Progressive Dem Rep. Takano submits bill to reduce standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours

March 4, 2023

Since 1940, per the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the 40-hour workweek has been the standard for the vast majority of American workers, but some progressive Democrats and activists are seeking to change that.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) reintroduced a bill in Congress this week that would lower the standard workweek from 40 to just 32 hours, CNS News reported.

Takano, who sits on the House Education and Workforce Committee, first introduced the bill in 2021, but it went nowhere even with the House being under the control of a Democratic majority, and the bill now likely has even less of a chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House.

A 32-hour workweek

"Workers across the nation are collectively reimagining their relationship to labor -- and our laws need to follow suit," Rep. Takano said in a statement Wednesday. "We have before us the opportunity to make common sense changes to work standards passed down from a different era. The Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act would improve the quality of life of workers, meeting the demand for a more truncated workweek that allows room to live, play, and enjoy life more fully outside of work."

One of the co-sponsors of the bill is Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which along with several labor unions had formally endorsed the plan to legislatively reduce the standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours.

"For too long, our country has prioritized corporate profits over working people and Americans have been forced to work longer hours, sacrificing time with loved ones," Jayapal said. "While policies enacted by President Biden and Democrats have finally started to raise wages for workers across multiple industries, it’s vital that health, well-being, and basic human dignity are valued over employers’ bottom lines. Establishing a 32-hour work week would go a long way toward finally righting that balance."

According to a summary of the 32-Hour Workweek Act, if passed, it would amend the aforementioned FLSA and change the federal standard for a full workweek from 40 to 32 hours, and though it wouldn't prohibit employers and employees from continuing to work 40-hour workweeks, it would require employers to pay time-and-a-half overtime to employees who clocked more than 32 hours in a given seven-day consecutive period.

The Act would largely apply to what are known as "nonexempt employees" under the FLSA, who are typically hourly wage workers, though some salaried workers might also be covered.

Some states are considering the idea

CBS News reported that in addition to Rep. Takano's bill in Congress, a handful of states across the country are also considering implementing some form of a reduced workweek -- either 32 hours or four days -- following reportedly successful trials and pilot programs in various locations and companies.

Advocates for a shortened workweek have asserted that studies have "reported less stress and less burnout, as well as better physical health," and the outlet noted that following a pilot program in the U.K., around 90 percent of the companies that participated said they would likely make the shorter workweek a permanent thing.

However, both critics and even advocates acknowledge that not all businesses or industries are suited for a four-day or 32-hour workweek, nor will all workers want the reduced hours.

Pros and cons of the idea

In 2021, after Rep. Takano had initially introduced his 32-hour workweek legislation, Forbes reported on the reduced workweek idea and presented some of the pros and cons that have been revealed through pilot programs and studies.

Some of the pros reportedly include better physical and mental health, more free time for family and friends or errands and hobbies, increased job satisfaction and productivity, and reduced absenteeism and turnover, among other things.

As for the cons, they include reduced pay for workers -- since not all employers will pay for overtime -- as well as increased burnout and pressure and stress from truncated deadlines and similar workloads crammed into a shortened period, along with the fact that not every business can be so flexible with work hours and not every employee wants a shortened workweek and/or lengthened workdays.

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