Meet the Congressman pushing a 4-day work week law: 'I care about making capitalism sustainable and more humane'

Meet the Congressman pushing a 4-day work week law: 'I care about making capitalism sustainable and more humane'
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) (L) shakes hands with Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) during a rally and news conference with leaders from LGBTQ advocacy organizations before the House votes on the Equality Act May 17, 2019 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat, wants to make a 32-hour work week law.
  • He says it'd be part of building a new normal that reflects the past two years.

Representative Mark Takano wants you to work less — or at least collect a lot more overtime pay.

The California Democrat proposed legislation in July that would slash the standard work week to 32 hours. That also means anyone who works over 32 hours a week would receive overtime. The legislation is still awaiting a vote and recently garnered the support of the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In Takano's vision, the shorter work week would help address three of the biggest issues raging in the workplace right now: low wages, how much power workers have, and how to navigate a new work normal shaped by ongoing pandemic trauma.

"There's a great sort of opening for people to see it as part of a new normal, a new normal that they'd like to build," Takano told Insider. "800,000 Americans dying within a two to three year span has been traumatizing, and we have an opportunity now to look at the world with far more experienced eyes."

In December, Jobs site Indeed surveyed people who had quit two jobs during the pandemic; 92% said "the pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren't passionate about."


A record-breaking 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But hiring remained robust, suggesting that workers — especially the record 1 million leisure and hospitality workers who threw in the towel — are switching into different roles.

All told, the data suggests that Americans are ready for a new normal, or at least a rethink of work, particularly better-paying, more flexible work. According to Takano, that's exactly what a 32-hour workweek could achieve.

Americans are experiencing a 'Great Realization'

"This much stronger connection to human mortality has made people value their time," Takano said. "I think there was a Great Realization among a lot of Americans — how hard they're working and that they wanted to move on from the jobs that they were working at. So a four-day work week is something that connects a lot of Americans."

A four-day work week would also address another priority for Takano: Inequality in income and working conditions. His bill is a revision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which instituted the 40-hour work week.

"I care about making capitalism sustainable and more humane — and less low road and less cutthroat," Takano said.


The substance of his legislation, Takano said, is a work week where overtime kicks in once someone has worked 32 hours. That doesn't mean that all workers have to cut their hours down to 32 — but they'll be paid time and a half for any hours worked beyond that.

"What begins to happen for workers who are covered by this law is that they have greater leverage in a labor market — meaning that they are likely to be able to make more money for the hours that they do work," Takano said.

Takano said that a 32-hour work week would make employers "think twice" about cutting hours back in a tight labor market. Employers who are looking for workers would have to weigh trying to find more workers to train — a tall order as labor shortages persist and some workers remain on the sidelines for a better deal — or incentivize the current workforce by paying more for those now-longer hours.

It would help enshrine some of what's already happening in the economy into law. Wages have been growing sharply over the past year, soaring 4.7% year-over-year as of December 2021. Leisure and hospitality workers, who work in the country's lowest-paid sector, have seen their wages grow by 14.1% in just one year.

Four-day work weeks have started to catch on around the world

A trial of the shorter week in Iceland saw that productivity and quality remained the same — and workers felt more positive and happy. Countries like Spain and Scotland have said they'll test it out, and several companies have already adopted it or are considering slashing hours. But experts warn it could be harder to implement in the US, in part because the US is less unionized — and the US's obsession with ever-present employees.


Takano said that, in tandem with a shorter work week, workers need easier access to labor unions and organizing. The Build Back Better Act contains some provisions from the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) that would do just that.

"I think we do have a chance of seeing people actually making a livable salary, a livable wage at 32 hours a week," if it's coupled with stronger unions, minimum wage, and overtime provisions, Takano said. "We want a world where there is a sustainable wage for everybody. We need workers to be able to have some leverage with regard to employers. It can't be that all the power is with employers."