The 32-Hour Workweek

by JPeters | April 29, 2024 5:33 pm

Bernie Sanders proposes a bill that’s not going anywhere… yet


On March 13, 2024, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation to reduce the standard workweek[1] in the United States from 40 hours to 32. If enacted, employers of hourly or non-exempt full-time salaried workers would be required to treat 32 hours as “full-time.” Working over 32 hours would require overtime pay. Sanders’s bill also includes provisions to prevent employers from cutting pay to coincide with fewer work hours.

When promoting the bill during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee[2] hearing — which Sanders chairs — it was pointed out that since 1940, worker productivity has risen more than 400 percent[3], while the standard workweek has remained unchanged. It was also argued that the decline in worker’s bargaining power in recent decades has created a situation where the gains in productivity haven’t been shared fairly, benefitting primarily the wealthy, not workers.

The bill received a brief flurry of attention from the press, but no one expects the bill to get any traction in the current Congress. Some Republican lawmakers took the opportunity to declare their opposition to it, but there was little other discussion.

Sanders’s bill echoes similar legislation[4] introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) in 2021. At that time, only seven of Takano’s colleagues supported his bill.

At the state level, Massachusetts[5], Maryland[6], and California[7] legislators have introduced 32-hour workweek bills over the past few years. None of these initiatives have enough backing to become law, but it’s clear that the issue is being discussed, studied, and refined in labor and economic policy circles these days.


Why is this happening now?

It’s not a new idea—but it is a big idea. “Whenever there’s anything related to a large change, it’s going to meet with a lot of resistance,” said Lynne Vincent, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Syracuse University who was interviewed by ABC News[8] about Sanders’s bill. “I don’t see this current iteration of the law getting through Congress.”

The concept of the 32-hour workweek gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic and the related fundamental shift in workplace culture that effectively reset some of the most basic employment expectations. A shorter workweek is also common in many countries[9] today.

We know from studying history that one of the critical requirements for making this kind of change in our economic life is vested in the power of organized labor. The last time the federal government said anything about the definition of the workweek was in 1940. This was when Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act [10](FLSA) — which had just been enacted two years before, in 1938 — to require employers to pay workers overtime after 40 hours of work each week instead of 44. These developments — both the reduction in workweek hours and the FLSA itself — were built upon a growing number of collective bargaining agreements that had slowly established the eight-hour workday.

Today, organized labor is showing signs of a return to power[11]. Even though overall membership remains low[12], some unions are making waves and grabbing headlines. A municipal employees union [13]in Washington secured a 32-hour week last summer, and a 32-hour workweek was one of the United Auto Workers[14] union’s (UAW) initial demands during their high-profile strike last year.

It was hardly an accident that Shawn Fain, President of the UAW, appeared alongside Senator Sanders at a press conference touting the bill. This is a clear signal that union leaders are making shorter workweeks a priority.

While the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act[15] has little support in the current Congress, employers should know that the discussion is far from over. Sanders’s bill received endorsements from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, United Auto Workers, the Service Employees International Union, the National Employment Law Project, and several other organizations.


Be flexible

The 32-hour workweek legislation being introduced by Sen. Sanders and others is just one facet of a much broader push for more flexible work arrangements. According to a recent Flex Index Report,[16] more organizations than ever before are realizing the benefits of offering flexible working arrangements — including productivity, increased employee engagement, and the ability to attract top talent. That research also says that by the end of 2024, more than two-thirds of businesses in the United States will adopt flexible and remote work options.

If you have any questions or concerns about how current workforce trends affect your business — managing change and planning for the future — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.

Steven L. Winer [17]and Meredith Farrell Goldstein[18]

  1. reduce the standard workweek:
  2. Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee:
  3. 400 percent:
  4. similar legislation:
  5. Massachusetts:
  6. Maryland:
  7. California:
  8. ABC News:
  9. many countries:
  10. Fair Labor Standards Act :
  11. return to power:
  12. remains low:
  13. municipal employees union :
  14. United Auto Workers:
  15. Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act:,WorkFour%2C%20and%20the%20National%20Employment%20Law%20Project%20%28NELP%29.
  16. Flex Index Report,:
  17. Steven L. Winer :
  18. Meredith Farrell Goldstein:

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