Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Of Wages and Wage Surveys

The last few days via e-mail and face-to-face studio visits I've been asked

1) Is there an on-going campaign by studios to tamp down salaries?

2) Do studios purposely misclassify employees in order to lower wages?

3) Will there be an punishment for executives who were part of the "wage-theft cartel"?

Regarding 1): Yup, there's a concerted effort to lower animation employees's weekly checks. This has been done by laying off higher-salaried employees, renegotiating personal service contracts at par (i.e., minimal or no dollar increases in salaries), offshoring more work to Canada where the government is giving away free money, or China/India, where pay packets are much smaller.

Oh. And studios working to avoid bidding wars for artists' services. As one big-studio employee told me yesterday:

A couple years ago I was talking to a recruiter from Animal Logic in Australia, who told me they had a "Gentlemen's Agreement" not to hire away each other's employees unless they had talked to one another first.

"Gentlemen's Agreement." I couldn't tell you why the guy was so upfront with me about it. Maybe it's because he's Australian." ...

The drive to roll back costs has been vigorously pursued by the entertainment conglomerates since early 2008, when the Writers Guild strike prompted the studios to eliminated many rich writer-producer deals and pare back over scale contracts. (And journey ctors have suffered cuts in pay for years; in television "scale plus 10%" became the norm -- and notorious -- for actors and actresses guest starring in television series.)

In animation, TAG had much tougher negotiations. Over two contract cycles, the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) made serious pushes to cut contract salary increases by a third. (The Alliance was successful in 2009; unsuccessful in 2012.)

Regarding 2): Studios don't blatantly misclassify new hires, but they do push the envelope. Keeping employees in lower cost categories -- Animator/Modeler 5, Animator/Modeler 4 -- is a favored strategy. Newcomers are held in "trainee" and "apprentice" classifications longer.

Regarding 3): This is one's easy. Nobody will be punished (as in go to the pen. Or be fined.) Few will even get slapped on the wrist. The studios will have to pay settlements for lawsuits, but this will amount to chicken feed.

In class action lawsuits, there will be individual settlements of a few thousand dollars. (Millions in toto.) The only negative for high executives will be that their reputations could sag a bit. But they'll still be multi-millionaires, won't they? So how much will they care?

Not much.

Regarding the wage survey: The total responses have climbed to almost 23%. We are shooting for better than 25%. If you haven't yet filled out a digital or paper survey form, please do so as quickly as possible. We won't be keeping the window open much beyond August 1st.

Add On: * I tweaked the last paragraph a wee bit to clarify what I meant. A class action lawsuit could well be in the millions, but individuals will get a few to several thousand dollars. Big whoop. Nobody goes to the big house. Nobody gets fined. I note that some tweeters disagree with this.

Maybe I'm too cynical for my own good. I hope so.


Celshader said...

Any idea if these wage-fixing shenanigans will affect the 839 membership's resolve in contract negotiations next year?

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