to four days. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who introduced the “Thirty-two Hour Workweek Act” earlier this year, says the measure is a move “toward a modern-day business model that prioritizes productivity, fair pay, and an improved quality of life for workers across the country.” The bill, if passed, will force employers to offer workers overtime pay after 32 hours. 

“After a nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced millions of people to explore remote work options, it’s safe to say that we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working,” Takano said in a statement, adding that the measure reflects an increase in worker flexibility that has emerged from the pandemic.

Groups in other countries have already implemented shortened workweeks, with mixed results. The implementation of a four-day workweek pilot program in Iceland was declared a “major success” by Alda (Association for Democracy and Sustainability) and independent think tank group Autonomy in a joint study of trials conducted by the Icelandic government and the Reykjavík City Council.

“Participating workers took on fewer hours and enjoyed greater well-being, improved work-life balance and a better cooperative spirit in the workplace — all while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity,” the report read.

Ireland, Japan, Scotland and Sweden, meanwhile, are planning similar trials, according to Business Insider.

Some business leaders, however, have raised serious concerns about a potential shift to a 32-hour workweek, pointing to failed experiments to implement a four-day schedule. Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse, a Portland-based education company, attempted to give employees Fridays off but reversed the plan due to a marked drop in productivity. According to a 2018 Business Insider report, Carson made the decision after he was forced to lay off nearly two dozen workers. 

Business leaders in the U.K. have questioned how the measure would affect companies in the customer service sector and suggest that the implementation of a shorter workweek would create a bureaucratic nightmare, according to a 2019 survey of business leaders in the U.K. published in the Harvard Business Review. Many employers, for example, would be presented with the daunting task of maintaining current workflow while simultaneously facilitating rotating schedules that allow employees to have three-day weekends.

Other opponents to the measure say the overtime pay requirement will hamper profitability for some companies.

Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), however, says Takano’s bill will serve as a means of redress for American workers who have seen their wages stagnate in recent years. 

“For far too long, workers across this country have been forced to put in longer hours as their wages barely budge,” Jayapal said, adding “It is past time that we put people and communities over corporations and their profits — finally prioritizing the health, wellbeing, and basic human dignity of the working class rather than their employers’ bottom line. The 32-hour work week would go a long way toward finally righting that balance.”