Sep 25, 2023 - Economy

The UAW is putting the 4-day workweek on the map for hourly workers

Illustration of a number "4" in a water cooler.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Most of the demands that the striking autoworkers are making look pretty typical — like better pay and benefits. But one stands out: The union is asking for a four-day workweek.

Why it matters: The four-day workweek has gotten a lot of buzz over the past few years among the desk-jockey class, but the UAW's putting it on the map for hourly workers, too.

How it works: The idea is workers would put in a 32-hour week and get paid for 40 hours — plus anything clocked over the 32-hour limit would count as overtime.

  • A shorter workweek could help these workers transition from building gas-powered vehicles to electric, Sharon Block, a professor at Harvard Law School told Marketplace.
  • It takes less time to assemble electric vehicles, she noted. So, workers who make the transition, under a four-day rubric, wouldn't necessarily see their pay take a hit.

Reality check: Most observers don't think this proposal has a shot. Other demands are a higher priority.

  • Plus: Hourly workers, outside the auto industry, are often fighting for more hours — since some employers seek to keep workers under certain thresholds for benefits.

Zoom out: Still, just the fact that the ask is on the table is yet another indicator of how work culture has shifted radically in the U.S. over the past few years.

  • Quiet quitting, bare minimum Mondays, putting in 85% instead of 100% — they all point to a growing sense that the hustle culture isn't all it's cracked up to be and there's more to life than work.

The bottom line: Unions were instrumental in the push for other benefits once viewed as outrageous, like weekends off, overtime pay, and employer-provided health benefits. In fact, the reason we have a five-day workweek is because of the auto industry  Henry Ford started it.

  • At a time when the wind is at labor's back in the U.S., it makes sense that unions would try to move forward again.
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