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Questions About Housework Wages Plan

August 18, 1985

The article on the campaign to pay women for doing housework in their own homes ("L.A. Pair Seek Wages for Women's Unpaid Work" by Kathleen Hendrix, July 28) certainly raised some interesting points. However, it left unanswered many practical questions about how the wages-for-housework plan would really operate.

For instance, where will the payments come from? From the government, now that it has all that extra money lying around that was formerly used to regulate the phone company? Would that make all wives public servants? Or would it come from husbands, with wives now being deemed ordinary employees? And along those lines, will marriage now be registered in the County Clerk's Office--or with the Department of Industrial Relations?

Who will set the wages? The government? If so, would that create a public interest connection sufficient to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to end any strikes? Or would the husband and wife engage in collective bargaining sessions, with binding arbitration in the event negotiations break down? How much vacation and sick leave will the wife get? Will the husband be able to hire a temp in her absence? Will the husband deduct from his wife's salary the costs of her room, meals, clothing, medical expenses and other support? Or will the wife pay him for them directly? What taxes will be withheld? Will childbirth be extra? Will there be quantity discounts after the first child? Will a sub-minimum wage be paid to children?

Can the wife's wages be docked for unprofessional conduct--rudeness to employer, etc.? What grounds will entitle her to strike? Can she quit? Can she be fired? Will divorce be replaced by a simple pink slip? Will the employment be "at will," enabling the husband to hire a new wife from the labor pool at any time? Will protectionist sentiment arise in Congress to shield the American wiving industry against competition from cheap foreign labor?

What will the effect of the new system be on a community property state like California? Since wives will have been fully paid along the way, will any of them even think of making further claim on the husband upon termination? Will divorce lawyers have to shift to Workers' Compensation? Will fathers own their paid-for children outright? Or will they have to pay by the visit?

Clearly, the greatest benefit of the new regime will be the decrease in the role of lawyers, replaced by the more straightforward work of accountants. That alone may be worth the whole thing.


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