The US needs to seriously consider the benefits of a 4-day work week as it looks to halt a decline in average American life expectancy, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told CNN in an interview over the weekend.
Sanders said that events such as the recently announced UAW (United Auto Workers) strike highlight the need to have a real and frank discussion about reducing the hours involved in the typical work week. He added the recent technological developments in the field of artificial intelligence should make it possible to work less but accomplish more.
On Friday, the UAW union began strike action against three of the nation's biggest automakers: Ford, GM and Stellantis. At the heart of the dispute is the new contract being sought by the UAW, which includes a demand for a 32-hour, four-day work week alongside improved pay and retirement benefits. It's also sparked a larger discussion across the country about the four-day work week.
Sanders Backs UAW's Four-Day Work Week Demands
Sanders was speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday about the UAW strike, which began on Friday, September 15. While the general theme of the discussion was President Biden's response to the strike, it also featured the independent Vermont senator talking at length about his support for the four-day work week.
“As a nation, we should begin a serious discussion – and UAW is doing that – about substantially lowering the work week,” Sanders said.
He added that the recent “explosion” in AI means that “worker productivity is going to increase significantly” and put the country in a position where adopting a four-day work week is no longer a pipedream. For example, the best AI website builders show how previously time consuming tasks can now be automated to generally good effect.
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“It seems to me that, if new technology is going to make us a more productive society, the benefits should go to the workers,” Sanders continued. “It would be an extraordinary thing to see people have more time to be able to spend with their kids, with their families, to be able to do more in cultural activities, get a better education.”
4-Day Week Movement Gathers Steam, But…
Senator Sanders' comments add to the recent buzz surrounding the progressive four-day work week movement. A number of recent trials have returned promising results, including one boasting a 100% success rate, with the result that now some US states are considering a 4-day work week.
At the same time, while there are a handful of companies offering a 4-day work week, there is still general wariness of the trend in corporate circles. If anything, 2023 has seen big business as a whole revert to pre-pandemic norms, with many high-profile companies ending remote work entirely in 2023. If organizations are struggling to trust their employees to work from home effectively, how realistic is it for them to rubber stamp shorter working hours?
There will be a great many eyes on the result of the UAW's negotiations, therefore, with four-day week advocates no doubt hoping a result in the automotive industry could be the start of something much bigger. The latest there has UAW President Shawn Fain telling NPR this Monday that there was still a “long way to go” in conversations between the union and the auto overlords in Detroit.
A Tipping Point for Employee Well-Being?
Among the many varied points made by Sanders in his CNN interview, was the fact that recent data shows life expectancy declining at an alarming rate in the US.
Sanders made the link between this and the stress people are under at work, as well as the other social and economic issues currently affecting the American people.
“People in America are stressed out for a dozen different reasons, and that's one of the reasons why life expectancy in our country is actually in decline…People are overwhelmed. They've got to take care of their kids. They've got to worry about healthcare. They've got to worry about housing. They're worried,” the progressive senator said.
No one's saying that a four-day work week would somehow make housing more affordable again, but what it just might do is give people the extra time to come to terms with some of the more challenging realities of life in 2023.