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Home Work

Regulation of Home Work

Report of Committee on Industrial Home Work by MORGAN R. MOONEY, Chairman

The problems raised by the practice of industrial home work are as old as the factory system itself, and remain today among the most important unsolved social and economic evils attendant upon modern industrial production.

The extent of industrial home work makes these problems of widespread importance. Such work is carried on in the smallest rural communities as well as in large industrial cities. It is not confined to particular areas, and has been found in every State in the Union and in all types of communities. The Women's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor lists products of 75 industries in which it is known that home work is carried on. The processes range from the least skilled work to delicate hand craftsmanship. Home work is distributed through the mails, by messenger, through an intricate system of contractors and subcontractors, is taken home direct from the factory by workers employed there, and in some cases by the sale of raw materials and the purchase of the finished article by the manufacturer.

Labor standards in industrial home work are deplorably low. The method of payment is usually by the piece, and rates are so low as to yield earnings insufficient for a bare subsistence. Hourly earnings of 2 to 5 cents are not uncommon, and individual cases of even lower earnings have been reported. Hours of work are considerably longer and exhibit a greater degree of irregularity than in comparable factory occupations, and child labor is common, partly due to the attempt to earn a sufficient amount to support the family and partly through the necessity of finishing a given amount of work within the time specified by the manufacturer. Sanitary conditions are often poor and lighting insufficient.

The effects of the practice of industrial home work reach far beyond the actual home workers themselves. The existence of home work tends to undermine labor standards in industry. Employers cannot continue to maintain labor standards in the face of home-work competition where the employer of home workers not only pays lower wages, but is free from expenses for rent, taxes, insurance, light, and heat.

Society itself bears a considerable burden as a result of industrial home work. It has been estimated that from 15 to 50 percent of home workers on specified products were on relief rolls in 1934. Consumers of articles made in the home cannot adequately be protected from the spread of disease which is a result of unsanitary conditions in the home workshop. Finally, the detrimental effects of industrial home work in the undermining of family life aggravate many serious social problems.

Present Status of Legislation

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the deplorable working conditions in the so-called sweatshop industries all over the world aroused a considerable wave of public feeling, which culminated in two types of protective legislation for home workers. In Australia,

and later in Great Britain, minimum-wage laws applying to home workers as well as factory workers were established. As a result, the number of home workers was decreased and their wages increased so that they more closely approximated factory standards. The principle of regulating industrial home work through minimum-wage legislation has prevailed in the majority of countries outside the United States. At the present time, France, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, Spain, and the Argentine Republic have wage-board machinery for setting wages in home-work industries to raise earnings to the factory level. In several other countries minimum-wage laws have been applied to home workers.

Home-work legislation in the United States has been of a different type. Investigations of sweated industries in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio in the 1890's revealed the same deplorable conditions among home workers that had been found in Australia and England. The result of these investigations was the passage of the so-called antisweating laws in a number of States. The aim of these laws, however, was sanitation and protection of the consuming public, focusing on an improvement of physical surroundings rather than actual working conditions. Indeed, it was the consensus of opinion at that time that legislation was not the proper method of attack on the long hours and low wages found in home work. Another factor influencing the trend of legislation was the fact that a New York law passed in 1883 prohibiting the manufacture of cigars in city tenements was declared unconstitutional on the ground that it was an economic and not a health measure. Up to the present time, though approximately one-third of the States have enacted minimum-wage laws, they have not been used extensively to control industrial home work. California and Wisconsin specifically refer to home workers in wage orders and Connecticut set a minimum wage for home workers in the lace

industry, but there is little mention of a home-work problem in the reports of the other minimum-wage States.

As of July 1, 1936, 16 States had statutes or official regulations governing industrial home work. Three laws (Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island) were passed in 1935 and 1936 and institute a stringent regulatory system attempting to raise labor standards as well as to compel sanitation, and are aimed at the eventual elimination of home work. The laws and regulations in the other States, with the exception of California where home work regulations are a part of several minimum-wage orders, are the outgrowth of the antisweating laws mentioned above and, for the most part, are intended for the protection of the consumer.2

A condensed summary of these State regulations appears in the following table, and a digest of the laws is appended.

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The first and most obvious weakness of the existing legislation on industrial home work is its limited application both geographically and industrially. In 32 of the States, there is no regulation of industrial home work whatever, though it is known that home work is carried on in all 48 States. The absence of legislation in two-thirds of the States is particularly significant in the case of industrial home work because of its mobility. It is a relatively simple matter for an employer of home workers through the use of contractors and subcontractors or the direct use of the mails to withdraw home work from a State in which there are prohibitions or strict regulations and send it to a State where no legislation exists. Because of the fact that home work is carried on in many industries, legislation applying only to selected

These States were California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Massachusetts and New Jersey introduced home-work bills in 1936 which were not passed,

industries, as is the case in half of the States having home-work legislation, is obviously inadequate.

Child labor, long hours, and low wages are characteristic of industrial home work. Only eight of the States having home-work legislation attempt the regulation of one or more of these evils. Seven apply the child-labor law of the State to home workers; four, the maximum-hour laws for women; and four attempt the regulation of wages. 3

The workmen's compensation laws do not apply to home workers in the majority of States with home-work laws. Obviously, the welfare of the home workers themselves is not adequately protected by existing legislation. Home workers are presumably covered by all of the unemployment-compensation acts to date. At least home work is not specifically exempted in any act. It is possible, however, that the courts may rule that home workers are independent contractors and therefore not covered by the law.

Protection of the consumer by the maintenance of sanitary conditions was the aim of the early antisweating laws, which still comprise the major part of existing home-work legislation. However, only three States-New York, New Jersey, and Oregon-prohibit home work on articles where the health hazard is great. In the other States, inspections are the means of securing sanitary conditions. Because of the large number of homes scattered over wide areas, the adequacy of routine inspections may be seriously questioned as a means of protecting the consumer of products manufactured in homes.

The very number of home workers, the scattered and shifting places of operation, and, in most States, the relatively small number of inspectors available make the regulation of home work, from the point of view of both health and working conditions, extremely difficult. Though this situation prevails in practically all of the States, only three have apparently adopted the principle of the eventual abolition of home work in their laws. Connecticut and Rhode Island limit the issuance of certificates to home workers to special cases, while New York provides for the elimination of home work in a given industry if conditions warrant such a step. Only by such methods can the dimensions of the home-work problem be reduced to such an extent. that regulation is possible.

Finally, existing legislation fails to solve the problem of the distribution of home work across State lines. Connecticut restricts the issuance of employer permits to firms located within the State, and Pennsylvania requires a nonresident employer to designate a contractor within the State to represent him, but the balance of the laws do not cover the interstate distribution of home work. As long as

* Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin apply the State chud labor law; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, hours for women; and Canfornia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, wages.

this means of evasion is open, the practice of distributing home work cannot be effectively controlled.

New Legislation

The need for new and expanded legislation in the field of home-work regulation is obvious. With no such legislation in two-thirds of the States and inadequate laws in the majority of the others, further legislation is both desirable and necessary.

In view of the fact that regulation of industrial home work and effective enforcement of desirable working conditions in homes is almost impossible, the outright prohibition of home work is probably the most satisfactory solution of the problems raised. However, such a step faces immediate and practical and legal difficulties and probably could not be taken in the majority of the States. If complete prohibition of home work is impossible, a stringent regulatory program should be enacted, directed toward a decrease in the number of home workers, the improvements of working conditions, and the maintenance of sanitary and healthful work places.

A decrease in the number of home workers may be achieved by putting into effect a licensing and certification system. The employer of home workers or his agent within the State should be required to obtain a license to distribute home work and each home worker should be required to obtain a certificate before engaging in home work. The issuance of certificates should be restricted to those who, by reason of age, physical incapacity, or required presence in the home, are unable to work in a factory. Another step leading to the gradual elimination of home work is the incorporation of provisions in the law making possible the prohibition of home work in any industry in which the welfare of the employees or the public requires it. combination of these two plans is the most desirable, and, if efficiently administered, may reduce the number of home workers to such an extent that regulation is effective.


The raising of labor standards in home work to the level prevailing in the factory should be the aim of legislation. State labor laws (child labor, workmen's compensation, unemployment compensation, hours, and minimum wages) should be applied to home workers. The responsibility for compliance with the labor laws should be placed on the employer of home workers or his representative within the State, and the holding of an employer's license conditioned upon such compliance. The issuance of certificates should also be conditioned upon the payment to the home worker of the same rate of wages that is paid for similar work in the factory. As an aid to enforcement of the regulations, the employer should be required to keep records of the names and addresses of all home workers, the rate of wages paid to each and the amount earned each week, and the amount of work given out to each home worker.

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