Monday, February 09, 2009

Wage Surveys!

Fourteen years ago, a background artist at Warner Bros. Feature Animation in Glendale (now, sadly, kaput) said to me:

"Why don't you like, do a wage survey of all the employees working in the union? Give us a chance to know what the going rates for different jobs are? I mean, the studios know, but we don't. And it would be way helpful ..."

My thought bubble when he said the above? "Why the hell didn't I think of that?"

And from that day to this, we have collected and published animation industry wage surveys (the most recent one here), so that the playing field is a little more level when employees negotiate pay with studios around town.

This is important because studios are well aware of pay rates, and studios really, really don't want employees to have the same information, to the point of threatening those employees who are uppity enough to actually share wage info with their peers. (Retaliating against workers for sharing happens to be illegal, but in my experience, large companies are often not always concerned about trifling things like laws protecting their employees.)

Within the next week, we'll be shipping out 2009 surveys to TAG members. It's incredibly important to fill these surveys out and get them back to us. Our crack staff will compile and collate the data, and publish it as widely as possible (in other words, put it on the internets.)

Expect me to flog this subject a bit over the coming weeks. The more response we get, the more accurate the information will be and the more useful it will be for you.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, why aren't these surveys sent to non-union members at other studios as well? To get a truly accurate picture of the going rate of the overall industry and not just the union shops, it would be good to have a larger pool of input. Working in the LA industry for 13 years I've never participated in the survey, and have been surprised by some of the low rates that are posted in the survey.

Thanks for the great blog by the way!

Anonymous said...

Considering the current state of the economy and the industry, could you add a few questions to the survey addressing current and recent employment status skills and experience?

If the survey is only about salary, we only get to find out how the people who are currently employed are doing. I'm sure many of us want to know how far we are from full employment in this industry, as well as weather those of us who are lucky enough to be employed are getting a competitive wage.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it should have been "whether."

Anonymous said...

Steve, thanks for doing this every year. Knowledge is power, and Ive used this very survey to negotiate for a higher salary recently.

One suggestion: Could you add one category for "Video Game Animator" (are video game shops guild members?) Im curious to see if I should switch industries...from what I hear if you want to get paid well, move from film to games

Anonymous said...

"If the survey is only about salary, we only get to find out how the people who are currently employed are doing. I'm sure many of us want to know how far we are from full employment "

I don't understand what this means. "How far we are from full employment"...?
Not carping, just trying to figure out exactly what the question is here?

Jeff Massie said...

Question #1 on the survey has a checklist of production formats, i.e., theatrical features, network TV, syndicated, games, etc. ... new category this year: motion capture.

Question #2 (job category) is a blank line, to be filled in at the member's discretion.

So, a video game animator need only check off "games" and write in "animator".

As for employment statistics, we don't need to do a survey to know that. As SH said a couple of days ago, there are currently 2,506 members employed at union shops.

Kevin Koch said...

And to answer the very first question above, the survey is sent to TAG members who are active or were active in the previous year. The survey is sent to people's homes, and TAG has no access to the names and addresses of people working at nonunion studios.

As for trying to assess the level of individual's skills and experience, we've considered things like that in the past and rejected it. I've been a part of a wide variety of surveys, and have found it's extremely difficult to get complex data. The categories get too confusing or too specific, the data gets broken down into cells that have too few responses, and the response rate begins to plummet. As it is, the current survey takes about a minute to fill out, comes with a SASE, is anonymous, and yet we still only get less than a 30% response rate. And from that there are a few job categories with so few responses that it's difficult to judge if the numbers are meaningful.

In the end it's a wage survey of active and recently active union members. I think by keeping it simple we keep it useful.

Steve Hulett said...

Adding to what Kevin says, specifically this:

why aren't these surveys sent to non-union members at other studios as well? To get a truly accurate picture of the going rate of the overall industry and not just the union shops

We get a limited sample of union members working at non-union houses, but there's no way we can open the survey up to people with no Guild connection working at non-union houses. We have no way of mailing them forms.

I thought -- for a brief moment -- of simply putting a survey form up on the TAG website or blog, and interested parties could download it.

Problem with that is, there is no way to control (or monitor) where the completed forms are coming from. Might be from an artist working at a non-union shop in Culver City (useful).

But it also might be from somebody in Iowa or Colorado who is making shit up. (not useful).

We just have no way of knowing. And therefore, we don't do it.

Anonymous said...

One way of knowing is to have them submit a company email to verify with.

Anonymous said...

Was my comment about unemployment, posted ca. 4PM edited out?

Kevin Koch said...

I don't think so. If it had been, you'd see a 'post deleted by blog administrator' message in its place.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Kevin, Jeff,

Here's what I think you should do: Use both a mailed survey and a downloadable survey. Include questions that cover;
1) Employment status.
2) Union/non union employment.
3) Geography.

You may get the odd joker, but seriously, no one is that bored. There are a lot more fun things to mess around with than a labor survey.

Steve Hulett said...

I guess Kevin and I can put our heads together and think about this.

We'll see.

Anonymous said...

So, a video game animator need only check off "games" and write in "animator".

Awesome. But there isnt a "Video Games Animator" category in the survey results .pdf (which would be helpful). Correct me if Im wrong, but it appears to be lumped under the "3D Animator" category...

Are game animators part of the union?

rufus said...

In games there's in-game animators and also cinematics animator. Just to complicate things a little.

But I think Jeff is right, simpler is better. An animator is an animator.

rufus.

Anonymous said...

Every game studio Ive worked at (3) all the animators did cinematics and in-game stuff.

I agree that an animator is an animator (duh) but a film animator's salary is NOT a game animators salary...

Anonymous said...

yeah, but which is higher?

Anonymous said...

Thats what I want to know, hence my original question

Jeff Massie said...

The reason there was no "video game animator" listing in the 2008 survey results was that there weren't enough responses to compile the data separately. We'll see if we get enough data this year to break it down that way.

And as for employment and geographical statistics, we don't need to compile survey data to get that information -- we already have that information as regards members.

Anonymous said...

Cool, thanks Jeff

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Why are you being so stubborn on this point? You only have half a statistic. I know you know how many people are working; you don't even have to send out a survey for that number. Why don't you want to know how many of us, (experienced professionals), are NOT working? Why are you so resistant to the idea of finding out?

Anonymous said...

How does TAG mail out surveys to the experienced, unemployed professionals? Is there a mailing list somewhere?

Anonymous said...

By posting the survey on line as well, as suggested above. Also, the union has a thorough list of inactive members that goes back a lot farther than a single year.

Kevin Koch said...

The purpose of the wage survey is to survey wages. Period. The costs of doing the wage survey, in staff time and actual costs, is nontrivial.

A survey trying to assess the state of unemployed members is another matter. I'm curious what we would do with the data. The guild staff already has a tremendous amount of anecdotal information about what's going on with members who are trying to get reemployed, and efforts are constantly being made to help with retraining and getting job information out there.

If we could even get a hard number of how many are unemployed and haven't moved on to other fields (which I'm skeptical could be done, even at considerable expense and effort), what would we do with that number?

Anonymous said...

I guess I have to spell it out. We just elected a President who's no. 1 declared priority is employment; putting people back to work. Unlike some very smart people who contribute to this blog who think that analyzing or explaining the problem is the same as doing something about it, he just wants to get Americans working. We don't need "hard" numbers-approximate will do fine.

All we need is a simple on-line survey asking people some basic information about what they do, how long they have been doing it, what they want to do, and how long they have been looking. It doesn't matter if someone is doing something else to survive. Intention is the issue.

Then we bring the information to the people concerned and empowered to do something about it.

I am all for giving some CG animator valuable information that will allow him to negotiate a juicier contract, but I think general employment is a much more urgent issue.

Kevin Koch said...

First, let me reiterate the obvious, since I think you misstate what we're doing in your closing sentence -- the wage survey is for ALL TAG job classifications. That includes both traditional and CG work, animators, board artists, designers, etc., etc.

All we need is a simple on-line survey asking people some basic information about what they do, how long they have been doing it, what they want to do, and how long they have been looking. It doesn't matter if someone is doing something else to survive. Intention is the issue.

I don't think we need a survey for that. At any given time, there is a number of former and current TAG members who are underemployed, unemployed, or not employed where they want to be. Some have lots of skills and training and degrees and productions under their belts, some have less. The degree of the problem waxes and wanes, but it's always been there, and always will be there. I share your firm belief that this is an issue, but I don't see what actionable insights an online survey would reveal that we don't already know.

Then we bring the information to the people concerned and empowered to do something about it.

This is the crux of the matter, and this is where you lose me. I haven't any idea what this means. Who are these people? Apparently, there exists a group of people with the power to create jobs, who won't do anything with anecdotal information, but who will use their concern and power to deal with statistics in a way that helps our members. I'm sorry if putting it that way sounds snarky, but please, be specific. Perhaps you think we know who these people are, and we're just lazy. Believe me, we have no idea what group of people you're talking about.

The feds aren't going to single out union animation members for help. I think we're all aware that the bailout stuff for the entertainment industry got stripped away, because our industry is supposed to be in better shape than most others.

You can be damn sure the state is in no position to help. Hell, they're laying off teachers and closing public facilities.

The studios do the actual hiring, and they're a little too concerned about their bottom line to hire people they wouldn't otherwise just because we think it's a problem.

So who are these concerned and powerful people? We couldn't find them when the traditional feature animation industry imploded not so long ago and our active membership plummeted from around 3,000 to about 1,800. And that hard and clear statistic didn't make a bit of difference at that time.

But I could be wrong. Maybe you know the kind of survey TAG should do, and you know the people to take the information to when it's compiled. If you'd like to take the time to design that survey, you could easily put it up on a blog/website. We'll link to that blog, advertise it here and in the Peg-Board, and you'll hopefully get the data you seek. It won't cost you anything but your time. After you compile the data, you tell us who to take it to, and we'll do just that.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

Thank you for engaging the issue. I didn't mean for my points to sound like personal criticism. I never said "lazy." Discouraged, perhaps, but that's reasonable based on past experience. What's different now is than in the past is the political climate and the general state of the economy which has people alarmed and motivated to a degree that they hadn't been in the past. No, I wasn't aware that the parts of the rescue package that specifically relates to the entertainment field were cut. What I got from some of those Republican congressmen and Senators was that their definition of "pork" was anything that didn't specifically benefit their home state or district. What is potentially appealing about animation is the sheer number of people employed when things are at their busiest. That's the number I'm interested in. Maybe the solution is eliminating the head tax, or other kinds of tax incentives for studios willing to green light more projects or keep jobs here. Maybe there is the potential for studios like the Signal Core studio during WWII to do informational animation supporting projects that did remain in the bill. These are just the first things that come to mind.

The point is; for the first time in decades, or maybe ever, the political will is there. Yes, on the federal level. That's what got us to the moon. Maybe it could get us all some paychecks.

I'll work on a suggestion for a survey and send it in.

Site Meter