Bernie Sanders clocks in with 4-day workweek bill thanks to AI and productivity tech

Don't start planning your long weekend yet – proposal is likely to be a hard sell in work-obsessed America

AI, automation, and other new technologies have made the American worker far more productive than ever before, says US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which is why he introduced a bill this week to shorten the US workweek to 32 hours without a commensurate drop in worker pay. 

Sanders, along with Senator Laphonza Butler (D-CA), introduced the Thirty-Two Hour Workweek Act [PDF] in the Senate yesterday, while companion legislation was introduced in the House by Representative Mark Takano (D-CA). The bill would phase a 32-hour week in over three years by gradually shortening working hours.

"The financial gains from the major advancements in artificial intelligence, automation, and new technology must benefit the working class, not just corporate CEOs and wealthy stockholders on Wall Street," Sanders said of the bill.

"Today, American workers are over 400 percent more productive than they were in the 1940s. And yet, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages than they were decades ago."

Sanders introduced the bill during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing, of which he is the chairman. Along with citing the productivity rise of the average worker thanks to modern technology, Sanders also pointed out in the hearing that Americans are typically working well beyond the 40-hour workweek established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

"Twenty-eight-and-a-half million Americans, 18 percent 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," Sanders said during the hearing.

To put that in perspective, Sanders pointed out that, in 2022, US workers labored for an average of 204 more hours than Japanese employees, "and they're hard-working people in Japan," Sanders said. Americans also worked around 279 more hours than UK residents, and logged 470 more hours on the clock than Germans, all while making around $50 a week less than 50 years ago, when adjusted for inflation, Sanders claimed.

"Moving to a 32-hour workweek with no loss of pay is not a radical idea," Sanders noted – and it isn't, at least based on recent trials of the concept. 

A massive trial of a four-day work week for the same amount of pay in the UK that took place in 2022 has been hailed as a massive success, with 91 percent of companies included in the pilot saying they planned to maintain the shortened week after the program ended.

Businesses who shifted to the four-day, eight-hour-shift week reported findings in line with previous research from 4 Day Week Global, which found it was easier to attract and retain employees when offering a shorter week. Earlier trials in Japan conducted by none other than Microsoft found similarly that a four-day week led to better results and increased productivity.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has even said that technology could lead to a shorter work week, but he sees the future of work as an even smaller part of daily life – he asserted last year that AI could lead to a mere three-day week.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has similarly said AI could shorten the workweek, pitching a potential three-and-a-half days of drudgery "because of technology" late last year. Sanders mentioned both billionaires' predictions in a press release about the bill.

Whether it will pass is another thing altogether – Republicans have pushed back hard, with some saying the bill could "destroy some employers." 

The Senate, with its slim Democratic majority, would need everyone onboard with the plan to get it passed, and it may be a tough sell for more conservative members of the liberal caucus. The House, controlled by Republicans, may not even bother to move it out of committee – just like what happened to an identical measure introduced by Takano in 2021. ®

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