The Minimum Wage and You

Several readers have asked how I think LA’s minimum wage increase will affect PAs. Well, it means we’ll get paid more. There’s a whole bunch of caveats to go with that, though.

First of all, the $15 an hour minimum wage you’ve been hearing so much about doesn’t take effect until 2020. I would hope anybody who’s a PA now won’t still be in five years. Maybe if you’re reading this in your freshman year of film school, you’ll get $15/hour.

Most PAs make $10/hour now, or $700/week (8 regular hours plus 4 hours at time-and-a-half, times 5 days). The new minimum represents a 50% pay raise, or $1050/week. That’s nearly what a union production secretary makes. Which is great! Right?

Well, look at it from the studio’s perspective. Are you suddenly worth 50% more? Maybe, maybe not. Remember, manpower is the most expensive thing in any production budget. A sharp increase will mean they’d either have to cut back on the number of PAs they hire, or cut back on the hours.

One easy solution is for offices with three PAs to reduce that number to two. Sure, the APOC and production secretary will probably have to pick up some slack, but the studio doesn’t care.

Or, they might mandate no overtime, and send PAs home after 8 hours. Which means you’ll have more free time and approximately the same pay… which doesn’t sound so bad, really.

But let’s think a little further down the line. What about that hypothetical film student I mentioned earlier? This is all good news for her, right? Again, maybe.

Another way to look at the minimum wage is that it makes it illegal for an employer to hire somebody who’s worth less than $15/hour. You may think your fancy college degree means you’re totally valuable, but let’s ask a salty old grip what he thinks a wet-behind-the-ears kid who’s never set foot on a Hollywood sound stage is worth.

On most shows, there are three types of PAs: the one with tons of experience; the must-hire whose related to somebody higher up; and the newbie who managed to impress the coordinator with her grit and moxie.

I'm gonna make it after allllllll!
My first day on the show was uncomfortable.

If she can only hire two PAs, guess who falls off that list?

With this new minimum wage, there’s no valid option between $0 and $15. Looks like you’re going to have to intern for a while.

And here we get to the really awkward part of this post.

Proponents of the minimum wage aren’t exactly proud of its history, if they’re even aware. That’s because its original purpose, like that of trade unions, was to keep minorities, specifically blacks and immigrants, from entering the workforce.

Breaking into any business is difficult without connections, and historically, minorities have few. This is why things like affirmative action exist– to help minorities enter a field that is otherwise closed to them.

At $15 per hour, a show is only going to want to hire experienced PAs. How are you going to get experience? Interning. And thanks to the Black Swan law suit, the few legitimate internships that are available require college credit.

You’re no longer working for free, you’re paying to gain experience. And guess who is under represented in colleges? Once again, minorities.

I’m not saying that this new minimum wage law is motivated by racism, but there is such a thing as unintended consequences. Most internships are going to go to wealthy kids who can afford to go to film school in Los Angeles (or one of the few other production cities), and additionally have the free time to intern between classes instead of, say, working to pay for rent and tuition.

The entry level positions will then go to those who have interned. It’s the old born-on-third-base issue.

This isn’t a new objection, by the way. Here’s Walter Williams explaining the problems in 19fucking85, before I was even born.

One final note– the two biggest production payroll companies, Entertainment Partners and Cast & Crew, are based in Burbank. When you work on a show, they are technically the employer of record. Does that mean the city of Los Angeles’s minimum wage law doesn’t apply, even if I’m working at, say, LA Center Studios?

I have no idea. Hopefully an accountant out there can answer that one.

Tl;dr: the new minimum wage will be good for some people, bad for others. I don’t actually know if it’s sound public policy, but the issue is a lot more complicated than “Letz pay poor ppl more lolz!”

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2 Responses

  1. This is one more reason for shows to shoot in runaway production states where they can still get away with $10 per hour.

    For those wondering, an office PA gig on an independent movie in say…Louisiana….where you are paid in these conditions:

    -a flat 60hr week (even though you may be worked 65+)
    -no mileage reimbursement (instead you use petty cash to pay for your gas)
    -filing taxes as a typical single person

    After taxes guess what you’re take home pay is? $460

    Which means you’re actually earning $7.66 per hour.

    This sucks depending on your ‘desire to move up’ which is this open, nebulous cloud of uncertainty and zero promises.

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