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by Peter Moskos

September 1, 2008

How much I make from my book

I got my first annual royalty check from the good people at Princeton University Press. Not that you asked, but it was for $983.98. In other words, if you're thinking of becoming a writer, don't quit your day job. But it is $983 more than I had yesterday. It also means I've paid off my $4,000 advance and seemingly high $856 indexing fee.

Why do I tell you this? Not to gloat (I'd have to make a lot more if I wanted to gloat, that's for sure), but to help writers and working people.

I think people should talk more about how much they make. My wonderful father, Charles Moskos, always gave his salary in his popular and very large intro sociology lecture at Northwestern University (I'm not certain why this came up. I didn't take his class.). I think it was about $100,000 before he semi-retired. That's about as much as a professor can make. It's funny I can't tell you for sure. I guess if you talk about money, maybe you care less about it.

It's only bosses and rich people (and I'm talking John McCain rich) who don't want you to talk about your wage.

Why poor workers go along with this, I don't know. Knowledge is power. And knowing how much people make is important if you're not making much.

I remember once maybe 10 years ago I was on the L in Chicago and I saw a Chicago Cub usher in uniform. I had that job back in 1988 (a long, hot summer to be wearing polyester pants). It was my first union job. I think I made $4.50/hour. I think somehow my union made me part of the teamsters--that was kind of cool--but my union dues were going straight to crooks.

My first official payroll job, by the way, was in 1986 as a movie theater usher at the M&R Evanston Movie Theatres (you could tell they were fancy because they spelled theater with an "re"). I think my pay was for two dimes over the then $3.35 minimum wage.

Maybe that's when I realized how absurd it is that people making a few cents over minimum wage wouldn't talk about how much they made except in hushed don't-tell-others! voices. Some ushers after a few years made, gasp, perhaps 50 cents an hour more than other ushers! Meanwhile my first boss, Elaine, who was very good to me, was evidently embezzling much larger amounts.

Anyway, back to the L and the Cubs usher. I told this kid that I used to be an Cubs usher way back when and in 1988 made $4.50/hour, about $1 over minimum wage. I told him I was curious how much they were now paying ushers now (or whenever this was).

Ripping tickets, patting down bags, and pointing people to their seats (and yes, if an usher wipes your seat you should tip)... it's not exactly a hard job. But I challenge anybody with a desk job to stand on their feet for 8 hours. You do get used to it after while, in the sense that your feet let you. But it's tiring. One of the strange things rich people like doing to poor people is making them stand while they work. Low paying jobs often have a rule that you can't sit. Can you imagine the kvetching if rich people hand to stand all day?! There's something very wrong when bosses who can sit make workers stand for no reason other than to show that they're in command and that the poor people are actually working.

Anyway, back to the L and the Cubs usher. I remember being told as a Cub usher that we were not to discuss our salary. Because somehow it wasn't in our interest. Undoubtedly we were being paid less than the Andy Frain Ushers who had worked at Wrigley Field for 60 years but the Tribune Company replaced a year or two earlier.

Being told not to say how much I made was like when I was told at worker training at Papagus, Chicago's Richard Melman's "Lettuce Entertain You" restaurant chain's "Greek Concept" (the food was excellent, by the way) that Lettuce Entertain You employees, and I quote, "don't need unions." That was sure nice of management to inform of us that.

I thought of that often on my hour commute on the L back home after being cut at lunch and literally losing money at work after tipping out. For an hour of work, I made $2.01 (waiters make sub-minimum wage in salary). That almost covered both ends of my-hour-one-way commute on the L. But was I not going to give the illegal-immigrant Mexican coffee guy his money just because I didn't make any? Shit, my Spanish wasn't good enough to explain why I was being a cheapskate.

Besides who can put a monetary value on being able to light delicious saganiki and yell, "Oopa!"

Oh well. I wasn't supporting a family. Besides, if I was pulling a double I would drop much bigger bucks between shifts chugging screwdrivers when I took my shift break at a bar down the street (don't worry, your faithful servant would generally sober up while doing his opening sidework--God forbid somebody serving drunk people would actually be a bit tipsy himself).

Anyway, back to the L and the Cubs usher. No doubt he must have feared that I, this guy riding the L, was a spy from high in Tribune Tower, destroyers of workers and newspapers nationwide. No doubt if he told me how much per hour he was paid, I would report back to the evil bosses in Tribune Tower and have him fired. And I would deflower his younger sister, too, just for fun.

Minimum wage in Illinois, by the way, is now $7.75. It's $7.15 in N.Y. and $6.55 in Maryland (that's the federal level). I looked them up. By the way, if you work minimum wage full time, 50 weeks a year, you'll make $13,100. These are just kind of good figures to know.

I still don't know how much Cubs ushers make these days. I'm curious. And yes, Go Cubs!


Anonymous said...

Excellent labor day piece Peter. These days when my employer claims they are acting in "my interest," I can barely stifle my laughter. Generally speaking, that's just not a serious proposition at this point.

I strongly support the worker's right to organize, and I believe that it is usually in a worker's best interest to be in a collective bargaining unit. Ah, but at this point I can almost hear my (right)libertarian friends and allies interjecting: "But Dave, I'd rather be a free agent. Who's to say the union speaks for you as an individual. Unions are businesses too!" All well and good, but for most of us working stiffs, its the best chance we have to be treated like something besides 2nd class citizens. Being a "free agent" might be great if you're an entertainer, a free-lance writer or a stock broker. Not so much if you are, just for example, a healthcare security officer.

Still, unions and labor law feel kind of like band-aid solutions to me these days. I guess that's why I support the guranteed minimum income idea that I mentioned here a while back. One of the most empowering things an employee can have at his or her disposal is "fuck you money." Happy Labor Day, Pete.

PCM said...

I'm not even a huge fans of unions. I've never felt well represented by a union (except the F.O.P., which technically isn't a union, but acts as one). But if the government won't protect workers, somebody has to (no I don't trust the bosses). I would prefer a system in which we really didn't need unions. But until then, unions will have to do.

If you work full time, you should make a living wage (and have health care). I strongly believe that. I'll leave the details for others to figure out.

Here's a strange belief of mine that won't make me friends in the union: I don't think overtime should be mandatory for people after 40 hours. Yes, workers *should* get time and a half. But for most poor workers, there is no overtime. They can't work more than 40 hours.

When I worked minimum-wage jobs, I knew too many people that had to work two different jobs because they needed the money and couldn't get scheduled for more than 40 hours at one job. It's bad enough to work 60+ hours. It's far worse when it's at two different jobs.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point at the end. I don't think I've thought about that. Hey, have you ever seen the footage of Pres. Bush talking to a woman who told him that she had to work 2 (or 3) jobs. His response: "Uniquely American!" That scene is an interesting look inside the mind of the American Aristocracy that is not supposed to exist.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on making a profit on the book and hope for more $ to come your way! Just curious to know will the publishing company give you any $ for having to pull the book from the shelves due to their editing errors??