Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wage Transparency

One thing I know: Cartoon studios don't like employees knowing what other employees are making. You've no doubt heard about the alleged wage collusion between animation employers, so I won't beat that particular horse beyond linking to a story about it.

But here's a related tale with a (kind of) happy ending:

When thousands of Google employees organized to share their salaries internally — allegedly highlighting troubling patterns in the way people were paid — Google got angry, according to a former Google engineer who wrote about the incident on Twitter on Friday.

The employee, Erica Baker, who is now an engineer at the workplace messaging company Slack, said on Twitter that “one Sunday” at her previous company, she and some coworkers “were bored” and decided to put their salaries in a spreadsheet.

“It got reshared all over the place,” she tweeted. As it spread through the company, thousands of employees added their salaries and it allegedly revealed “not great things regarding pay.” ...

As the spreadsheet kept growing, Baker’s co-workers began giving her “peer bonuses” —a $150 award Googlers can dole out to colleagues they think have done good work — for her work opening up the discussion about wages at Google. Baker said that her employers reprimanded her by repeatedly not approving the bonuses co-workers were sending to her. ...

I bring this tale up because A) my former assistant Jeff Massie sent it to me, and B) it fits in beautifully with our ongoing wage survey. (And if you haven't send in your salary info to us, get cracking. We're already up to 25% of membership, so what are you waiting for?)

Years back, Disney Feature Animation put confidentially clauses in all its Personal Service Contracts. They told me they didn't want anyone sharing wage information; when I (helpfully) pointed out that the paragraph in the contract was against California law, the exec to whom I was talking gave me a long, thoughtful pause and said:

"Well, the lawyers tell us that so long as nobody takes us to court, we're good keeping the language in."

I argued his inane point vociferously. Eventually I took my argument up with an enlightened lawyer in Disney Labor Relations. (They do have a few, believe it or not.) She said: "You're right, shouldn't be there. We'll take it out." And out it finally, (happily) came.

But it was a struggle.

I offer this history as a reminder that companies always and forever want to keep information that might hit their profit margins as close to the vest as legally possible. It's the way they roll. But the American culture that used to discourage employees from sharing wage information now erodes year by year, largely because (I think) of the way 21st American companies roll.

Couldn't come a minute too soon.


mark pudleiner said...

Steve - Did they take that out of your contract only ?
Or did they change the wording for future contracts ?

- mark

Steve Hulett said...

They took it out of PERSONAL SERVICE CONTRACTS of individual Disney employees. Wasn't ever in the union agreement.

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