The value of good personnel.

More often than not, people in this industry work ridiculous hours. It’s not uncommon to find someone who works 80+ hour weeks in the summertime. It certainly isn’t uncommon to find someone who does one 8 hour shift, and immediately goes to do another 8 hour shift.  Even more commonplace than those two scenarios, it’s not uncommon to work a long 12-14 hour day, and then get 4 hours of sleep (or less) and then get up to do it all again.

All these years I’ve wondered: “Why we do it to ourselves?”

The simple answer would be that it’s for the money.

The not-so-simple answer would be that we have to.  We have to because if we want to live in what was considered in 2010 to be the eighth most expensive city in the world to live in, we have to work our tails off just to be able to afford our expensive apartments, overpriced groceries, and our over-priced/under-serving transit system.

The issue doesn’t stop there. The other issue is that I feel we are often under-valued.  In any other industry/trade, if we worked as many hours, we would all be making six-figure income.  So why the heck are we all making so little?

One problem I see is the fact that there unfortunately are so darn many of us. There’s a number of “schools” that are pumping kids out of their $20,000+ programs at a rate that no market could possibly employ them all.  This drives the value of all of us down. Why would anyone pay X when they can get Y for 33% less?

Of course the argument can be made of how well and efficient the person does the job.  The answer there, unfortunately lies in the eyes of the beholder.  How much is efficiency worth? Often times the rental of the venue is not handled by the production company – the production company strictly is responsible for paying for their transportation and labour, and the rest of the income from the production covers their overhead.

Let’s say for example that a load out stacked with a stellar crew can get the gear out of the venue in 2.5 hours.  20 people are on the call, all at $25 per hour.  Of course there is the lovely thing known as a minimum 4-hour call, so we’re still all going to be charging for four hours, even though we pulled off the job in 2.5.  We all consider this a nice little bonus to ourselves, right? 4x20x25 = $2000.

Now, let’s make it so there are 2 people on the the load out as supervisors, and the other 18 are making $15 per hour.   And since the 18 other crew aren’t as experienced, the load out takes the full 4 hours.  If you do the math that figure comes in at $1280.

So what will the company choose?  They really don’t care how long it takes because it’s not costing them any extra.  I think you can see how this tiny little example can be carried over into all areas.

Now here’s the interesting question: how can we solve this problem of being undervalued?

Quite honestly, the only solution I see here is a solution that exists out there already, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this:  Unionize.

As long as these schools are going to keep pumping out 20 year olds at a rate that allows companies to perform a complete annual turnover of personnel, The only realistic solution could be unionization.  I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit.  I’ve always been anti-union, because they often result in one person losing accountability for their work, and as a result become more difficult to deal with on a daily basis.

But they get paid. And get paid well.

Have you been to a venue that has a union? All of the older guys bragging about how they make six figures? And the crazy thing of it all: they don’t kill themselves with insanely long days, and when they do, they make even more money.  That acts as a heck of a good way to make sure you aren’t on the job too long, and if you are you get properly compensated.

Having said that unions are not immune to their fair share of issues either. Nobody likes doing productions in unionized venues. They’re expensive, and drive the ticket prices through the roof as a result.  But heck, I think you get medical coverage.

I think if companies valued their staff and treated them as well as possbile, said company would ultimately succeed. When someone is proud to work for a company, the job is done better as a result. Companies need to realize that 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t matter what sound or lighting equipment you own, it’s the people who deal with the clients, artist, and audience. If a glowing review comes into your inbox from a client bragging about how well the show went, do you think it’s about the par-cans that you own, or the LD?  Is it about your new hip digital console, or the person behind it?  Good people make for a good product.  Nickel and diming definitely has its place in this industry, but when you take from the people (or refuse to give to the people) what is fair just so they can maybe afford to take a vacation once a year, you end up taking from yourself, because one unhappy employee is poison, and when it’s company wide, it’s even worse.

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