WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) thinks Americans may have forgotten about the 40-hour week.
"A hundred years ago workers took to the streets" to fight for 40 hours, Sanders told The Huffington Post. "And a hundred years have come and gone, we’ve seen an explosion in technology, we’ve seen an explosion in productivity, we have a great global economy, and what do you have? The vast majority of people are working longer hours for lower wages."
American workers with full-time jobs work an average of 42.7 hours per week, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Including part-timers in the calculation puts the average American workweek at 39 hours.
Sanders said he wants to appropriate the term "family values" from Republicans, who have historically used it to talk about social issues, and use it to promote legislation mandating paid vacation, paid sick days and paid parental leave for U.S. workers. Just 11 percent of workers had access to paid leave to care for newborns in 2012, according to the BLS.
"What the Republicans talk about when they speak of family values is to deny a woman the right to control her own body, to deny a woman the right to get contraceptives, opposition to gay rights and gay marriage," Sanders said. "I don’t think those are family values."
Last week Sanders introduced a bill that would require employers to give at least 10 paid vacation days annually to any employees who have worked at the company for at least a year.
"What our legislation says -- and we think this is absolutely a family value -- is that a mom and a dad should have the right to at least a couple of weeks off of paid vacation so they can spend quality time with their kids," Sanders said.
Republicans control Congress, and they aren't keen on shortening work hours. They have complained bitterly, for instance, that President Barack Obama's health care law undermines the 40-hour week. The Congressional Budget Office reported in 2014 that the Affordable Care Act could result in some Americans choosing to work less because they could get health insurance without being tied to a full-time job.
American workers did indeed fight and die for shorter hours, which for a long time was the foremost demand of the labor movement. The shorter hours movement culminated in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a federal law that established the minimum wage and requires employers to give workers extra pay when they work more than 40 hours per week. The effectiveness of the law has eroded, however, because the law only protects salaried workers earning less than $23,660 per year.
"What that means if you were a quote-unquote supervisor at McDonald’s, making $25,000 a year, $28,000 a year, and you are supervising some other people flipping hamburgers and you’re working 50 or 60 hours a week, you do not get overtime," Sanders said.
Sanders and other Democrats have asked Obama to consider raising the salary threshold so it covers more workers, something the White House is currently considering. Sanders wants to see the threshold set at $57,000.
"That means everybody making under that would get time and a half when they work more than 40 hours a week," he said. "Very important step forward."
Listen to HuffPost's interview with Sanders on this week's "So, That Happened" podcast below: