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 that focuses primarily on writers, the changes are a direct response to the industrywide outcry over assistant wages and 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 assistants and to respond with concrete measures.
In May, Verve also was the first agency to break ranks and side with 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 $17.50 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 also will shorten the workday to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., rather than 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The company reiterated its commitment to pay overtime.
In an effort to help defray out-of-pocket expenses, the agency will offer a dry-cleaning program with subsidized rates as well as a dropoff and pickup service.
The new changes will go into effect on Jan. 1.
“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” kick-started the conversation in September when it devoted an episode to the plight of Hollywood assistants.