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Bernie Sanders presents a proposal to reduce the work week to 32 hours for the same pay

The measure generated debate in the Senate and on social media, with Senator Bill Cassidy ensuring that "this would be napalm upon the fire of inflation."

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders / Wikimedia Commons -Jake Bucci

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Senator Bernie Sanders presented a bill Wednesday to reduce the work week to 32 hours. The current 40-hour work week was established more than 80 years ago with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The bill proposed by the senator from Vermont is called the "Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act," and it maintains that the reduction of eight hours per week will occur without wage cuts. If this limit is exceeded, more pay would be required. Those who work more than eight hours a day would receive one and a half times their regular rate. If it exceeds 12, the rate will be twice the normal rate.

“Think about the huge transitions we have seen in the economy, but in terms of the workweek nothing has changed,” Sanders said at a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing.

At the center of the senator's proposal are two ideas: since the 40-hour week was regulated, there has been a drastic increase in productivity, which amounted to 400%, but workers have not benefited from this improvement. The gains from this “productive revolution,” he maintains, have "gone straight to the top."

Reducing work hours would be a way to redistribute these benefits:

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, or that we demand that these transformational changes also benefits working people?

Sanders also maintained that currently, Americans easily exceed the 40 hours established by law: "18% of our workforce now work over 60 hours a week and 40 percent of employees in America now work at least 50 hours a week."

Criticism of the plan

"A 32-hour work week with no loss in pay? My staff has volunteered to be the test case for that," Senator Bill Cassidy joked during the HELP hearing. "It's free money."

According to the Republican, employees will pay the costs of the reduction. He also argued that it would be lethal for some employers, who to try to stay afloat would have to accelerate automation, laying off part of their workforce, take jobs abroad or increase prices, stoking inflation. "This would be napalm upon the fire of inflation."

He also recalled that federal legislation allows businesses to "voluntarily" implement a reduced week. "We don't have to mandate. If an employer thinks it's good for its business, makes it more competitive, go for it."

He accused Senator Sanders of promoting a measure that "knee caps the American economy" for nothing more than electoral purposes.

"Traditional market forces should determine how any AI wealth dividends should be distributed," said Roger King, employment advisor at the HR Policy Association, during his speech. King maintained that compensation and productivity "have generally closely tracked one another for many decades. … There is no need for government intervention."

"Many articles and studies have concluded that the employee appreciation and support for a shortened workweek exists only for a short period of time," he also maintained, among other considerations, according to a transcript of the meeting. This loss of popularity is due to the "morale, operational, and financial problems" that emerge after a while, he explained.

He argued that although employees are increasingly demanding greater flexibility, a 32-hour week is not necessarily the answer:

Workers today are asking that their employer provide as much flexibility as possible for when, where, and how work is to be performed.
Many employees today want to work remotely or in hybrid situations and set their own hours of employment. They seek flexibility for more family time, increased opportunities to engage in social and academic activities, and to achieve a better work-life balance.

The debate made its way to social media following the hearing:

The complete proposal

BERNIE SANDERS - Project to reduce working hours by Santiago Adolfo Ospital on Scribd