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California legislators propose 4-day workweek

( Hill )

The California Assembly will consider legislation this year that would create the most substantial change to the modern concept of the workweek since the adoption of weekends during the Industrial Revolution.

A new measure introduced earlier this year by two Democratic assemblymembers would change the definition of the workweek from five eight-hour days to four at companies with more than 500 employees. Employees who work more than 32 hours a week would be guaranteed overtime under the legislation.

The bill, introduced in February, has been sent to the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment. It was not on the panel’s March hearing lineup, and it is not scheduled to be heard during a hearing next week, suggesting the bill’s chances of advancing are low this year.

But the authors, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) and Assemblyman Evan Low (D), say they hope it starts a conversation rethinking the modern workweek.

“We’ve had a five-day work week since the Industrial Revolution,” Garcia told the Los Angeles Times. “But we’ve had a lot of progress in society, and we’ve had a lot of advancements. I think the pandemic right now allows us the opportunity to rethink things, to reimagine things.”

The California Chamber of Commerce has placed the bill on its annual list of Job Killer legislation. The group said it would significantly increase labor costs on businesses and potentially expose employers to litigation.

The Ford Motor Company was the first major employer in the United States to adopt the now-standard five-day workweek, shuttering its factories on weekends in the mid-1920s. Former President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, imposing a 44-hour workweek; two years later, he signed an updated bill dropping the workweek to 40 hours.

Limited experiments with four-day workweeks have suggested that workers are more productive and happier about their jobs. A five-year trial in Iceland found productivity remained stable or rose at most workplaces, and studies have taken place in Spain and New Zealand.

A poll conducted by Gallup last year found Americans are intrigued by the idea of working smarter, not harder. Employees who worked four days a week were more likely to say they were thriving than those who worked five or six days per week.

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