Monday, March 23, 2009

Filled Out Your Wage Survey Yet?

If you've worked under the Guild's jurisdiction in the last ... oh ... twelve months, then you should have gotten our annual wage survey questionnaire in the mail. And you may have read the cover letter, in which Kevin and Steve discussed exactly why it's important for EVERYONE who's received the survey to reply.

The good news is that last year, we had an increase in the percentage of survey response. Even so, the rate of reply is still below where we'd like it to be. So. To insure a meaningful and accurate look at where wages are ... and where they've been trending, fill out your form tonight and get it back to us pronto.

We know you have questions; herewith are my replies:

Why is it so important that you know how much I make? What business is it of yours?

Outside of a situation where we might have to go to bat for you -- like, if you're being paid less that the contract minimums -- it probably isn't any of our business how much you make. But we don't want to know how much you, the individual artist earns each week. Really

What we want are big gobs of data so the wage survey has weight and meaning to your workaday life.

Which is why the survey is anonymous.

I'm afraid if I tell the union what I make, the word will get out.

Which is why the survey is anonymous. (Sorry for repeating ourselves, but we hear this one a lot.) Nobody will know. There's no place for your name on the envelope of form. Honest to Betsy.

Why don't you publish what people make broken down by employer? Why not just publish the raw data?

We've looked at the raw data from past surveys, and we realized that if we published it as is, or in a less generalized format than the one we've been using, it would be too easy to "play detective" with ... uh ... certain results. And the bottom line is, we want the survey to remain anonymous. (That word again.)

(By the way, if you are looking for specific numbers broken down by department and employer, send Jeff Massie an e-mail at, or call him at (818) 766-7151 ext. 104. He can bringup his magic spreadsheet and give you meaningful numbers, without revealing anything that might jeopardize anyone's privacy.)

When I got hired, my employer told me I had to keep my salary a secret.

We've said it before and we'll say it again -- this is illegal.

Section 232 of The California Labor Code prohibits employers from:

  • requiring as a condition of employment that any employee refrain from disclosing the amount of their wages [Section 232(a)];
  • requiring an employee to sign a waiver of their right to disclose their wages [§232(b)]; or
  • discharging, formally disciplining, or otherwise discriminating against an employee who discloses the amount of their wages [§232(c)].

Of course, that fact that it's illegal doesn't prevent certain employers or employer reps from pulling it, or trying to phrase it in a "nice" way: "Gee, we sure hope you understand it could get embarrassing if everyone found out what a great salary we're paying you ..." (this, invariably, to the artist who doesn't realize the "great" salary being offered is hundreds per week below the going rate.)

And anyway, the survey is anonymous (yawn), so there is no way any employer will know that you ratted them out to us. (Which is legal.)

Why don't you publish a survey of non-union wages?

Because we have no way to accurately poll non-members ... who are the ones who largely make up the workforce at many non-union employers.

However, many of the survey results we get from members show what they are being paid at non-union shops. In most cases, these are the numbers that show up at or near the survey minimums. In our experience, those Guild members who work at non-Guild shops are typically more experienced than their non-member fellow workers, and thus tend to be among the higher-paid.

If you want to know what it's like out there in non-union-land, there are several online surveys that show what the going rates are in non-union areas:

So why don't you publish the wage survey questionnaire online or in the Peg-Board so that non-union members can fill it out?

We go out of our way to make sure that the survey is conducted fairly and impartially, which is why we only accept the colored survey forms that have been mailed to us by members. Otherwise, we lose control over the accuracy of the results.

It would be easy, for example, for a non-union employer to fill out multiple forms to drive down the medians ... or for others to submit inflated numbers to drive the numbers over the actual going rate. Bottom line: the survey is only as valuable as its credibility.

Things are terrible in the business nowadays ... I don't think the Guild should publish a list that shows everyone how bad the wages are.

This gets to the #1 reason why an accurate wage survey is very important:

This is information that your employer already knows. So you and your fellow members deserve to know it as well.

Lower wages are not a secret, and if the survey results reflect that, it's not as if we're the ones who have broken the news. If you're looking for work in this atmosphere, it's important that you do so with your eyes wide open ... and you can't do that with an unrealistic view of what your talents and skills will fetch in the marketplace.

I worked at a union shop last year, and I didn't get a wage survey. (Or maybe I did, but I lost it.)

So E-mail Jeff Massie at, or call him at (818) 766-7151 ext. 104, and he'll get one out to you.

One last thing. If you really, really feel it's important to get more wage survey forms out there, then drop a comment below. We can, if there is enough of a demand for them, put up a web version on the TAG website. But be warned: The last time we offered this thrilling option, we got eight (8) web forms back.


Mike said...

Thank you for all your hard work in this area (much needed).
I just wanted to let all of those involved in this survey, that it is appreciated.


Jeff Massie said...

Thank you, Mike.

For those of you who don't know what we mean by "the wage survey," or if you haven't looked at it lately, here's some recent examples of the TAG wage surveys (PDF format):

* 2008
* 2007
* 2006

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