Walking away from a pay raise: Should we ever do it, no matter the circumstances?

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July 7, 2017 by Hope W.

Grace Park as Kono Kalakaua and Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly in Hawaii Five-0

I do not watch Hawaii Five-0, but there’s been a lot of chatter about Daniel Dae Kim (you may know him better as Jin from Lost) and Grace Park exiting the show due to not getting equal pay with two other main stars of the show (Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan).

I’m not so sure who Grace Park is, but even as a non-watcher of the show, I know Daniel Dae Kim was part of the main ensemble. So it surprises me that during negotiations, the network could come within 2% difference of the pay of the two main stars, but still refuse to match it. It’s just 2%! Why wouldn’t they make that final leap?

The showrunner and the network are defending their decision by saying that they were “extremely generous” but the stars still turned down “unprecedented raises”. This, to me, implies that they feel the stars are being ungrateful for not accepting such an “unprecedented”, “generous” offer. Even if the network had been willing to increase their salaries to levels they have never done before, it still does not mean equal pay, which Daniel Dae Kim deserved at least. (There were other matters that complicated Grace Park’s negotiations.) Perhaps he might have started off being “lesser known” than Alex O’Loughlin or Scott Caan — not that I really knew who those two actors were when the show first started in 2010 — but after seven seasons of proving his value as an equal member of the team, whatever differences in fame there might have been to warrant O’Loughlin and Caan a better pay in the beginning would have been evened out. Especially since O’Loughlin and Caan have not become bigger stars outside of their roles on the show.

Also, by using such language as “extremely generous” and “unprecedented raises”, does it mean that the network has been extremely stingy in the past and underpaid the two Asian-American stars far below their worth for seven seasons, even though they were part of the main ensemble?

I’m not sure that it has to do with race. It might just be the network being too ham-fisted with their purse strings. But I do know that the stars were right to walk away from the offer, even though it is far more lucrative than what they have been receiving before, and they may never find any other job offer as good as that. Better that than staying on, knowing you aren’t valued as much as your co-workers, though you have the same job and do the exact same things, but expected by your bosses to be grateful anyway that they underpaid you in the past and then decided to give you a large raise this time.

Of course, principles are fine and dandy when you can afford it. When you’re desperate for a job and absolutely need one to survive, you’ll have to bear with this inequality. From a business standpoint, if you can save money and underpay people who are willing to accept — or rather, forced to accept because they are given no other choice — being paid less than their coworkers on the same rank, doing the same job, why not do it?

But from the human perspective of being the people making the business decisions, we know we can do better. And we should.

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