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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Senator proposes four-day workweek

Washington State Sen. Joe Nguyen proposes Senate bill calling for a 32-hour workweek

By Hailee Wickersham

How do you feel about a three-day weekend? On Jan. 13, democratic Washington state senators introduced a bill that would reduce a full-time workweek in Washington down to 32 hours.

Senator Joe Nguyen posing for a headshot. // Photo courtesy of LSS Photography

On Jan. 13, Sen. Joe Nguyen proposed Senate Bill 6516 that, if passed, would transform the original 40-hour workweek established by the 1940 Fair Labor Standards Act, into four eight-hour working days with three days off, making a workweek of 32 hours total.

Those who are able to work more than the 32-hour threshold qualify for overtime “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he or she is employed,” according to the bill.

The bill exempts some jobs that are already exempted in the original 40-hour workweek bill. The proposed legislation discludes truck and bus drivers, motion picture projectionists under contract, those employed overseas and more.

The communication specialist for Senator Nguyen, Courtney James, was able to provide some insight from the senator about the occupations that are exempted. According to James, Sen. Nguyen wants to exempt occupations where the bill would negatively impact smaller businesses.

According to James, Nguyen knows that the bill wouldn’t work for every business and job, but he wants to get the conversation started around those communities to better understand the effect that it would have on them going forward.

“If you live in America, it wasn’t uncommon 80 or 90 years ago for people to work a 100 hour work week,” Nguyen said. “In 1940 we saw it reduced to a five-day workweek, and that was considered radical.”

If full-time hours were reduced, Nguyen foresees workers might have more time freed up to spend with family or something they are passionate about, he said.

“We’re seeing low unemployment rates and millions of workers still having to pick up multiple jobs to make ends meet,” Nguyen said. “So how is it that we literally have the wealthiest society in the history of humanity? Yet we can’t afford to pay workers real wages in terms of inflation?”

According to a study on the “Productivity Pay-Gap” by the Economic Policy Institute, from 1979 to 2018, productivity rose 69.6% while the hourly pay of typical workers increased only 11.6% over 39 years (after adjusting for inflation).

Bill 9516 in action would apply to those working full-time under contractual pay, salary and commission.

Jojo San Nicolas is a third-year student at Western who currently works three jobs to achieve full-time hours. She’s employed as a caregiver, bartender and a personal assistant to a tattoo artist in Bellingham.

“I definitely sacrifice personal time, time with friends, my partner and time for schoolwork,” San Nicolas said. “It’s been difficult to find a balance for it all, but my time management has definitely improved, that’s for sure.”

San Nicolas works about 50 hours per week, with that time broken up between her three jobs.

“I think a 32-hour workweek would make it easier to make rent and hang out with friends at the same time, and hanging out with family and spending time doing things I care about,” she said.

In addition to opening up more time for employees, Sen. Nguyen wants part of the conversation about Bill 6516 focused on how technology and automation have changed the future of what work might look like, he said.

“The whole reason I wanted to do this bill was that it was acknowledged that workers themselves need more rights and through automation knowledge,” Nguyen said. “We’re seeing record profits for some of the largest companies in the world.”

According to BBC, in August 2019 Microsoft trialed a four-day workweek in Japan where the offices were closed every Friday and meetings were restricted to 30 minutes and online collaboration was encouraged.

A 2017 report by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on overwork culture suggested that nearly a quarter of Japanese firms had employees working more than 80 hours overtime a month.

Guy Occhiogrosso, CEO and president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, said that some industries have trialed four-day workweeks, but those tend to be professional and IT-oriented.

Occhiogrosso said he is curious to see if the bill passed in combination with the increase in the minimum wage in most industries if a 32-hour workweek would increase closures of smaller local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Sen. Nguyen is looking forward to more in-depth conversations with small businesses and those who work hourly jobs to see how this could possibly affect them, he said.

“At the end of the day I want workers to have rights and be compensated fairly for the record productivity and profits we’re seeing right now in so many businesses,” Nguyen said. “Workers should be able to share in some of that success.”

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m guessing that Ms. San Nicolas is already working a 32 hour week, and has found she needs the additional employment to make ends meet.

    A shorter work week won’t diminish the amount of time needed time required to complete a task. Employers will soon exceed the point where it is more cost effective to pay the 1.5 X overtime rate and will just hire more employees at the base rate. They won’t necessarily increase the base rate of pay to offset the reduction of hours.

    How does working fewer hours help an individual earn more income?

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