Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders has announced a bill to establish a standard four-day workweek in the US. Wikimedia Commons

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday introduced a bill proposing the establishment of a standard four-day workweek in the United States, without any accompanying reduction in pay.

The bill proposes to decrease the threshold for eligibility for overtime pay from 40 hours to 32 hours over a span of four years. It mandates that overtime compensation be provided at a rate of 1.5 times an employee's regular salary for workdays exceeding eight hours and at double the regular salary for workdays surpassing 12 hours.

Aside from this, the Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Act will ensure workers don't experience a pay cut by protecting their existing pay and benefits, according to a press release.

The press release goes on to say that the legislation is "an important step toward ensuring workers share in the massive increase in productivity driven by artificial intelligence, automation, and new technology."

"Moving to a 32-hour workweek with no loss of pay is not a radical idea," said Sanders. Although American workers are more than 400 per cent more productive today than in the 1940s, Sanders pointed out that millions are working longer hours for lower wages. This unacceptable disparity demands change, he added.

Could a four-day workweek become a reality?

Last year, Nobel Prize-winning economist Christopher Pissarides predicted that generative AI could pave the way for a 4-day workweek. In line with this, Sanders noted that the benefits of the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation shouldn't be limited to corporate CEOs and wealthy stockholders on Wall Street, but should be extended to the working class as well.

Sanders introduced the legislation with Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.). Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House. "While CEOs' wages continue to increase, our workers are finding themselves doing more, yet earning less than they have in decades," Butler wrote in a statement.

The Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Act, Butler argues, would allow hardworking Americans to spend more time with their families and protect their wages. Moreover, it will ensure profits aren't only going to a select few. A 2023 survey by the recruitment firm Hays revealed that employers, as well as employees, are open to a shorter working week.

Takano, in a statement, described the bill as "transformative legislation that will be a win for both workers and workplaces." Sanders, a senior United States senator from Vermont, introduced the bill ahead of his committee's hearing Thursday on the same topic.

Among other witnesses, the committee will be hearing from United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain. Senator Sanders bolstered his argument for a four-day workweek by citing several pilot programs and studies that show happier workers were more productive and less likely to experience burnout.

He went on to highlight the trend towards shorter workweeks in developed nations. France, for instance, has a 35-hour workweek and is gearing up to move to a 32-hour workweek. Likewise, Norway and Denmark have workweeks of about 37 hours.