The Lead

Pa. Democrat proposes study of four-day work week for state employees

By: - March 21, 2022 2:30 pm

Vermont state human resources employee Courtney O’Brien holds her 4-month-old at her office at the Department of Transportation. A number of states have programs to allow workers to bring their infants, under 6 months old, to the office (Photo via The Pew Charitable Trusts).

A progressive Philadelphia Democrat wants Pennsylvania to study the impacts of moving 77,000 state employees to a four-day work week.

In a statement Monday, state Rep. Chris Rabb said he wanted a cost-benefit analysis of such a schedule to “enhance state government’s efficacy,” while still providing taxpayers the “level of service they both need and deserve.”

“We have to end this trope of the Protestant work ethic that demands an unrelenting commitment to work at the expense of the health of our households in our communities,” Rabb told the Capital-Star.

The legislation, likely the first to call for a four-day work week in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, asked for the state’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the topic. The study would also look at “policies to incentivize all Pennsylvania employers to make the shift,” according to Rabb’s memo.

The bipartisan panel is often called upon to study topics of interest to legislators, from standardized testing and the dairy industry to a review of the 2020 election.

A 40-hour work week has been standard in the U. S. since the 1930’s, when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act after decades of activism by the labor movement.

The law banned child labor, provides for a minimum wage, and requires that most, but not all, companies pay most workers time-and-a-half if they work overtime.

A number of people, including most transportation sector workers, some agricultural workers, apprentices and interns, executives and administrators, “creative professionals,” and those employed by businesses that make under $500,000 a year are exempted from all or portions of the law.

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Other developed countries have looked at reducing the number of hours even further, in hopes of increasing worker’s productivity when on the job.

In recent years, Spain, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Belgium have begun to shift or reduce working hours. Some countries lowered the number of hours worked each week, while others kept weekly hours constant, resulting in four longer work days in exchange for an extra day off.

It isn’t just policymakers. Some private companies are taking a look. Google, for instance, has shifted to a four day work week, Forbes reported earlier this year.

“I guess I’m corporate after all,” Rabb joked.

A former business professor, Rabb said he has thought about a shorter week for at least the past decade. But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic’s remaking of societal norms, he thought it was time to apply some lessons about work-life balance to the future.

“We should not be grinded out of some meat grinder,” Rabb added. “We should be valued not just for what we create for employers.”

Congressional Democrats have also introduced legislation to mandate employers pay workers overtime if they work more than 32 hours a week.

Rabb’s memo will eventually be introduced as a bill, before it will be sent to a committee for further consideration.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.