The past week, I've gotten e-mails complaining about salary cuts at Disney, along with the question: "Can they do this?"
The answer is, sure they can.
Salary decreases happen all the time. Over the years I've seen internal memos from studios that say: "Hold down wages!" I've watched higher-priced employees laid off for months, then brought back at union scale. Employees don't like it, but they accept the job and work at the lower rate, because they're not in a position to say no.
And the studio knows it, and acts on the knowledge.
There is nothing inherently evil or vindictive in this, because (mostly) it's "only business". Companies strive to pay no more than they have to ... for acquisitions, outside services, or employees.
"Companies," as honest CEOs like to say, "are not charities."
A dozen years ago, when studios were bidding against each other for talent, weekly salaries went into the stratosphere. Companies weren't crazy about this, but for a moment they were unable to prevent the sky from being the limit.
I remember the time well. Artists came through my office, gleeful about the salaries they were getting. Many of them thought the flush times would last the rest of their careers, but it was over in fifty or sixty months. The lesson I took away from the mid-nineties boom and the animation depression that followed was:
Everything is temporary. Plan accordingly.
What employees need to wrap their heads around is that, as it's only business for companies, it must also be business for employees. Know what your rights are under the collective bargaining agreement, know labor regs. Know the phone number and address of the California Labor Commissioner. Share wage information. Build a support network. Improve your chops.
And don't fall into the "we're one large, huggy family" sedution that companies often spin. Despite what department and division heads might say, they're not looking out for your interests. Companies are focused on the bottom line. They are Fox or Warner Bros. or Disney or Viacom, not the Red Cross.
In the end, it's business, and always will be. Companies decide what they need to do, and then do it.
Note: This post was down briefly because I'm as manually nimble as a greased pig on ice. Hit the "save as draft" button instead of "publish," and poof! away it did vanish.