By Chujun Tang
SACRAMENTO, CA – State assembly member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) introduced a bill that would shorten the mandatory workweek from 40 hours to 32. If the proposal, Assembly Bill 2932, is approved by the legislature, California will become the first state in the U.S. to mandate a four-day workweek.
“We’ve had a five-day workweek since the Industrial Revolution,” Garcia said, “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 bill covers all employers in California with more than 500 workers. According to the statistics from the state’s Employment Department, it would impact about 2,600 businesses and more than 3.6 million workers. It also requires employers to pay time-and-a-half to those who work in excess of 32 hours, without curtailing the pay rate.
The United States is the largest economy in the world, with California being the fifth-largest in the world. Data seems to show that the US is lagging behind industrial countries in terms of reducing the stress of workers. The average American worker works nearly 1,770 hours a year, which––among developed countries––is only less than Mexico, Russia, Korea, and Israel.
Before California launched its ambitious plan, a four-day workweek had gained popularity in several countries. Spain announced a voluntary, nationwide, three-year trial of a 32-hour workweek. Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Sanna Marin of Finland, and Japan’s annual economic policy guidelines each proposed a four-day workweek as a consideration.
Some companies and organizations in the US have used the four-day workweek mode, like Bolt and Buffer. They reported that the employees were able to balance their work and life better and did not need to struggle to complete the work during the shortened workweek. In January of 2022, D’Youville College announced a transition to a four-day workweek pattern for all staff without curtailing the pay rate. It became the first college in the country to adopt the four-day schedule and resulted in better experiences for both staff and students.
Advocates of the proposal view the shortening of the workweek as an incentive for workers during the pandemic, to boost their morale, improve their mental health, and thus increase productivity. An increase of remote work during the pandemic also demands more flexibility in the work schedule.
“After two years of being in the pandemic, we’ve had over 47 million employees leave their job looking for better opportunities,” Garcia said. “They’re sending a clear message they want a better work-life balance — they want better emotional and mental health, and this is part of that discussion.”
However, there is a potential loss of businesses caused by the shortened workweek. The new proposal means that employers must face the surge of marginal labor costs, as they pay fixed costs for training and overhead while enforcing less working hours. To fulfill the same workload they may have to hire more workers or pay overtime.
“Such a large increase in labor costs will reduce businesses’ ability to hire or create new positions and will therefore limit job growth in California,” said Ashley Hoffman, a policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy group.
AB 2932 is currently with the Labor and Employment Committee for review.