Talent Agency Verve Increases Assistant Pay And Other Benefits In Response To #PayUpHollywood

By Stacy Perman Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) At least one Hollywood agency is stepping up to the plate and taking action after industry wide complaints over the way assistants were being treated. #PayUpHollywood

LOS ANGELES

Boutique talent agency Verve has announced it is implementing a number of changes to pay and work life balance that will benefit its assistants.

According to Bill Weinsten, a partner at the 10-year-old firm focusing primarily on writers, the changes are a direct response to the industry-wide outcry over assistant wages, lack of benefits and protections that went viral in October with the #PayUpHollywood hashtag.

Los-Angeles-based Verve, which has 75 employees, is the first Hollywood entity to publicly recognize these issues among the assistants and to respond with concrete measures.

In May, Verve was the first agency to break ranks and side with Hollywood writers in their ongoing dispute with agencies over packaging fees and other practices.

Last month, the agency conducted an internal survey among its assistants. "We asked them what was important to them," said Weinstein.

In an email to employees, Verve said: "Based on your input, we are excited to announce a series of changes designed to recognize your valuable work contributions while helping you meet the financial standard necessary to live in today's Los Angeles."

They include an unspecified hourly pay rate increase for all mailroom assistants and a 25% to 40% bump for other assistants, depending on their position.

The new hourly rates are: $17 for a mailroom assistant; $18.50 for an assistant; and $20 for an experienced assistant. Entry level mailroom assistants have been paid the minimum wage, which in Los Angeles is $14.25 an hour.

The agency will also shorten the workday to 9:00 am to 7:00 pm from 8:30am to 7:30pm. The company reiterated its commitment to pay overtime.

In an effort to help defray out of pocket expenses, the agency will also offer a dry cleaning program with subsidized rates as well as a drop off and pick up service.

The new changes will go into effect on January 1, 2020.

"We think this is a good start and appreciate Verve's leadership in providing a fair wage to assistants across their company," said Deirdre Mangan, a TV writer who co-founded #PayUpHollywood with fellow TV writer Liz Alper, who is also a Writers Guild of America West board member. "It's an important first step and we have a long way to go as an industry. We hope that other agencies and studios are watching closely and planning to follow suit."

In November, the #PayUpHollywood activists launched an online survey to collect data on their experiences. This month they released their findings which included numerous examples of abusive conditions, long hours and low pay.

Of the 1,100 assistants who completed the online survey, 89% said more than a third of their salary went to pay rent and 63% were making less than $50,000 per year before taxes, leaving many struggling as housing costs skyrocket.

Verve represents both Alper and screenwriter John August, whose podcast, Scriptnotes kickstarted the conversation in September when it devoted an episode to the plight of Hollywood assistants. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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