Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The worker is worthy...

If you’ve read this blog very long you know that I am pro-union, and quite strongly but not blindly so. I don’t support union activity that is abusive to either business or the customers they serve, but that is a rare instance and I support unions in the absence of evidence that such abuse is taking place. When in doubt, I’m going to lean toward the union.

I’ve been reading articles about the Writers Guild for quite a few days now and some of them are expressing hope that the “public will support our cause” while others quite frankly say that they don’t think the public will support them and don’t really care. The consensus among writers seems to be that those of us who are not writers are a bit too stupid to fully understand their cause. The articles which explain the cause universally do so in a rather condescending manner.

All of which doesn’t really draw me to their cause very much.

The issue seems to be with “residuals” which is a deal whereby once you’ve written a script and been paid by the studio for writing it because you were drawing a salary, you then get paid again every time the show is seen by an audience, even if that audience is one person in the privacy of their home.

Something like the “royalties” that a book writer gets when a book is sold.

Except that a book writer doesn’t get paid for writing the book to begin with. And a book takes an enormously longer amount of time and energy to write than does a script for a half-hour show. And a book author doesn’t get paid every time someone reads the book, only when they buy it. And the author doesn’t get paid when someone buys a used book, only when someone buys a new book.

One writer’s article contained the following, in response to a commenter’s question,

"When an engineer develops a product for a company should the engineer receive compensation each time the company figures out a new market for the product or a new application for the product ?"

This is a fair question, but it employs a truly dunderheaded example. An engineer does receive additional compensation when a company finds a new application for the product he created. This is called "owning a patent."

See what I mean about the condescension?

I can think of no industry that gives its engineers the patents on products they create while working on a salary. Engineers do not receive additional compensation, because they do not hold the patent. The engineer receives his salary and nothing else. The “dunderhead” here is not the person who posed the example, but the arrogant writer who rebutted it.

One writer’s article complained that there were very few jobs for writers and as a result they were unemployed a lot. Um, there are even fewer jobs for astronauts, so people who don’t get those openings are forced to get jobs doing something else. I just was stunned by that argument. Because you are able to write scripts you are therefore unable to do anything else?

As a computer programmer, when I created a product while working for hire to another company, the company I was working for owned the copyright on the material that I created. That is a standard of practice that has been tested in courts in every state and has held up. I was happy with it. I would set a price, I did the work, they paid me, and I moved on to the next job.

It did mean, of course, that I had to keep working. I guess it would be nice if I could do one or two jobs and then keep getting paid for them for the rest of my life without having to work again. That seems to be what the writers want, and I’m not sympathetic to it. It’s the “win the lottery” syndrome.

As a “Great American Dream” that one sucks.

Actual numbers are hard to come by, but it appears that “upper tier” writers make an average salary of $200,000 per year, while “lower tier” writers have to get by on a mere $100,000. The writer of the article claimed that those numbers should be double that because “industry can afford it.” Notice that the writer is not considering what the writers are worth, merely how much they can coerce out of “the industry.”

From that same article, once their job ends the existing residual structure kicks in, and the lower tier writers are living at a “subsistence” level, which implies that the upper tier writers are probably not hurting. I also wonder what the writer considers subsistence to be, given that he believes those salaries to be inadequate.

How many of you non-writers get an permanent ongoing salary, subsistence or otherwise, when you get fired from your job? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I’m just not feeling any sympathy for the union, here. Their articles are adding to the distance, because they come across as superior, arrogant snobs who want to be rewarded disproportionately to their task. I started my investigation with a tendency to be on their side, and wound up simply disliking them and not supporting their “cause” which strikes me simply as nothing other than greed.

Everywhere else, in the "real world," people either eschew an intial salary against a share of future income, or they accept a salary in return for their work and their employer who took the risk enjoys the future income. The writers want to "have their cake and eat it too." They want to draw a handsome salary for the work they do, and still enjoy the future income. They want future gain without taking the present risk.

The worker is worthy of his hire. Not largess.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:38 PM

    Granted, granted... and they ARE arrogant and make themselves look bad.
    But where did you get that $100,000 figure from? I have gathered in the past that it was more like 20k a year, and that was not salary, but piece work. I am not sure whether actors and directors should get residuals, but that they do. Given that, I can think of no reason that writers shouldn't either.
    But they