Want a Four-Day Workweek? Unionize!

Despite evidence that productivity goes up if you add a day to the weekend, don’t count on your employer to disrupt the status quo.

by Harron Walker
Nov 13 2019, 8:30pm

A shorter workweek? In YOUR place of employment? It could be more easily achieved than you think…

The four-day-work-week wave is surging again: Last Monday, Business Insider reported on Microsoft Japan’s findings that instituting a four-day workweek led to a 40 percent boost in productivity, and in late October, The Wall Street Journal covered a German entrepreneur’s decision to cut his employees’ time spent at work down to five hours per day.

Then, in an op-ed published by The New York Times last Wednesday, author Cal Newport argued that reducing the workweek would improve workforce productivity and would likely improve workers’ quality of life, citing the findings of an Australian businessman who tried this at his own company last year. Over in the Business section on Friday, Times reporter Niraj Chokshi looked into why a shorter workweek hasn’t caught on yet.

The idea of a four-day workweek (or a five-hour workday) has surfaced again and again in the last few decades, probably because it just sounds great; in a recent Workforce Institute survey, a majority of global workers responding said that the ideal workweek would be four days. Thankfully, there’s one super-actionable step you can take in order to turn that idea into a reality.

Unionize your workplace.

Capitalism is a cruel mistress (and not the cool, queer sex worker-slash-labor organizer kind) with no interest in dropping better working conditions into your lap unprompted. Systemic change typically only happens when workers organize and make demands. As imperfect as working conditions might be in the present—depending on your industry or specific employer, of course—they would be a lot worse without the efforts of unions and labor movements over the last century and a half. We owe the five-day workweek to decades of union-led strikes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which created enough political momentum to push Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1937. Union-led labor movements have also been responsible for producing the comparatively fairer wages of decades past (income inequality was at its lowest point in United States history during the 1940s and 50s, a time when most Americans belonged to a union), helping to end child labor, achieving widespread employer-based health insurance, and ensuring family and medical leave.

"There is power in a unified labor movement," Megan McRobert, an organizer at the Writers Guild of America East, told VICE. "Weekends exist because unions fought for it. People literally died at union meetings advocating for a 40-hour workweek.”

Shortening the traditional workweek from five days to four could be next, but that can only happen if you talk to your fellow workers about making it happen. The right to unionize is federally protected under the National Labor Relations Act, even for those who work in industries without much of a precedent for unions like sex workers, delivery app workers, and freelance journalists. Feel free to use it.

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