Historic Rate Data: New York 1990s

We’ve got another snippet of the past. Last time, we looked at historic rate data from the west coast of the United States. Today, the old Federation of Shorthand Reporters contract hit the web. That’s the east coast of the United States. For those who don’t know, there was a union for freelancers in New York City in the 80s and 90s. They had their struggles and legal hurdles, and they do not exist today, but the agreement stands as a gateway to the past that we can use to inform our future.

And inform our future this should. A quick glance at the contract tells us the November 1991 rate for a regular was 2.75. Expedite $3.35. Daily $3.65. As with last time, I shoved this into an inflation calculator. Inflation, remember, affects all currency. It impacts every industry. It impacts every dollar earned in this country every year regardless of who is earning it or what job they do. If you have money, you are pretty much guaranteed to have inflation. Even virtual economies in video games experience inflation. It is a concept inherent to capital.

You know what I learned? That $2.75 rate in 1991 dollars had the buying power of $5.12. That means if you’re making $3.25 today, you’re working 40 percent harder to have the same buying power. If you’re making $3.50, you’re working about 30 percent harder to have the same buying power. Even at a gorgeous rate like $4.50, you are working 10 percent harder than they did in the 90s to make the same buying power. When I say work harder, I mean more pages. When I say more pages, we all know that that translates to lost time with our families, friends, and more time staring into our screens racing deadlines. If you’re a newbie like I was, and you’re started out at $2.80, you basically need to do double the pages that they had to do in 1991 in order to have the same buying power and quality of life. Again, we’re not talking about a raise. We’re talking about keeping the same exact quality of life.

It’s time to train each other. It’s time to share this info so we don’t stay on this ride. For every reporter out there who doesn’t know, there’s a reporter ready to be suckered. It’s that simple. Staying quiet will force people right out of this field because they’re being expected to work much harder to have the same quality of life. Personally, I have no problem accepting that there are market forces pushing down that rate. It’s not $5.12 or bust. But have some respect for ourselves. I have no problem saying we need to rise up and be damn good at what we do. Can you walk into an agency and say “hey, the rates from 1991 were better, I need a raise?” No. But it’s time to end the culture of silence, look at what was, keep each other informed, and stride toward where we want to be.

Court Reporter, Meet Stenographer

To share some quick history, stenographer became seen by some as a term akin to secretary. Court reporter is the term that ended up in almost all of our associations even though those associations were almost entirely dedicated to stenography and machine shorthand. Court reporter became the dominant term for us.

To explain what’s happened, digital reporters, people who record the record electronically and ship it off to be transcribed, hijacked the court reporter title and started billing what they do as the same as what we do. I don’t have hostility or contempt for people making a living. I openly invite digital recorders to join the stenographic legion. I encourage stenographers to reach out to these people and tell them there is a better way. I do think stenography has a rich history of providing for the legal community and should continue to grow and thrive. I’m a serious case of steno first!

With the Ducker Report, some agencies began to push digital reporting as a way to close the gap on the shortage. With the average stenographer being able to do the work of a recorder and a transcriber, this is a horrible move for the field, and to see us all relegated to recorder would mean a cut in pay and bargaining power, as well as potential problems with the quality of the legal record. People’s lives and fortunes are at stake, very much including our own!

So what’s next? We are actually seeing people answer the call to keep leading. CalDRA is creating materials and stickers plastered with the term stenographer and stenography, and leading the charge in creating a distinction from the generic court reporter term stolen from us. They’ve even announced a war chest.

Then on the front of the working, regular reporter, we are seeing the spread of these materials. Realtime reporters like Rich Germosen are posting up these stickers on their laptops and equipment. Court reporting companies like the famous Migliore & Associates are taking a stand and putting out their own materials differentiating stenography from alternatives (Archive). In related news, reporters like Abby Guerra and Dana Srebrenik (LinkedIn) also got out there and talked about why it was so offensive to have folks move in and set up shop on our court reporting title. These people are real. Their choice to stand up and start saying no is real. This wave is so powerful that there are entire groups springing up to share steno materials.

A quick note to the agencies that are pushing digital: Here’s your sign. Stenographers are here to stay. If you’re not focusing on us, you’re going to lose clients to stenographers. Companies collapse, careers go on. Pick the winning side. Pick steno. Think about why organizations like STAR cowered in fear and Stenograph immediately distanced itself as a separate entity when a STAR flyer showed a course that would purportedly teach videographers to make the record. Though this is a small field, there are enough of us that your businesses require our tacit consent to thrive. If even a fraction of the 10,000 or so estimated freelance stenographers competed directly against your businesses, you’d be looking at half the profits you have today. You don’t want that. We don’t want that. But we do want you to focus your energy on promoting steno. Push meet pushback. Check meet checkmate.

The bottom line for all readers is getting involved is becoming easier every day. We get it. Companies and individual reporters don’t always have a huge budget for pro-steno materials. If you don’t have the time to create your own bandwagon, hop aboard, and join the wave of people getting out there and educating attorneys on steno. The solution may not come from one movement, but the collective efforts of many movements. From Project Steno to the Open Steno Project, we all have the ability to take control of the future of this industry. I can only hope all associations are taking note and preparing to launch campaigns like CalDRA in every state. But even if not, individual reporters just like you make all the difference. How do I know that? It’s happening today.