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California lawmaker explains why she's pushing for a 4-day workweek

MoneyWatch: California bill could shorten workweek
MoneyWatch: California assemblywoman talks proposed four-day workweek bill 04:21

With millions of Americans changing jobs, one California politician wants to use the "Great Reset" to create a better work-life balance for workers.

Assembly member Cristina Garcia has cosponsored a bill to make the state's official workweek 32 hours for companies with 500 or more employees. Any work done past that cutoff would come with a hefty raise: Employers would be required to pay time-and-a-half to workers whose hours run over 32 a week. And work stretching past 12 hours a day or into seven days a week would be paid at double the normal wage.

Employers subject to the law, which would apply to 20% of California's workforce, also would be barred from reducing people's pay if they work less than their standard workweek, Garcia told CBS News. The bill would not apply to workers who are represented by a union and covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

"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."

California's economy is the fifth-largest in the world and the largest among U.S. states, making it a bellwether for many aspects of workplace culture.

Job killer?

The proposed law would cover about 2,600 companies in California, according to the Employment Development Department. 

The California Chamber of Commerce called it a "job killer," saying it would make hiring more expensive and lead to a drop in jobs in California. 

"Labor costs are often one of the highest costs a business faces," Ashley Hoffman, policy advocate with the Chamber, wrote to bill cosponsor Evan Low last week.

"[B]usinesses often operate on thin profit margins and… the number of employees you have does not dictate financial success," she wrote.

Evidence from other countries suggests that a four-day workweek can have positive effects, boosting employee productivity while reducing stress. A broad trial in Iceland last summer concluded that a shorter workweek was an "overwhelming success" — 8 in 10 employees in the country have since shifted to working four days a week. Other countries including Scotland, Spain and even famously workaholic Japan have tested shorter work weeks.

Garcia contends that large companies, which have had their most profitable quarter since the 1950s, can afford to pay workers more.

"We want to see them share some of that better life with their employees as well," she told CBS News. 

Working more than peasants

In the U.S., a handful of companies have started experimenting with a four-day week. Kickstarter is officially launching its shortened workweek this month. "[M]y expectation and my desire is that we can achieve the same outcomes or greater outcomes as a result of changing the way that we work," departing CEO Aziz Hasan told Time of the change.

D'Youville College, a small private school in Buffalo, New York, started testing a four-day week in January. President Lorrie Clemo said the move would "improve the overall wellbeing of our employees and competitiveness of our institution."

But overall, the shortened workweek has been a relative rarity in a nation where workers toil longer hours than in most other industrialized countries.

The typical American worker today works nearly 1,770 hours a year. Among developed economies, only four nations — Israel, Korea, Russia and Mexico — consistently put in longer hours than America. Historical records suggest that 14th century peasants worked far less than contemporary Americans; by contrast, factory workers in the 19th century put in significantly longer hours.

Garcia's bill is similar to a federal bill introduced in Congress by Mark Takano, a California Democrat, and endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

"People are spending more time at work, less time with loved ones, their health and well-being is worsening, and their pay has remained stagnant. It's time for change," Takano said in a statement.

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