"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

January 07, 2008

Pleasant St. Theater Opening Again Soon. Well Paying Jobs To Follow.

When Northamptonist recently broke the story regarding Amherst Cinema being in line to take over operations of the Pleasant St. Theater, their was some discussion in the comments of that post about wages. Particularly, Hillary H left a comment that ended, "Pardon my frustration, but, really, people should be thrilled that there's a positive solution on the table at all." As one who always feels compelled to try and put my foot in mouth while kicking it upwards towards my face with great velocity, (it's a very bad habit of mine) I replied to Hillary, noting that, "...while able to understand that sentiment, I am also able to understand that the employees of the PST for instance, might be a tad disappointed with the assumption that they might have to take a big pay cut to stay employed. That's a lot of mights, but I would assume that the ACC will pay employees at the PST the same they pay them at ACC, which I understand is much less then they make now under Lawton." I told Hillary I would add some more information as it became available to me.

Well, I have been gathering information about different aspects of the Pleasant St. Theater for a longer piece to be published elsewhere, and I have been in contact with an employee of the PST, who has offered me a bit of information about his job, his pay, and his experience in the current situation. I wanted to share it below, edited for privacy. UPDATE:: Jack Brown, author of the following email, has given me permission to identify him. As such, I reprinted the full email he sent, which I had originally edited slightly, removing any reference to his name, position at the Theater, or other identifying remarks.

I met with Carol Johnson of Amherst Cinema last week; we had a coffee at La Fiorentina and talked about what did and didn't work at PST, then walked over to the theater to look at some of the equipment and meet with Beth (manager) and Eric (projectionist). Not much came out of it. The plan right now is to reopen on or near January 18th. My old position as manager is being merged with the Amherst position, meaning Beth will oversee both theaters' operation. Carol made vague mention of possible box office and projectionist positions opening, but no concrete offer of a job was made to me.

Even if continuing on was a definite option, I doubt I'd be able to accept. Assuming the pay scale will be the same at both their locations, a box office position with Amherst Cinema would start at minimum wage. Even at full-time (40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year) the annual income would be only $16640 before taxes. For me that would mean a 33% cut in wages.

Granted, as manager I earned more than many at Pleasant Street, but most of our employees were paid above minimum. Our projectionists were salaried employees and earned, on average, something in the $12-15/hr range after taxes. (I don't have access to our payroll accounts at this date, and am going from memory here.) Also, all our projectionists were licensed by the MA Department of Public Safety.

I think a large part of the problem is that the mandated minimum wage is simply too low for the region's cost of living; I'm sure there are many other jobs downtown that are paying the same rates. The bigger issue for me (as a manager) was always retaining employees and keeping them happy in their jobs. When an employee is paid minimum wage in Western Mass, he or she will almost always need to find another job to make ends meet, making them less available-physically and mentally-for their initial job. And when an employee is paid so little, there's little love for the job. The result tends to be indifferent customer service, employee apathy, and high turnover-not a great recipe for drawing people to your business.

The solution, I think, is to find a small group of employees willing to work full-time for decent wages. For a theater like Pleasant Street, this means not having a different person in the lobby every night making $40 a week, but having just two or three who really know the business and care about it. In the long run I absolutely think it's worth paying the extra wages to have that kind of dedication. It pays off on both sides-the business doesn't have to constantly hire and train new employees, and the audience gets a staff that are happy to be there and interested in their work.
UPDATED:: Jack Brown, manager of the Pleasant St. Theater until recently, and author of the email I quote above, adds some more insightful and thoughtful commentary in the comments below.

LABELS: pleasant st theater, arts and culture