Saturday, April 22, 2006

Knowing What Your Peers Make

Some years back, when hand-drawn animation was peaking, an animator called me and said: "I met with two execs yesterday about getting a raise. They told me I was making as much as anyone here. Any way you can tell me if that's true?" I said that there was, and pulled out a fat printout of all animation employees salaries sent to the Guild by the Motion Picture Pension and Health Plan each quarter. Scanning rows of figures, I informed him that he wasn't even in the top 50% of wages for his classification. After some heavy breathing, he muttered thanks and hung up. Two days later he called again, this time informing me: "I told the executives what you told me. They got agitated, asked where I got the info. I said that you gave it to me." "Oh great." "They got really angry. Said you shouldn't have given it to me. Said it was unethical." "Fine. Did you point out to them that they lied about how much everybody else is making compared to you?" "Ahm, no. I got kind of flustered, they were beating me up so bad about getting wage information from you." "They give you a raise?" Long pause. "No." A couple of years before this conversation, I got into a beef with a Vice President at a large animation studio. The beef was that the studio's many personal service contracts (then around 70% of the entire staff) required employees holding the contracts to keep everything in the contract confidential. And the ONLY thing different in each contract was...(drum roll)...individual salaries. This triggered the following dialogue between me and the Veep: Me: You like, know that the reason the confidentiality clause is in there is to keep people from telling other people what they make, right? Veep: (After hemming and hawing) Yeah, pretty much. Me: You know there's a state law prohibiting a company from stopping an employee from sharing wage information? Veep: Hm hm. But the lawyers tell me as long as nobody takes us to court about it, we're okay. Me: (thoughtful pause) So why don't we just agree that, regarding salaries, the company will take the confidentiality clause out? Veep: I don't think we want to do that. Eventually the company DID take the clause out (after more whining about it from me); soon thereafter we published the following item in the Guild's newsletter: Section 232(a) of the California Labor Code prohibits an employer from requiring as a condition of employment that any employee refrain from disclosing the amount of their wages. Section 232(b) prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to sign a waiver of their right to disclose their wages. Section 232(c) prohibits an employer from discharging, formally disciplining, or otherwise discriminating against an employee who discloses the amount of their wages. When young, most people are taught that it's impolite to ask or tell other people what you make. Maybe that's dandy etiquette, but think a minute. If everyone is ignorant about what the guy in the next cubicle or office is making, the only entity that's helped by that ignorance is your employer, who knows what everyone is making. The language of the state code can be found here.


chrisheadrick said...

Folks at Sony and Nick went out of their way to tell me more than once that I was not allowed to share my salary information with others.

It was told to me once at Disney also.

Each time, I've always said--as nicely as possible--"hey, you know that's against the law, right?" Each time their expressions and uncomfortable pause belied that they knew what they were saying was wrong.

I consistently am willing to share what I make with peers on the same project, and I really wish others would be more willing to do the same. It's one of the most important ways people can learn what they're worth, and what a project is paying. Studios love to "divide and conquer"....trying to keep wages a secret so they can lowball. I know we're trained since childhood not to discuss income, but I really think it's important to share this information......I mean, the studios share wage information all of the time. I know, because former producers have told me so: they'll call up a friend at another studio and ask "hey--what was so-and-so making on your project?" Producers have no qualms about doing this at all, so they should have no qualms about you sharing your income info also.

Anonymous said...

So do we then as union employees have the option of calling the union and getting the salaries of our co-workers to better represent ourselves in negotiations?

Anonymous said...

ALWAYS remember: It's us against them. Make sure you share salary info with your co-workers (or at least your close friends in the biz)if asked. Very handy when you're negotiating pay for your next job.

In response to the last post: The union website usually has the most recent wage survey available for viewing/download.

Kevin Koch said...

The union office won't give out salary info about your co-workers -- that's why the annual wage survey was started. But I believe Steve often has a pretty good idea what the ballpark range is at a given studio, so it might be worth talking to him as well as looking at the survey numbers before negotiating.

Anonymous said...

I'd call and ask Steve privately. I do read the survey(and faithfully turned it in myself, for the same reason), but in my classification it's too vague a spread--with very, very few of my co-dept. peers responding at all(shame!); I asked several people if they'd done it--the survey--only to have them say they didn't. I must admit I don't have the nerve to put friends and certainly not-friends at work on the spot and say "how much do you make?"; the fact is they wouldn't want to answer, and I wouldn't feel terrific about telling them, either--though I totally agree that it's important.

Kevin Koch said...

Anon, you're right that it's a tricky subject to bring up salary with coworkers, but I find that people often will let you know at least what range their salary falls into, especially if you've been open with them first. Sometimes it's easier to do all that when a group has their personal service agreements coming up at the same time, and the issue of negotiating deals is in the air. It becomes a mutual support kind of thing. Of course, if you work in a department where there isn't much bonding, you're probably out of luck, and will need to rely on the survey and discussions with Steve Hulett.

And Chris Headrick, you and I are of the same mind on this subject. Well said.

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