United Talent Agency has implemented an across-the-board pay raise for hourly employees, Variety has learned, amid calls for the industry to offer more equitable wages as a means of opening entry-level opportunities in entertainment to a wider array of job seekers.
UTA has installed a minimum hourly wage of $22, a figure that increases based on tenure. The majority of hourly employees at talent agencies are agents’ assistants, who make an average of $24 per hour at UTA now. Participants in UTA’s agent training program have also been offered raises based on tenure, as high as $26 per hour.
The increases make UTA’s entry-level staff the highest paid at any of the talent shops, and come nearly nine months after the campaign #PayUpHollywood took hold of social media and saw assistants across entertainment demand better pay and treatment. After an incremental bump to $18.50 per hour in July, and becoming the first agency to make salaries whole after reducing pay amid COVID-19, the UTA raises are surprising in an entertainment landscape on the financial brink amid the macroeconomic shockwaves caused by the pandemic.
“The industry has had a long history of falling short on wage issues and the recruitment of a diverse workforce. We’re operating a business and have to make deliberate decisions with or without a pandemic,” said UTA co-president David Kramer. “It is important for us to address issues that have existed far too long around assistant and entry-level pay and compensation, and to recognize how these issues impact culture, recruitment, diversity and inclusion.”
Leadership at UTA — which represents the likes of Timothee Chalamet, Issa Rae and Chris Pratt — said the raises have come as part of a larger plan to “strengthen our business and culture, and serve as an industry leader.”
The effectiveness of raising hourly wages as it relates to recruitment and inclusion is simple — many agency assistants have historically come from backgrounds of privilege, and have support in toughing out the years-long process of being made an agent (every firm in town has anecdotes about twenty-somethings pulling up in BMWs and heading upstairs to take coffee orders).
Other agencies heeded the call of #PayUpHollywood at the start of 2020, implementing incremental bumps from an average of $15 per hour to $18 (at UTA rivals CAA and WME), and later ICM Partners (the agency that previously had the highest hourly wage for assistants at $20).
“If it means we wake up tomorrow and others in the industry have done the same thing, terrific. It means we’ve moved the needle,” Kramer said.
All of the major talent agencies have enacted layoffs, furloughs and significant cost-cutting as the pandemic has severed revenue streams — thanks to production shutdowns and a faceoff with the Writers Guild that saw literary clients fire their agents (now amended at UTA and ICM, with CAA expected to follow). Any of these institutions could feasibly be forgiven for prioritizing survival over pay increases.
Kramer, who is co-president of UTA alongside Jay Sures and CEO Jeremy Zimmer, said the agency sees additional value in the symbolic gesture of a raise, especially to a new generation of assistants.
“What you want to do from the moment a new colleague walks in the door, is create a connection to the place that is larger than a paycheck, more about being a part of something,” Kramer said. “Employees want to see their values align with the company they work for.”
The agency arrived at the raise figures by observing competitors, market value, trends in minimum wage, and the cost of living in various locations. Additional initiatives in the same vein, which the company committed to in June, include mandatory unconscious bias training across the board, developing a leadership council to advise on meaningful cultural change, and the UTA diversity and inclusion division’s $1 million commitment to organizations dedicated to social and racial justice.