Saturday, October 28, 2006

That time of year

I'm getting my performance review this week at work. As part of the review process, I have to fill out a self-evaluation. It's less evil than the usual ones; I don't need to list my strengths and weaknesses, I don't have to rate myself on a bunch of axes. I just have to describe my accomplishments for the previous year and my goals for the coming year. I still don't think it's strictly necessary. I work in an office of three and a half people. If my boss needs a document to know what I did last year, I've got bigger problems. I suspect I was in a sarcastic mood when I filled out the evaluation. One of my accomplishments for the previous year was, "Keeping a good attitude through the recent benefits cut."

In a practical sense, the review doesn't matter; my pay raise is essentially the same no matter how I do on the review, and it's not big. I'm pretty convinced that I'm underpaid. I definitely do a lot of work, but that's part of the job. The problem is that I'm not paid proportionally well relative to other people in other industries, or even other people in my own industry. I have a huge vat of techie geek knowledge sloshing around in my head, and I use a lot of it on a regular basis. I'm responsible for rigging, lighting, audio, computer stuff, electrical work, and a whole host of other duties. And I get paid roughly the starting wage for box pushers in the stagehand's union. I know a lot of people with easier jobs, who aren't as good at them as I am at mine, who make a lot more money than I do. People are making noise about raising the minimum wage to something more reasonable. If they do, I think I'll need another raise. I'm good at what I do; I'd like to think my work is worth double the bare minimum wage.

And, some trivia. I know a lot of people in the stagehands' union, and they occasionally give me a hard time for not being a union shop. So I sat down with the call steward for the local and figured out how it would work if we became a union shop. Right now, our private events are staffed by an event manager (Mike or Michele) and an event tech (me or Chris). If we went union, we'd still need the same two Artsgarden people plus a crew of six union guys to do the same work. He said he could fudge that and get it down to four union guys some of the time (what are rules for, if you can't bend them to get your foot in the door at a new venue?) Here's how that breaks down. We usually set up a small stage for events; it takes about five minutes. This would be a job for two carpenters, paid a four-hour minimum. We set a podium on the stage; the carpenters could move it, but an audio guy would have to set the microphone (also a four-hour minimum). We could cheat and have the same guy who runs the sound board set the microphone. When we focus the light on the podium an electrician needs to be in the Genie lift, and a board operator needs to run the light board. The union steward said he would probably let us cheat and use the same operator for the light board and sound board if the show is simple enough, though normally they need to be two different guys. We usually need to set a projector for a PowerPoint show, but we could probably cheat again and have one of the carpenters do it instead of hiring a projectionist. So, that condenses to somewhere between four and six additional guys, each paid a four-hour minimum, to do work that's currently done very well by a staff of two in an hour's time. Extrapolate this concept out, and you can see one of the reasons the U.S. automakers are in serious financial trouble.

And, more trivia. I was talking with a recent art-school graduate about the business of doing art. She said that right before she graduated, faculty members told her that she could consider herself a successful artist if she made ten percent of her income from her art. Ten percent. That seems wrong for three reasons. First, I think it's a strange definition of success; ten percent isn't much. Secondly, it's awfully dependent on your day job. If the other 90% of your money comes from your part-time job at a record store, "success" will come a lot faster than if your day job is something like stockbroker or trial attorney. Lastly, it seems unfair; the ten percent maxim sounds like something you should tell incoming freshmen, instead of graduating seniors....

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