BONNIE VAUGHN is 39 years old, the mother of five teen-agers, head cashier at a Jackson, Mich., supermarket and the wife of an electrical systems designer who makes good money when he's working. She is also a member of the National Commission on Working Women -- a commission funded by the federal government, corporations and foundations to examine the problems of women in blue collar jobs -- and she came to Washington recently to tell the Senate Committee on Human Resources what it's like to be Bonnie Vaughn. It isn't easy, she told the senators, to be a full-time wife and a full-time mother and a full-time employe, and no one -- not unions, nor governments nor industry -- is doing anything to make it easier.
"Daily," said Bonnie Vaughn in an interview after she testified, "you fear that your family responsibilities will jeopardize your job." That's not the way it was supposed to be. "The nation doesn't think a woman should work. A woman in my age group, we were made to feel that taking care of the home and the children is our main job and if we work that's extra. The men, they may help, but they still don't feel like it's their responsibility.
"So we have a child who needs dental care. The first person who tries to take care of it is the woman and, in doing that, if she's totally honest with her employer she's put down as an undependable employe because she has to take time off to take the child to the dentist. So you try to make all your doctors' appointments on your day off, but sometimes you have an emergency. You have to take your child to the dentist and you tell your employer you're the one who has to go. If I wanted to get paid for it [the sick leave] I would be the one who is sick.
"I'm the head cashier now and I see my own girls doing this. We're forcing [women in blue-collar jobs] to lie because it's such a no-no to say it's for my children. If you do that, then maybe it's suggested -- and it's happened to me -- that maybe you should stay home and take care of them. A myth that needs to be cleared up is that women go to work to run away from family responsibilities."
Bonnie Vaughn isn't running away. Her children go to the doctors and to the Little League games and the school play rehearsals and the swimming practices and swimming meets. "I never missed my turn at bringing cookies or keeping score," she said. And she didn't go to work for the fun of it.
She returned to work after her five children were born because her husband was working full-time in a factory and supplementing that income by working all day Saturday and early in the mornings weekdays delivering meat and working Saturday nights at a take-out. "I could check and work 16 hours a week and make what he was making taking on these piddly jobs which were taking him away from the house and he didn't have any time for the family," said Bonnie Vaughn.
There came a time -- four months to be exact -- when both of them worked full-time and they had that kind of money coming into the house. "Then he got laid off in the slump of 1970 and he went back to school with the GI bill." He studied drafting. "Then he went into a training program and was making the big sum of $84 a week. That was four years ago. So we kind of needed my income."
Two years ago, her husband began working on his own, designing and fixing electrical systems for contractors. If he worked year around, says his wife, he would earn about $40,000, but it is job work and people get laid off when the job is done. Her income -- about $16,000 last year when she earned double time working Sundays -- remains a necessity to her family, not a luxury.
To women like her, Bonnie Vaughn told the committee, child care remains a primary concern, child care that suits the working women's hours, that reflects the needs of the nurse who has to work two shifts. Further, she said, something needs to be done for teen-agers who are left alone in the afternoons after school because their mothers work. "When they're 12 years old, they're left alone. There's no concrete guidance. They're home by two o'clock by themselves. They have all this free time and all this free access to the parents' home. We're leaving the country's most precious natural resource to its own devices."
Said Bonnie Vaughn, who has tried, "You can't wear three hats -- being a working woman, a full-time mother and a full-time wife. Something has to get shorted." But neither employers nor unions, of which she is a member, are doing much to help, she says. "No one is looking at the problem realistically.
"I think if the companies and the unions would get together with the work force, I'm sure there's ways a lot of these things can be solved. We don't want to hurt the company and we don't want to hurt ourselves. They're all afraid the companies are going to get something they don't deserve. The unions are afraid they're going to antagonize the company, and the company's afraid the workers are going to get more than they deserve. They're all afraid of each other. They won't talk.
"I think the greatest natural resource we have is the child and I feel the backbone of America is the family. I feel the local, state and federal governments, the unions and the companies are all trying to kick these problems under the rug. You talk child care and immediately everybody's up in arms. They talk about the government taking over our children and that sort of thing. They can't see beyond their noses to where it could be a cooperative kind of thing. I know there are ways of doing child care where it's union-supported and company-supported and where women pay on the basis of income."
Said Bonnie Vaughn, "It's not child care. It's family care."
Bonnie Vaughn is a direct, forceful person and she knows what she's talking about when she discusses the conflicts and guilt that working mothers feel when they are torn between their obligations to their work and their obligations to their families. She has looked to the unions for leadership in solving some of these conflicts and found none. The answer, quite obviously, is for women like Bonnie Vaughn to get involved in unions, to go to the night and weekend sessions, to insist that unions with women members begin to address the conflicts and problems confronting working mothers.
But women like Bonnie Vaughn don't have the time for the night and weekend sessions, for the countless hours spent on drafting model contracts and negotiating agreements. They spend their 40 hours a week at work and spend hours at home taking care of the house and the family, trying to keep up with it all, and they don't have time for activities that might improve their lives in the long run. They don't have time because, right now, they're working mothers.