A $200-a-piece ventriloquist troupe of five or six in the early 1950s would not earn as much as a low-wage clerk making $400 a week working at McDonald’s. For what?
On the one hand, most ventriloquists are well-paid, with an average annual salary of $30,071, according to the National Trade Council.
But there are many ventriloquists who make far less — such as the workers at the St. Louis branch of the C.H.R.M.P. — who don’t get paid or are overworked. The workers who make the most are those at the lower end of the pay scale and for jobs such as moving, cleaning and caring for animals.
Many of the lower-wage ventriloquists work in factories, which provide few benefits for themselves or for children. Workers like Janis C., 34, of St. Louis, work 40 hours a week, sometimes six days a week, without an increase since 2012. She earns $4.95 an hour on a five-year contract. A manager from the company that owns C.H.R.M.P. says the pay rate is set by market demand and that workers with no benefits earn even less.
And the C.H.R.M.P.’s bosses — “the boss” is an insult — keep a good number of its workers.
“The boss is so pleased with the productivity of the workers,” C.H.R.M.P. president and general manager Rick St. Pierre told the Los Angeles Daily News in March.
The St. Louis factory has become a hotspot of discontent. In a 2014 paper, economists Michael Katz, Michael Eisman and William H. Frey of the University of California at Berkeley found that C.H.R.M.P. workers in five U.S. cities in the bottom 20 percent of wage earners had wages and productivity five times that of similarly employed workers in the middle class.
“The gap between union and nonunion workers has been closing over time,” they found. “The gap between union and nonunion workers has been widening over time.”
C.H.R.M.P. is also making the occasional good hire who comes from the wrong end of society. It hired Anthony O’Donnell, a convicted felon who is
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