Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wage Minimums In The Recent and Distant Past

When I was but a lad, I found myself working at Walt Disney Productions in the Animation Story Department. I was a "Trainee", and I made a princely $130 per week. It seems like a pittance now, but in the mid 1970s I was living on it ... with folding money left over.

That was TAG's "Minimum Rate" at the time. Most studios made it policy to pay most employees close to negotiated minimums, and the Mouse House was no exception. You made forty or a hundred bucks over your rate, you were a Major Player. (More than that, and you were one of the Nine Old Men).

But it got me to thinking about Minimum Rates in general, because -- except for the go-go nineties -- M.R.s have been the main signpost for a lot of animation employees in the six-plus decades L.A. animation has been unionized. So let us now take a brief trip down Memory Lane ...

What follows are the contract minimums for a journey artist working as an animator ... or layout artist ... or storyboarder ... or writer. (A television Production Board Artist would get a 15% add-on). Because old contracts have shifting start and end dates for salary bumps, the numbers are generalized a little.

1976 -- $351.56.

1977 -- $393.76

1978 -- $441.00

1979-80 -- $501.48

1980-81 -- $537.58

By the early eighties, inflation was roaring and for the 1982-1985 contract, wages increased every six months for its first two years. The telescoped minimums looked like this:

August 1, 1982 -- $612.12

August 1, 1984 -- $728.84

Sizable jumps, but inflation was over 10% per year, so studios and unions adapted. By 1985, the rates had returned to annual increases instead of semi-annual increases. (At times they went up on a percentage formula, sometimes a dollar formula. The dollar-per-hour jumps ended up providing smaller gains).

Almost always TAG follows the pay-raise formula of the IATSE and the Basic agreement -- which follows the pattern of the other entertainment unions and guilds. (Funy how that works):

1985 -- $764.84

1986 -- $804.84

1988 -- $848.84

1990 -- $900.56

1993 -- $1043.44

1995 -- $1,074.76

1998 -- $1,140.20

2000 -- $1,209.64

2002 -- $1,283.28

2004 -- $1,375.32

2006 -- $,1,446.56

2008 -- $1,534.64

A dozen years ago, lots of folks regarded minimum rates with sneering disdain: "Who needs them?" ... "I make my own deals." ..."The minimums are worthless."

Of course, at the time, the industry was roaring, with an abundance of jobs chasing a minimum of qualified artists. Supply has long-since caught up with demand, and those "sky is the limit" attitude have gone away. Now, more often than not, I get: "Man, I'm glad the rates are there."

Times they do change. But then, change is the only constant anybody can rely on.


Anonymous said...

It would have been nice if the union had pushed to have the minimums raised higher during the "roaring 90's" even with the "skies the limit" personal service contracts going on. With inflation sky high, I can't support my family with these minimums as they are today.

Steve Hulett said...

It would have been nice if the union had pushed to have the minimums raised higher during the "roaring 90's" even with the "skies the limit" personal service contracts going on.

Yes, very nice.

But, as always, entertainment unions and guilds are hemmed in by the realities of "pattern building." If the guilds are getting 3 percent bump-ups, that's what everybody gets.

As I've said previously, guild members declined to take any action to go after residuals in the nineties, so it's doubtful that anybody would have wanted to strike over higher minimums.

Anonymous said...

hard to say. higher minimums seemed a lot more attainable(in the 90's) than something as
open ended as residuals. i still feel it was a missed opportunity we are all paying for today with our livelihoods.

Steve Hulett said...

Not hard to say at all. TAG received the same minimum raises that every other guild and union received.

To receive higher minimums than SAG, IATSE, DGA and the others would have been a very neat hat trick.

But nobody in the membership, on the executive board or by e-mail ever proposed higher minimums. Nobody.

But we can refight the battles of yore, and point fingers. Lots of benefit to it, so let's plunge ahead, shall we?

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