Getting out of low pay without quitting the job?

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Davi
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Jan 26 2013 15:51
Getting out of low pay without quitting the job?

Currently, a few friends and I are facing a very complicated professional situation and I really need help from people with more thoughts on this kind of problem. I tried to be brief, but I ended up writing a lot in order to explain things better. However, for those unwilling to read everything, the main questions are: when it comes to a job in a small company, or a small section of a big company, from five to ten employees, is there any way of fighting for better wages and benefits? What to do when the company claims lack of money? Or what if it simply says: "If you're not happy here, go somewhere else" and decides to fire everybody? What are good ways of facing these risks? Are there good strategies for this kind of situation?

Two people I know were hired by the biggest news corporations of my city right after they finished their studies in graphic design at the university. One takes care of editing the buying/selling part of the print newspaper, and another one is responsible for the graphic material that is aired on television every day, like vignettes, animations, simulations and so on. Both of them earn the same amount, about two minimum wages (the Brazilian minimun wage is roughly equivalent to 300 euros), for a six-hour a day shift. The pay isn't high, but it seemed like a good place to start after graduation, and both these people planned to stay there for two years at most. However, they're there for many years already, as they can't find other places that pay more for their work, and they're already working for the biggest news companies in the city, so it's hard to grow. In fact, what makes things even worse is that there's no chance of getting higher wages in their area inside these companies. They are dead end jobs. They get a small percentage increase every year, and that's it. One of these friends talked about it with her boss and the answer she received was something like: "Yes, there's no way you can grow in your area if you stay here. When people in your position want more money, they usually get a second job or create their own companies. But there's no way to get a promotion for you or anything of the sort, I'm sorry". This friend of mine never ever questioned anything with the way things are in the world, but after realising her trap and after getting to know the fact that the company she worked for announced record profits last year, she got really mad.

Today I was talking to another friend who is working for just a little more than a minimum wage as a graphic designer at a small publishing bureau and her situation is even worse. Low pay, extra hours, a boss who keeps promising to improve things without ever keeping his word, and a constant "optmization" of costs on his part. Last year he used to pay about R$400 for a model to pose for a photoshoot in one afternoon for one of his magazines. This year he's paying R$150 with a big smile on his face. One of his magazines is going to have his page count increased considerably, and this friend of mine is going to be responsible for it. Each page renders and extra profit for the company (it's mostly based on advertisement), but my friend's wage is going to stay the same. My friend told me that all the other workers in this small company are unhappy about their situation, even the manager who supposedly should ease the other workers' demands. To me it seems like the perfect ground for some action!

Then there's my case. I've recently submitted my portfolio to the three most important offices in my area of interest: 3D visualization and video. All of them contacted me a few months later offering me a job, and I went to their interviews feeling very confident, as I wasn't competing with anybody; the jobs were already mine. The conversations were all very friendly and they even told me interesting things about their companies, but things changed when money came into play. When they asked me how much I expected to earn monthly, I joked: "If you ask me, I'd like to earn R$10,000 or more! However, as I know you won't pay me that much, tell me how much you think it's fair and then I tell you if it's fair or not". They gave me a yellow smile and told me, a little embarrased, that their offer was R$1,100 (less than two minimum wages). All three companies proposed me about the same. I didn't scorn their offer, of course, as I was really looking for a job, so I tried to understand their situation a little better: "Ok, that may be a wage for a person who's just starting on a new place. But do you have a career plan, or do you plan constant increases in pay, or give us any opportunities to improve our situation in here with time?" The answers were like "Oh, hm, sure... We always try to increase our employees' salaries when we can. There are people here earning more than what we offered you". I didn't know what to think. At the time I was earning more money doing some freelance projects, so I prefered to continue this way, even though it's being a very unstable life anyway.

All these little stories were mere illustrations of a big problem I see in the lives of people in my professional field. Of course we can get better pay if we go to big cities or have more decades of experience or whatever, but someone will have to perform these jobs, so this problem is real and must be faced. These friends I mention in here never had in their imaginary ideas such as talking straight with bosses, collective bargaining, strikes and the like. But now I see my friends getting mad at their situation in jobs that don't offer then any perspective of improvement, and when I talk to them about getting together with their workmates and demanding better work conditions, it's like a new world of ideas has opened in front of them, and they become quite excited about the prospect of acting for the improvement of their lives.

However, I'm not an organiser of anything, and I myself can't see any way of improving my own professional life, so there's only so much I can tell them about their possibilities. What I think is that first they must get together with their workmates and have a serious conversation with their bosses about what they want to be improved. But then, what if the boss says he can't raise their wages even if he wants to, because the company simply doesn't have money for it? How can we know when it's true or not, and if there's no way of finding a way of getting what we want? When it's the case of a big company, like the news corporations I talked about, I guess people could make tough demands like "Oh, you don't have any money? Show us this company's budget then and let us see it with our own eyes", which may also be hard to get, but what if it's a small business and the boss really can't afford any extra raise? I'd be tempted to say something in the lines of: "Instead of making R$8,000 a month, share a part of your wage with us, and if you think you deserve more because you work more, share your responsibilities with us and be happy", but I guess it'd be taken as a joke.

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bozemananarchy
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Jan 26 2013 18:41
Davi wrote:
However, for those unwilling to read everything, the main questions are: when it comes to a job in a small company, or a small section of a big company, from five to ten employees, is there any way of fighting for better wages and benefits? What to do when the company claims lack of money? Or what if it simply says: "If you're not happy here, go somewhere else" and decides to fire everybody? What are good ways of facing these risks? Are there good strategies for this kind of situation?

And I did read everything wink

Perhaps some research into the bigger company regarding size and type of workforce would be good. You never know, perhaps you will have some allies who already fight for better conditions stashed away in some hard to see corner of a big operation. It would be unsurprising for such a situation to not be talked about in other sections of the operation as a boss would be more than happy to keep such things contained. Even if they are not organized in another section, perhaps it would be good to start making those contacts. Bosses love keeping an atomized workforce.

If the company claims lack of money. . . If it is that big one your talking about with the record profits, well. . you know, don't buy it, its just a bluff. For one of those smaller operations your friends are in it may be a sort of half-truth. Chances are they don't have the money because the boss won't cut into profits. But maybe its true, in which case you can start thinking about some different angles in the approach. Perhaps a way forward would be demanding half-time and double the rate. The logic being your friends wouldn't take a cut in money but could have more free-time or more time to pursue other work. Perhaps the demands could be centered on control over the work.

In the case of a mass firing. . . There may be legalistic options. In the US where I'm at, those options are just a mire of sludge to wade through. You could spend a couple years chasing after a severance or back pay. Bosses tend to be good at courtroom stuff. Occupying the place with a list of demands is an option workers in similar situations have used. I bet there are some good guides and probably some knowledgeable people in organizations in your area that know the ends and outs of those actions far better than I.

I think the best strategy for facing the risks is to do as much organizing both in developing strength and numbers without the boss being aware of anything. They might be quicker to capitulate if they are truly afraid of the workers strength.

Cheers,
B

Webby
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Jan 27 2013 12:52
Quote:
but what if it's a small business and the boss really can't afford any extra raise? I'd be tempted to say something in the lines of: "Instead of making R$8,000 a month, share a part of your wage with us, and if you think you deserve more because you work more, share your responsibilities with us and be happy", but I guess it'd be taken as a joke.

There are 2 problems with this. The small business owner will not consider his earnings multiple to be a matter of workload, but rather a matter of risk in relation to work put in to start the enterprise and capital invested. Also, whatever the boss is earning it is more than likely that he/she is commited to a lifestyle that requires that level of income - large mortgage, car loan, possibly private schooling for his children and so on. So whilst the workers may not think that the company is short of funds, the boss will see things differently. It's a matter of perspective.
With a small company, or to a degree, a small department in a bigger company, having to replace a member of staff is not a major problem. Having to replace all of the staff however, would be a huge problem. Particularly in the case of a small company, just a few weeks of operations coming to a halt could spell the end of the business so I would say a group action could be very effective. In this event the boss would have the choice of recruiting a new workforce or finding a way to meet the workers demands. They would have to decide what presents the greatest challenge. From the workers point of view they would have to decide if they are prepared to take the risk of becoming unemployed in order to improve their situation.

Quote:
At the time I was earning more money doing some freelance projects, so I prefered to continue this way, even though it's being a very unstable life anyway.

In current times I think there is very little difference between being employed and being freelance apart from there being safety in numbers and that small advantage is probably(in the UK at least) offset by the tax advantages of being self employed.

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Chilli Sauce
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Jan 27 2013 13:29

The other thing to think about is timing: if you're workmates are up for action (and that takes a lot of organising first), bring demands at a time in the publishing cycle where it would be expensive for your boss to have problems at work. Even if their first response is to fire everyone--although to be honest that is, in my experience anyway, usually far more of a last resort--you want to make that the more expensive option.

Davi
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Jan 27 2013 15:30

bozemananarchy, that's right, I'm pretty sure my friends can find discontent people in other areas of their workplaces, and it certainly would be of great help for them. I'll recomend it to them and certainly advise them to get together to discuss these things for a while and make plans, informaly at first. I'm confident that the big companies have enough money to increase their wages even a little bit. My biggest concern is with the small ones, but the idea of asking for a reduction of work hours or something of the sort is very interesting! The conditions for a pay raise are ripe, though, so this will probably be the main demand for now. And I think the boss from the small company my friend is working at will probably be very surprised to see some resistance from his employees, as I guess he never faced anything but obedience before. Besides, I'll certainly look for more experienced people in these issues around here, but I was interested in having a few words from the libcom community as well.

Webby, yes, I agree with this difference between point of views. Last week I had three very friendly meetings with my contractor and I must say I felt quite awkward whenever our very contrasting purchasing power became evident once our business talk was over. I really have no illusion of things being easy for the boss, but it's usually much worse for the employee. Anyway, my friend who's working at the small publishing bureau told me all her colleagues wish to take action to improve their work, so I guess they could join and try a complete paralisation or something until their boss submit to their demands. And this friend of mine told me she intended to stay there for a limited time anyway, so if she gets fired, that may be for the better.

Chilli Sauce, definitelly there are great opportunities for acting when work can't stop, and it's nice to be reminded of that. I'll talk about it with my friends and I'm sure they can be aware for a good timing.

However, as it's a limited environment, a small company, I worry about the resulting tension between the boss and the employees in the case of a tough victory, as they basically have to share the same space at work, or are separated by only one room or plastic divisory. Besides, I'm afraid the boss could just wait until the important work is done so that he can fire the troublemakers one by one, without any prior notice. Is it something that happens often? And how do people usually deal with this tension once they know their boss' smile is a fake, revengeful one?

Webby
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Jan 27 2013 17:43

Davi

Chilli's point about timing is extremely important - there are times when a boss would be glad of the opportunity to get rid of an employee although it would be pretty rare that they would want to lose their entire staff.
I agree, it usually is easier for the boss than the employee. On this occasion(for a change!) I wasn't trying to argue a case for the boss, just being practical about trying to get the boss to share more of the company's income with the workers.
I know that I have been told that rather than looking at individual bosses we should be looking at the bigger picture(opposing class interests etc), but I think that in specific cases such as this looking at the psychology and behaviour of the individuals involved is unavoidable. Some bosses do the best they can for their employees within the construct in which they are working even if the nature of the relationship is inherently exploitative and some, as we all know, are tight bastards that want to keep every penny to themselves. This will obviously need to enter the equation when deciding a course of action.

antigovernment
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Feb 8 2013 02:08

DWell I'm in a small business. To better describe it one man that i work under owns three stores. The store i work for and the others are all flooring and the products there are highly expensive als
I fit in as a warehouse worker at min. Wage! Im told to make sure common wealthy get what they pay for and there can not be a flaw to my job. I'm basically told what to all day and treated like my poverty statis means I'm just another piece of dirt to push around. I tried to ask for more money and what do i get is we dont have in are budget or i have to work harder pay more attention to details. What should i do im fead up with it? I have a family to take care of im barely doing that.

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Chilli Sauce
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Feb 8 2013 08:07

Hi Anti, I don't there a single, simple easy answer.

Generally, it's a matter of sticking together with your workmates. If you support each other and make a collective demand for more pay, it's a lot tougher for the boss to ignore you and make excuses.

Where do you live?

If you're in the US, I'd check out the IWW workplace organiser training: http://www.iww.org/en/organize/training

In the UK, Solfed: http://www.solfed.org.uk/organiser-training