Bernie Sanders on AI and a 4-day work week: ‘Benefit should go to the workers’

‘I happen to believe that as a nation, we should begin a serious discussion — and the UAW is doing that — about substantially lowering the work week.’

— Sen. Bernie Sanders

Artificial intelligence can help people cut through time-consuming, labor-intensive work and it’s poised to revolutionize the many ways people go about their jobs — if used wisely, that is.

Nearly 13,000 UAW members walked off the job late last week and one of their demands is a 32-hour workweek for 40 hours of pay. If car makers agree to the idea, that would launch the four-day work week concept from its “early adoption” moment to workplace mainstream, experts say.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, also made the connection between AI, a four-day work week and the newly launched United Auto Workers strike against Ford
and Stellantis
after appearing at a rally in Detroit, Mich.

Benefits of a shorter work week

Sanders — who spoke Friday at a UAW rally — told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, that the shortened work week isn’t tied to one labor dispute. There’s an “explosion” of robotics and AI that will boost worker productivity, he said.

“The question, as a nation, that we have got to ask ourselves is who’s going to benefit from that increased productivity?” Sanders asked, rhetorically.

Instead of corporate leaders reaping the profits, “it seems to me that if new technology is going to make us a more productive society, the benefit should go to the workers,” Sanders said.

Sanders said that during a time when people are “stressed out for a dozen different reasons, it would be an extraordinary thing to see people have more time” for themselves, their families — even to pursue a better education.

There are many people who would agree that a four-day work week would be an extraordinary benefit, polls suggest. Eight in ten people supported a four-day work week instead of a five-day week, according to a Bankrate survey released in August.

Workers worry about the impact of AI

Of course, like other revolutions, there’s also the worry that things may not go as hoped.

In a worst-case scenario, many people worry that the rise of AI will give them a zero-day work week — instead of a four-day work week — because technology rendered their position obsolete.

Almost half — 49% — of 31,000 people polled in 31 countries said they worried AI would replace their jobs, according to a separate Microsoft
survey from May.

The same survey shows the mix of excitement and nerves on what AI’s future could mean for people.

More than two-thirds of people say they don’t have sufficient time to focus during the work day, and 70% said they would want to offload as much work as they could to AI-powered methods in order to lighten their job duties.

Auto workers want a shorter work week

A UAW win on a 32-hour work week would also be a big win for the broader four-day work concept, said Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, director at Four Day Week Global, where he helps employers consider how to implement the idea.

One of the reasons is that “it would re-establish the idea that the benefits of automation and technological innovation should be shared with workers in the form of living wages and more free time, not just converted into higher stock dividends and CEO bonuses.”

When thinking about the upheaval and change still to come from AI, Soojung-Kim Pang told MarketWatch “the idea that we should use innovation to make work better, rather than use it to destroy jobs (and thus communities, family stability, faith in the American system), would be a huge turnaround in our thinking.”

It remains to be seen where the four-day work week will gain traction in the current labor talks. A Stellantis spokeswoman previously told MarketWatch the company would have to incur major extra costs to keep up production schedules if workers moved to a curtailed work schedule.

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