California looks to mandate shortened work week for big companies, forcing overtime after 32 hrs

Critics of the authoritarian response to the pandemic by government authorities warned that full compliance to such dictates was only setting the stage for what was to come — others would argue that we were already there. One thing is certain, as Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

All of which takes us to California, where the Democratic-led legislature is looking to follow up on the Golden State shuttering businesses and dictating terms of service for nearly two years in response to COVID-19 by further dictating when businesses can require their employees to work.

Democrats are seeking to mandate a four-day workweek for all workers at California companies that employ 500 or more employees, proposing a bill in the state assembly that would officially reduce the workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours, according to the Daily Mail.

What’s more, any hours above 32 would be considered overtime and have to be paid at time-and-a-half, the British newspaper reported, adding that those working more than 12 hours a day or for more than seven days a week would be paid double time.

While the measure would result in more income for California residents, it would also cause labor costs to soar for businesses — which feeds into a vicious cycle of higher consumer prices.

California would ban employers from reducing current salaries to compensate for the increase, with about 2,600 companies being affected.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill, said the proposal is part of a broader focus on work-life balance spurred by the coronavirus, the Daily Mail reported.

“Employees are not asking for games or free food or free coffee — those were some of the perks we saw before, especially in Silicon Valley,” Garcia said. “Employees are talking about wanting a work-life balance, wanting to be healthy mentally, physically and emotionally. And a four-day workweek is part of that discussion.”

“I think the labor shortage is not about people not wanting to work, but they want a better balance,” she said. “I think this is the beginning of a discussion and a conversation that we want to have. We welcome individual stakeholders to come to the table.’

The California Chamber of Commerce sees the proposed legislation as a “job killer” in the state.

In a letter to bill co-sponsor Assemblyman Evan Low, Ashley Hoffman, a policy advocate with the Chamber, wrote: ‘Labor costs are often one of the highest costs a business faces. Businesses often operate on thin profit margins and… the number of employees you have does not dictate financial success.”

California’s bill mimics a measure being proposed by progressive Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives that would shorten the standard U.S. workweek to 32 hours.

Led by U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the measure looks to capitalize on the pandemic, achieving their goal by lowering the maximum threshold for overtime pay to kick in for non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the Daily Mail.

“After a nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced millions of people to explore remote work options, it’s safe to say that we can’t – and shouldn’t – simply go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working,” Takano said in a statement.

“People were spending more time at work, less time with loved ones, their health and well-being was worsening, and all the while, their pay has remained stagnant,” he added.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Progressive Caucus, is also on board with dictating to companies how they will operate going forward, if they have their way.

“It is past time that we put people and communities over corporations and their profits — finally prioritizing the health, wellbeing, and basic human dignity of the working class rather than their employers’ bottom line,” Jayapal said. ‘The 32-hour workweek would go a long way toward finally righting that balance.’

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