Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders proposed lowering the work week from 40 hours to 32 hours with no reduction in pay. 

On a scale of bad ideas, this ranks among the worst because it will reduce our nation’s economy, hobble small businesses, and could backfire on some workers through pink slips and lost opportunity.

Here’s what happened:

Last week, Senator Sanders introduced federal legislation to reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours. After that, employers would be required to pay overtime. Employers would be prohibited from reducing their employees’ pay and benefits to match the lost time, meaning they would have to pay out of their profit, if they make any.

For workers, a regular week would now be one day shorter and the weekends a day longer. 

Sanders sought to allay immediate fears, explaining in a press release:

Moving to a 32-hour workweek with no loss of pay is not a radical idea.

Actually, it is radical. Very radical.

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. That has got to change. 

American workers are more productive today than they were 70 years ago because of advancements in technology. Fewer Americans work in factories and fields. Today’s workers are in the digital economy.

Wages are lower today thanks to Sen. Sanders, other liberals in Congress, and President Biden for enacting massive, excessive spending packages that drove up inflation and drove down take-home pay.

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. It is time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life.

Americans are stressed about their finances, especially women. An extra day off every week with the same pay will free up some time, but it will not reduce inflation or financial pressure for workers.

Why a 32-hour work week is a terrible idea

Sen. Sanders held a HELP committee hearing on the same day that he introduced his 32-hour work-week bill. Three of the witnesses were cheerleaders for the policy change, parroting points from the chairman. However, two witnesses were voices of reason: Roger King, Senior Labor and Employment Counsel, HR Policy Association; and Dr. Liberty Vittert, Professor of the Practice of Data Science, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis.
Their testimonies explained or debunked the studies touting the economic and social benefits of similar proposals in other countries and explained workforce impacts. From their testimonies, many problems with this proposal emerged.
Here are reasons the 32-hour workweek would leave us worse off:

  • Labor shortages would worsen. Even before the pandemic, industries such as construction and healthcare faced severe worker shortages. Over half a million workers are needed in construction alone, on top of current hiring needs, just to fill demand. Despite employment gains, the labor force needs more workers, and by cutting back hours for every employee, companies would be forced to hire more workers to meet the same level of output. 
  • Inflation could worsen. The pandemic accelerated retirements, and generous pandemic benefits disincentivized work, hampering companies from producing the goods and services needed to meet demand. Increased labor shortages and paying workers the same amount would drive up the cost of doing business and be passed along to consumers at high prices.
  • Loss of full-time jobs. Employers might respond to the new 32-hour work week by eliminating certain positions or splitting numerous full-time positions into part-time positions to minimize overtime costs.
  • Reduction of benefit coverage. Benefits would become more expensive to offer. Because they would be mandated to maintain pay and benefits levels, employers might reduce coverage, leaving workers with worse outcomes.
  • More stress on workers and injuries. The reduction in days and hours at the same workload will force employees to get more done in less time, creating stressful environments. In such environments, worker injuries could increase.
  • This is a backdoor federal minimum wage increase. By forcing employers to cut back on hours but not pay, you are effectively raising hourly pay.
  • Less flexibility. Employers would be less likely to offer flexible arrangements with fewer work days and more schedules to manage.
  • Disruptive to operations. Hiring new workers and managing schedules to meet current output levels will become more complicated. 

There are other considerations as well. The government’s one-size-fits-all approach to micromanaging the business decisions of companies robs them of the freedom to make the best choices for their individual, unique workforces. Under such situations, different workers lose out. Also, little has been made about the economic cost for small businesses, which may not be able to absorb the increased pay, benefits, payroll, and compliance costs along with the disruptions to their operations and the worker shortages.

Good intentions are not good enough. Berne Sanders’s 32-hour work week will not work for our dynamic economy.