Monday, December 7, 2009

Newsflash: AFL-CIO Calls for 35-hour Workweek


The time has come for wide-scale reduction in hours of work so that more people may be employed.

Even after recovery of production levels from the 1958 recession, there is persistent unemployment of 5 percent or more of the labor force. It shows no sign of receding from this intolerably high level. And a carrying forward of past trends indicates so-called normal unemployment will mount steadily until major steps are taken specifically to correct it.

Advancing technology is reducing the need for industrial manpower. More goods and services can be provided with fewer workers. From 1953 to mid-1959, total manufacturing output increased by 16 percent, but the number of production and maintenance workers was reduced by 10 percent.

Moreover, technological change and the accompanying increasing productivity are gaining momentum with the stepups in industrial research, uses of automation and new types of more efficient equipment, industrial applications of atomic energy, raw materials improvement, and other scientific advances.

Unless some of the benefits of the accelerating rate of technical advance are taken in the form of shortening of time at work, rather than in reduction of number of employees, unemployment will mount steadily. The technological progress is making shorter hours not only possible but essential.

In the past, progress reductions in standard worktime to the 10-hour day, the 6-day week, the 8-hour day and the 5-day week were each sharply resisted by industrial leaders as unthinkable changes which would prove disastrous for the moral fiber of workers and the economic and social well-being of the Nation.

Today, with few exceptions, there is a more realistic attitude, a general recognition that the present 8-hour day and 40-hour week are standards which should and will be reduced as part of general national progress. The only questions are: When? To what new standards?

We believe the appropriate and necessary time to start is now. The current combination of relatively high-level economic activity plus a great slack in the labor force presents the economic situation in which we can introduce, absorb, and immediately benefit from a general shortening of work hours.

Shorter hours are effective in staving off unemployment only if they are put into effect before unemployment pressures mount uncontrollably. If we delay we may get shorter hours, not as a constructive preventive measure but in an undesirable work-sharing, cut-wage form forced on us as a product of overwhelming unemployment. The soundest time to proceed is immediately, to meet the clear and present danger while we still have the flexibility afforded by a period of comparatively healthy economic activity.

Some may argue that a reduction in hours may not be the most efficient way to combat unemployment. Whether or not it is the plain fact is that other ways which may theoretically be more efficient are not doing the job.

We do not contend that shorter hours alone are the cure-all for all employment problems. We will continue to press with all the vigor at our command for the other public and private economic actions needed to generate sufficient steady economic expansion and growth in employment opportunities to maintain full employment.

But without a reduction in hours as a key element in an anti-unemployment program, the other measures we can realistically expect to be taken are not adequate to the task of controlling unemployment in an economy with as high a rate of technological advance as ours.

Shorter hours are of course extremely valuable for non-economic reasons as well. Socially and morally it is desirable that part of our progress be taken in reduction of the hours each worker is required to labor. A shorter workweek would enable greater opportunity and incentive for broadened social and cultural pursuits and development of bettered family life.

For many of the Nation's workers, increasing travel time to and from work as a result of congestion of cities and dispersal of industry has eaten into off-work time. Shorter hours of work would remedy such loss of personal time.

American labor is not wedded to any fixed form of hours reduction. Different affiliated unions may concentrate on different variations, either reductions in hours per day, days per week, per year, or per working life.

Additional paid vacations and holidays should continue to be negotiated but unless the amount of such paid time off now common is expanded, such improvements would provide only a very slight reduction in average hours worked per week over the year.

The more substantial reductions in hours needed are most readily available through reductions in the standard workweek. Such reductions are being sought and have already been achieved in bargaining by a growing number of unions. Experience accumulated with standard workweeks shorter than 40 hours have well demonstrated the practicability and desirability of shorter workweek schedules.

Collective bargaining alone, however, will not achieve adequate hours reductions as rapidly and widely as needed by the economy, for it is proceeding on an industry-by-industry and company-by-company basis.

Legislative action is required to meet the overall problem. Legislative action can provide hours reduction on the wide scale needed to achieve maximum beneficial results.

The existing 40-hour workweek standard of the Fair Labor Standards Act, first established 20 years ago, should be amended to provide for a standard 7-hour day, 35-hour week.

Even apart from the immediate need to counteract growing unemployment, this is a step required for reasonable forward progress. The changes in our economy in the past 20 years, the upturn in industrial technical advance, and the growth of the labor force combine to enable us both to establish a 35-hour standard workweek and to produce all the goods and services our Nation consumes.

The value of hours reduction is not an isolated phenomenon restricted to the United States. Workers in other lands will also gain from reductions in time they must spend at work.

The adoption of a strong international instrument in the form of a convention on hours standards will be before the International Labor Organization at its next annual conference. Most foreign workers still work longer hours than customary in the United States, but we are happy that wide progress is being made in hours reduction. As in the United States, the movement to shorter hours in other parts of the world is well warranted by the needs of workers and by advancing mechanization and technology: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That shorter hours of work must be attained as a vital means of maintaining Jobs, promoting the consumption of goods and converting technical progress into desirable increased employment rather than Into increased unemployment. Our economy should and can support concurrently both shorter hours and production of additional goods and services.

We call upon Congress to take as rapidly as possible the steps needed to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide for a 7-hour day and a 35-hour week.

The AFL-CIO also urges its affiliated unions to press in collective bargaining for reduction in hours of work with no reduction in take-home pay.

We urge the International Labor Organization to adopt an international convention to aid in the needed spreading of improvement in hours standards around the world.

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