32-Hour Workweek? New Bill Gains Traction in Sacramento

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A person's hand is on a laptop keyboard that displays a calendar on a desk.
 (Getty Images)

A shortened workweek for Californians could become the norm with a recently proposed bill aimed at reducing the regular 40-hour week down to 32.

The proposed legislation, AB 2932 — co-sponsored by Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia and Evan Low — would apply to around 20% of the state's workforce, with more than 500 employees at the national level. According to the Employment Development Department, the bill would affect around 2,600 companies.

Any work that's done past the 32-hour cutoff would require employers to pay time and a half to workers, and work that extends past 12 hours a day would be paid at double the regular wage. However, unionized workforces would not be included.

The proposed legislation has been met with pushback from private industry groups. The California Chamber of Commerce added AB 2932 to its "job killer" list, writing that the bill "significantly increases labor costs." A similar bill has been introduced at the federal level by Riverside County Congressmember Mark Takano.

Saul Gonzalez of The California Report sat down with writer and futurist Alex Soojung-Kim Pang to discuss working fewer hours a week, which he recently wrote about in his book "Shorter."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SAUL GONZALEZ: What's the very best single argument for reducing the American and California workweek?

ALEX SOOJUNG-KIM PANG: The single best argument is that it's good for workers, it's good for companies, it's good for economies and the environment, which might be four answers in one. But the reality is it's not something that is a concession, like, wrestled from companies or for managers. It's actually something that we have seen around the world in a variety of industries, benefiting everybody equally.

And why, in particular, is it good for those workers and the companies they work for?

For companies, the move to a four-day week is one that forces them to think a lot about how they use technology, how they use time to encourage greater collaboration, and cooperation between employees to look for efficiencies or to get rid of inefficiencies. The end result is that almost all companies find that they're able to do in four days what previously had taken them five or more — while at the same time, sometimes, [they are] reducing their electricity bills, their carbon footprints, ending up with a happier workforce, with people who are less stressed, less likely to burn out, and often also with managers or founders and CEOs who also share the benefits of better work-life balance, greater resilience and lower levels of stress.

You know, private industry has blasted these ideas. The California Chamber of Commerce is calling this California bill a job killer. We don't need to get into the particulars of their arguments, but do you at least acknowledge that it would be tougher for some industries to do this and some kind of workers versus other kind of workers? 

It's certainly the case that, for example, seasonal workers, it's harder to implement a four-day week, right? If you are working construction and there’s not a lot happening in the Rocky Mountains on building sites in December and January anyway, figuring out how to implement a four-day week may be a little bit more difficult. However, I think that we have seen enough examples across restaurants, nursing homes and factories doing so with the support and often sort of inspiration from top management. Richard Nixon in 1956 talked about how the four-day week was just around the corner, thanks to great Republican stewardship of the economy.

How many hours a week do you work? 

I tend to work more like four or five solid hours, six or seven days, because I've got clients in Europe. I've got two collaborators, in New Zealand and in Asia. So I tend to be sort of time-shifting a little bit more.