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Washington lawmaker proposes bill enacting 32-hour work week


A new proposal from State Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center) would implement a 32-hour work week in Washington state.

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Nguyen’s bill would make it so hourly workers would essentially work four eight-hour days — any time logged after that 32-hour threshold would then be paid out as time-and-a-half.

The measure makes certain exceptions for truck or bus drivers, farm workers, and more, but the overall intent remains the same: To reevaluate the way we approach the modern work week.

“I totally get that this won’t work for every single industry, but I think we need to have the conversation [about] where it can work and how we might implement this in a society that really recognizes that the future of work is going to be different,” Sen. Nguyen told MyNorthwest.

He points to the success of various companies across the globe that have experimented with a four-day work week. Microsoft did just that for over 2,300 of its workers in Japan, and saw a 40 percent increase in employee productivity over the previous year.

The Netherlands employs a similar strategy. And while its employees average around 29 hours of work a week, the country’s average wages are roughly on par with what people in the U.S. earn working a standard 40-hour week.

Nguyen also recognizes that his proposal has a ways to go to address a handful of concerns.

He hopes to open up a discussion about mitigating the fallout a 32-hour work week might have on small businesses. More than that, his main priority is to address the growing gap between what larger corporations are earning, and what the bulk of their workforce are being paid.

“I’m talking about the larger companies, where they’re seeing record profits and wages aren’t keeping up,” he detailed. “If you’re a small business and this is tough to implement, there certainly will be exemptions.”

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He also wants to address potential scenarios where companies could simply opt to pay their employees the same wages for four days of work without bringing them in for time-and-a-half on Friday, a move that would effectively lower weekly payouts.

“We need to look into that as well,” he noted. “If folks choose to use this against workers, that would be part of the conversation that we need to have.”

Sen. Nguyen doesn’t expect his proposal to be approved by lawmakers this session, pointing out that he “would not be naive to suggest that changing the fundamental dynamic of our economy is going to pass in one year.”

Even so, he still wants it to act as a starting point for holistically tackling the way we approach working hours in Washington state.

“I think we do need to address work schedules as a whole,” he said. “We need to address the fact that income inequality is very rampant, and unless we choose to fix this as a society, the issues that we keep trying to deal with regarding homelessness, mental health, [and] funding for education are going be a continual thing.”

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