The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is on strike. While listening to a report about the strike, I heard that one of the union’s demands was for a 4-day (32-hour) work week at the current level of pay for a 5-day work week. According to this Associated Press article on the strike, this demand has been dismissed by automakers, but, darn it, it shouldn’t be.
Switching to a 4-day work week isn’t about laziness. It makes good sense for a number of reasons.
I’ve been watching two-parent families struggle to keep up with two full-time jobs while taking care of young children, wringing their hands about issues that come up with daycare, such as finding adequate openings and high staff turnover.
In the 1970s, we leapt from households with one primary full-time wage earner directly to needing two full-time wage earners to make ends meet. There was no break for the original full-time wage earner (typically a man at that time) to take on less work in order to be around for his kids. Once women went into full-time work, family life became a juggling act for everyone.
What was needed then and now is a 4-day (32-hour) work week so that double- and single-parent households can catch their breath in managing both work and caregiving. This would also take a major strain off the daycare system in the U.S., which, for the importance early childcare has in child development, is woefully underfunded. Depending on the work schedules in a two-parent household, it’s conceivable that children would only have to be in daycare 3 days a week, thus saving considerable expense to the family.
For those caring for elderly parents, that extra day off per week would allow for managing healthcare appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands.
For those without caregiving duties, there are other benefits to a 4-day work week. Having an extra day off in the week allows the body and mind to recuperate from the stress of work. It also provides time for people to develop their hobbies and volunteer with organizations that serve the larger community. Plus, people can schedule their appointments on their weekday off, rather than trying to figure out how to squeeze them in at the beginning or end of the day or take paid time off for them.
I am familiar with the benefits of a 4-day work week because for years this was how I worked. It gave me time to take care of my children, volunteer, schedule errands and appointments, and practice my hobbies. I only wish my husband had had the same opportunity.
In the news about the UAW strike, I heard it was this union that managed to negotiate a 5-day work week, rather than having to work 6 days a week, and once this was negotiated, it became the standard across the nation.
It’s definitely time, well past time, to implement a 4-day work.
Cory Doctorow, who gleefully stole Milton Friedman’s notion of leaving ideas lying around, recently suggested that President Joe Biden come out in support of the UAW’s strike. Turns out, Biden is going to do just that. He plans to visit the picket line Tuesday.
So, with this post, I’m leaving the idea of a 4-day work week lying around, amplifying what others are already saying (and some are doing). Let’s see if we can produce enough energy behind this idea to get it done for everyone.
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