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Current Eight-Hour Workday

The notion of the eight-hour workday consumed the whole state of California in the final years of the 20th Century. But, this time, the battlefield was no longer in factories or on sidewalks – it reached the halls of the state capitol.

In 1997, Governor Pete Wilson signed a law that did away with the 86-year old eight-hour workday in California, giving employees overtime only after working 40 hours in a week.

Wilson moved to end the eight-hour workday because of what he said were changing conditions in the workplace. Most states already offer overtime after a 40-hour week, rather than an eight-hour day. Wilson wanted to give employers and employees greater flexibility and creativity when designing their schedules. But union leaders and other organizations came out against the move to end daily overtime, saying it would rob extra income from tens of thousands of workers across the state who rely on overtime to get by.

The California Labor Federation estimates that lost wages in 1998 due to the repeal of daily overtime topped one billion dollars. Wilson’s signature did not lay the battle to rest. Instead, those in support of the daily overtime waited for the next governor to take office in hopes of revitalizing their cause.

Gray Davis was sworn into the office of Governor of California in January 1999. One of his first actions as governor was to restore the eight-hour workday to California by signing AB60 into law. Davis’s actions received criticism from those in favor of flexible schedules. Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, told the San Jose Business Journal that AB60 would "take away an employee's right to flexibility, whether they just want to work different hours than they would traditionally or if they have a child or parent or other family obligations that require flexibility. That puts us out of step with every other continental state in the United States."

But AB60 did address the concerns of both sides of the issue. It restored daily overtime. But it also outlined ways for employers and employees to be flexible when hammering out their workweek, opening the door for alternative schedules for those who want them.

By Gina Baleria

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