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How does a 32-hour workweek even work? Some Washington lawmakers want to find out

caption: Washington lawmakers are considering a 32-hour workweek for the same rate of pay.
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Washington lawmakers are considering a 32-hour workweek for the same rate of pay.

The bill hasn't gotten far in Olympia, but the notion of a 32-hour workweek across Washington state has lawmakers talking this legislative session.

Senate Bill 6516 essentially proposes to knock one workday out of the week while maintaining the same rate of pay.

"This is actually pretty simple,” State Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-Seattle, told KUOW. “So instead of having the workweek be 40 hours, it would be 32. So right now, if you work in excess of 40 hours, any time over that is overtime. So we are just lowering that down to 32.

“If you look at the way automation technology has impacted what work looks like today, and potentially in the future, I think we need to acknowledge that it’s very different than what it was 80-100 years ago, when it was first defined at five days," added Nguyen, a co-sponsor of the bill.

He also pointed to the history behind today's standard workweek.

"We used to work 100 hours a week before 1940. In 1940, we implemented what was radical at that point: a 40-hour work week. Given the changes in our economy and technology, we need to rethink that paradigm as well.”

Senators Bob Hasegawa, Derek Stanford, and Rebecca Saldaña are also sponsoring the bill.

“Ideally, by having people be more productive, they should still be able to have the same earning potential, even if they are doing it in less time," Nguyen said. "I get that this is not going to work for everybody, but we should have that conversation.”

There are exemptions for some businesses. There is potential for amendments moving forward to take into account any impacts for small businesses. But at the core of Nguyen's argument is that the 32-hour workweek will benefit both employers and workers.

He said that profits continue to rise while wages stay stagnant. A 32-hour work week will hopefully provide more time to make ends meet. Nguyen points to a thrift shop in Olympia, Dumpster Values, where owners have already experimented with limiting the workweek to 32 hours and have found little downsides.

Microsoft has also experimented with the shorter workweek in Japan, and found that the four-day schedule resulted in a 40% increase in productivity. Beyond that, Microsoft reported that its Japanese operation lowered its electricity costs by 23%, and used 60% less pages of paper.

The proposed measure in Olympia remains in committee and has yet to reach the Senate floor.

“This is part of a larger package of what the future of work might look like,” Nguyen said. “I don’t necessarily see this as the only silver bullet, but part of a larger conversation we should be having.”

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