CEOs' paychecks fuel 4-day workweek rationale

American workers are 400% more productive than they were when the Fair Labor Standards Act established a 40-hour workweek in 1940. But CEOs — not employees — are reaping the fruits of that labor, according to a March 19 opinion article in The Washington Post

The piece was penned by Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently introduced federal legislation to reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours with no reduction in pay. 

The UAW called for a four-day workweek with no pay cut as part of recent contract negotiations with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis. Mr. Fain and Mr. Sanders argued that this is feasible and would benefit workers rather than "the billionaire class." 

Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, according to the op-ed. More than half of full-time employees log more than 40 hours per week, but when paychecks are adjusted for inflation, the average worker collects $50 less per week than they did 50 years ago. 

The economic gains from technological advancements are padding CEOs' pockets when they should be freeing up workers' schedules, Mr. Fain and Mr. Sanders said. 

"While CEOs are making nearly 400 times as much as their average employees, many workers are seeing their family lives fall apart, missing their children's birthday parties and Little League Baseball games, as they are forced to spend more time at work," they wrote. "What stresses them out even further is that many still do not have enough money to pay rent, put food on the table and send their kids to college without going deeply into debt."

The argument comes amid increased federal and local scrutiny of CEO-worker pay gaps. In January, Mr. Sanders introduced the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act, which would impose tax rate increases on companies with CEO-to-median worker pay ratios above 50 to 1. Three months earlier, he specifically criticized hospitals' CEO pay. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on which Mr. Sanders serves as chairman, issued a report analyzing 16 of the largest nonprofit health systems. For 2021 — the most recent year for which all the hospital chains had data available — the companies' CEOs averaged more than $8 million in compensation but largely faltered in charity care, according to the report. 

Health systems have defended high CEO compensation packages amid record turnover in the role, but communities are starting to push back, too. On April 3, Madera, Calif.-based Valley Children's Healthcare said it was providing its president and CEO with 24-hour security after local legislators called his compensation package "excessive." 

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