CABINETMAKERS: what is appropriate pay for an assistant?

dab07June 18, 2008


I've been working for a cabinetmaker for over a year, during which time we've become very friendly. Mostly because of gas prices, but also because I just think it's time, I'd like to ask for a pay increase. But first I'd like to know what typical hourly pay is.

I joint and plane the rough stock, do all the sanding and apply the occasional finish. I assist in glue-ups, do all the veneering when there's veneering to do, change knives, and generally help out in any way I can. I was semi-skilled when I started and am now very competent in the areas I mentioned above. I live in the outer ex-urban area of NYC. I'm his only assistant, and we're on very good terms with each other.

I've hardly worked for him this year because I'm working on my own house, but am helping out recently b/c he got a big kitchen job. My beginning pay was $10 an hour, on the books, and it hasn't changed. That means that after gas and income taxes, I'm making about $6 and hour. A builder friend thinks my pay is ridiculously low, saying he could grab anyone off the street and would have to pay them almost $15.

I don't know if it's relevant, but I'm 50 years old and, while it's work I generally like, I've also got two kids at home and lots of other responsibilities. (My husband makes the real money in the family.)

What do you think the going rate is for someone who does the work I do? I have no idea.

Thank you!

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You are pretty much getting ripped. General helpers get $12, minimum for 40 hr week. But you set up machinery, and do finishing (and veneering?) which are tricky skills. I wish I had somebody to change my planer and jointer blades!

    Bookmark   June 18, 2008 at 10:32PM
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$10/hour generally strikes me as very low, especially since you're in the NYC area where I assume living expenses and wages are somewhat higher than in the northern Ohio area where I live. Generalities aside, though, this situation doesn't sound much like a typical job and probably shouldn't be looked at as if it were one. You don't have regular hours; for the last several months you've hardly worked with this guy at all. When he called and asked you to help with this big kitchen, did he tell you when to show up or did you negotiate what days and times you could make it? Could he have "fired" you if you'd told him you didn't have time? Are you really an employee, or more like a subcontractor?

If you were willing to accept the inflexibility and greater time commitments that go with a regular full-time job then you'd probably be worth considerably more on the open market, but it doesn't sound as if you've offered your services in that broader market. This guy, without you, is a one-man shop. It may be that he only uses you because you're ridiculously cheap. Somebody would probably pay you better, but it may not be the guy you're working with now, or allow you the flexibility you now enjoy.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 6:22AM
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Thanks for your input.

I'm completely free to choose my own hours, tho he was very slow last fall when I stopped working anyway. It's not a regular job, so he wouldn't "fire" me. It's a small town, we know lots of the same people, and now it's more like we're friends. But I was beginning to fear he might be kind of taking advantage. I don't need the money and I DO need my time right now. I'm working these days more as a favor than anything. I need to take the advice I'd give my kids, which is to decide what's reasonable and then stand up for yourself. They're better at it than I am!

He has a TERSA system, which makes blade changing really easy. They seem great, but are really expensive.

So it seems I can ask $12 or $15 or so? Thanks again!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 8:51AM
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What will you do if he says 'no'?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 9:10AM
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It's always a fine line when your working with or for a friend. That being said regardless of your age or weather you need the money or not you are being taken advantage of.
I start of guys with no experience at $8.00 hr and if they are still around after 3 months they will get a raise.

Someone with your ability should be getting a minimum of $15.00hr probably closer to $18.00 - $20.00.I'm in Morris County , NJ so my numbers should be the same as what his would be.

Come work for me I'll bump ya up to $15hr . I need full timers though.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 10:32AM
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stocky, thanks for your message, it's good to know. I would think Morristown is about the same as where I am. As for the friend situation, we worked together first and then got on a friendly basis. So it's easier than the other way around, as far as asking for a raise.

jon, If he says no I'll tell him (nicely) it's not worth my while, since I really should be doing other things anyway. I want to start on the cabinets for my own kitchen, and there are dozens of other projects I need to finish, not to mention all the usual responsibilities of a a parent and homeowner.

I think the reason he's so laid back with my hours is b/c he knows he's getting me cheap (as my husband says)!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 1:46PM
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Brushworks Spectacular Finishes

I wouldn't say to him, "it's not worth my while". I encourage to show appreciation for the flexible hours and the experience you have gained while working there. Then, politely ask if there is any room in his budget for a $3 per hour increase. If he says no, then offer him a weeks notice and move along.

Be sure to make it clear that you are not shopping for another job elsewhere, nor are you comparing this job and benefits to others, but that you truly do have family responsibilites that are more important than working outside the home. It must be worth your time if you're away from your family. If not. Be at home. :)

I think you'll be surprised by his willingness to keep you.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 4:13PM
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Update: I spoke to him today and I'm happy to say I got a 50% increase! He asked me how much I wanted, then just offered me $15/ hour --even retroactively from the beginning of June! I won't be working much because I have so much to do at home, and he understands that. But I feel more appreciated now, and it will be good to earn more when I do work.

Thanks everyone, your input was important!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2008 at 6:53PM
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Next up, tell him you want a share of the company :)

glad it worked out for ya.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2008 at 10:55PM
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Glad to hear it work out for you. If you are happy with it, that's what matters in the end. For what its worth, if I had you in my shop doing that kind of work, I'd be paying you $30 an hour plus a travel fee.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 3:13PM
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