Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Wage Story

Thinking about the wage piece below and reading about wages at VFX Soldier triggers a story about a TAG member's salary that occurred at Turner Feature Animation back when we all were very young ....

So one bright Spring day, an animator calls me from TFA in Glendale, wanting to know what other animators in his department are making.

It so happens that I have a fat printout of all the wages of TAG members, generously donated to the Guild by the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan. Quick as a wink, I pull it out and rattle off the salaries of the various animators working at Turner Feature on "Cats Don't Dance.".

And whattaya know? The animator I'm talking to on the phone turns out to be the lowest paid. After a long pause, the guy says: "They told me that nobody was making more than I was."

"Hmmm," I rejoin. "Turns out they're lying."

Another pause. "I think I'm going back and talk to them again."

So he does. And the next day, the animator calls back and says: "I told them I found out I was the lowest paid person in the department. They got mad and asked where I'd heard that. I told them from you."

My heart sings. (Or maybe I'm just getting a sudden case of indigestion.} "Great," I mutter. "Thanks for bringing me in to this."

"No problem. Then they got even madder, yelling that you shouldn't have told me."

"No good deed goes unpunished. But tell me something. Were they embarrassed at all? That you'd caught them lying?"

"No," the animator answers.

And therein lies the tale. The job of studio management is to keep costs down, so they don't consider it lying when they say things like, "Nobody's getting laid off" ... "We're not changing the schedule and there's no budget for overtime" ... or ... "You're making as much as anybody else." even though all those statements are demonstrably false.

Because in Studioland, they aren't lies. They are simply good business practices.


Anonymous said...

Why dont they pay everyone Union Scale and keep the costs down that way? I know your answer is "because that's capitalism". But aren't they paying over Union scale for the purpose of separating the individuals from the Union? It seems it gives them an easy way to say "were paying you over scale, so dont make waves".

Anonymous said...

"Great," I mutter. "Thanks for bringing me in to this."

Thats your job. Isnt it?

Steven Kaplan said...

Why dont they pay everyone Union Scale and keep the costs down that way?

Everyone is entitled to negotiate their wage with the employer. The Guild provides wage minimums so employers aren't tempted to try to cut costs over the backs of the people who get the work done for them. Given the option, I'm sure employers would love to pay everyone scale. However, if you have the chops to ask for more and prove you are worth it, we won't stand in your way.

As stated in the contract:
Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent any individual from negotiating and obtaining from the Producer better conditions and terms of employment than those herein provided.

Steve Hulett said...

"Great," I mutter. "Thanks for bringing me in to this."

Thats your job. Isnt it? ...

Well, yeah. But this was before the TAG wage surveys, and the information was confidential, and I was breaching confidentiality to do him a favor (which I thought he deserved.)

And he went and blew my cover.

Not that it matters now. The above playlet occurred decades ago and the statute of limitations has long run out.

Jeff Massie said...

A true story:

An animator stopped by the Guild office on some business, and mentioned in passing that he was the "highest paid animator" at his studio. He then mentioned his rate of pay.

We asked him if he could confirm his rate, and he said yes, he has saved his pay stubs ... in fact, he showed me one he had in his pocket.

We then had to tell him that that not only was he not the highest paid animator at his studio but ... he was making below scale.

He had been hired four years earlier at a rate that was then slightly above scale. The studio never gave him a raise, even at the point when the minimums increased over his rate, and he never bothered looking at the CBA or the Peg-Board announcements -- why should he when he's above scale? ;)

The good news -- and sometimes there is good news at the end of a grievance story -- is that the studio resolved the matter and made him whole. (And no, they didn’t fire him a month later ...)

Anonymous said...

@ Steve

Thanks for the clarification.

@ Jeff

Crazy! Its always important to have an idea what your co-workers are making. It only ever benefits the employee.

Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing. You're the best people in the world.

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