Eira Tansey

Concerns about SAA’s FY17-19 proposed dues increase

I just got back from an incredible week in Cleveland — I have begun thinking of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting as my archivist booster shot, and lord did I need it by the time I drove up I-71. So great to see old friends and make new ones, listen to others discuss their work, and share some of my own. SAA’s staff, the Program committee, and the Local Arrangements committee did a marvelous job of bringing so many of us to one of the Midwest’s crown jewels for fellowship and learning.

If anyone was at the business meeting yesterday, you may have heard me raise concerns about the SAA dues structure, and what appears to be a flat increase on arguably an already regressive* structure of membership dues. The business meeting had a discussion period regarding the proposed dues increase for FY (fiscal year) 2017-2019. The dues increase will be voted on by the membership later this year.

The problems with distribution of dues is obscured at first glance because SAA commendably breaks out dues into categories by income, something that I hope they will continue to do. My concern is that as a percentage of income, those on the lower-income bands pay a higher rate proportional to their income compared to those who are on the higher-income bands. The proposed increases appear to entrench the existing regressive structure, rather than shifting it to a progressive structure.

If you look at the lower bands of each income bracket, here’s what you see (e.g., if you fall within the 30-39k income membership level, this example assumes you make $30,000):

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 10.15.03 AM

So in the example shown above, if you currently make $20,000, you pay 0.53% of your gross income for SAA dues. If you make $40,000, you pay 0.4%. If you make $60,000 you pay 0.38%, and if you make over $75,000, you pay 0.33%.

If the proposal is approved by the membership, by FY19, those making $20,000 pay 0.58%, those making $40,000 pay 0.44%, those making $60,000 pay 0.41%, and those making over $75,000 pay 0.37%.

All my figures, including what the same numbers look like from the top and mid-point of each income range, can be found in this spreadsheet. It’s an Excel spreadsheet so you are welcome to plug in your own numbers and play around with it.

A few points I want to make:

  1. I believe it is inherently unfair to make our lower-income members of the profession pay a larger proportion of their income for membership dues. These are already the members less likely to afford attendance at SAA’s annual meeting and workshops due to the costs. In addition, because workshop and annual meeting registrations make no allowance for income-based registrations, they arguably pay a greater share of their incomes to be professionally involved at an active level than those making higher incomes.
  2. I believe that SAA’s elected leaders and staff should immediately consider how to shift the dues structure to a progressive structure, in which the proportion of dues you pay relative to your gross income increases as your income increases. Currently it appears that in all hypothetical membership scenarios (based on lower, mid, and high ranges of each band), lower-income members pay a larger share of their income as compared to those with higher-incomes. The current dues increase appears to entrench the currently regressive* structure.
  3. Although I am generally supportive of a dues increase and believe SAA is a good steward of our membership dues, I would like to see SAA address these points before I make my final decision on how to vote. I stated yesterday I would vote for this, but after running the numbers I really need to hear SAA’s position on this before I make my final decision. In my ideal world, the proposed schedule of increases would be re-structured to be more progressive over the next three years. Current dues for those at the lower-income bands would be frozen, while those with higher-incomes would pay a higher share than they currently do. According to the brief (distributed at yesterday’s meeting), there may be time to revise the current proposed schedule of increases (see bottom of page 2).
  4. I plan to write a letter to SAA’s leadership in a few weeks to obtain more information and more formally express my concerns stated above. I really want other archivists, from all ends of the income spectrum, to co-sign the letter with me as a statement of solidarity on behalf of our lower-income colleagues. If you would like to co-sign it with me, please send me an email to eira.tansey@uc.edu so I can include you on a draft. You may also leave any questions or comments on this page about things I should include in the letter.

*I am not an economist (though if time and money were no object, I’d probably go back and get my degree in it), so please forgive me if I’m not using some of this language the way economists would.

Categorised as: SAA


  1. Milton Friedman says:

    SAA would do better to eliminate what reminds me of the US Tax code and implement either a two tier dues structure similar to ARMA International’s or a single due while retaining the student membership.

  2. Len says:

    Hi Eira,

    Thank you for leading this. You have an interesting way to look at this.

    My main concern is that the high band is way too low. There needs to be at least two new categories, 75-100 and above 100 000. There are many senior level archivists making over 100 000 (I am Canadian but I estimate 10% or so of ACA members are above 100 000CDN- the US may be smaller but there is still a significant percentage).

    In addition, by keeping the highest band so low it reinforces to our community (and anyone else) that we are a poorly paid profession.

    Good luck in your fight for equitable dues!

  3. Maureen Callahan says:

    It occurs to me that a flat percentage of income, minus a flat dollar amount, would probably be a really straightforward way of ensuring that dues keep up with inflation and that dues affect everyone somewhat more equitably (I say somewhat more equitably because I know that base staying-alive expenses affect lower-income folks more painfully and less equitably). We’re already asking folks to self-identify their income bracket, so I don’t see this as a fundamental change. The only thing that a flat percentage fee wouldn’t account for would be variations in costs of living (and available disposable income). Subtracting the flat dollar amount would provide a flattening of how deeply a percentage of income affects lower-income vs higher-income folks.

    So, a revised proposal would look like this.
    FY17 — .4% of income minus $50
    $30k/year — $70
    $65k/year — $210
    $100k/year — $350

    FY19 and ongoing — .43% of income minus $50
    $30k/year — $79
    $65k/year — $230
    $100k/year — $380

  4. Rachel Howse Binnington says:

    Good luck, Eira. The profession needs people like you fighting for its integrity

  5. Peter Gunther says:

    I should know better, but in no modesty, I founded the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable in about 2005 (if memory serves me).
    Better yet, I am very confirmed in my belief in redistribution of wealth in general (redistribution DOWNWARD).
    Although I have not investigated the numbers myself, if what you say is correct, I support your proposal wholeheartedly.

    On another, thoroughly immodest note, if you are interested, the history of SAA is an interesting one. Back in the early 1970s there were no regional archives organizations (save some state-wide ones), and no diversity roundtables. SAA was utterly pale, male and stale (as we say), an old-boys network of NARA guys who met every year in D. C. There was no networking with local archivists or anyone else.
    You can read more about it by looking at the newsletters of a previous (non-SAA) archival activist organization ACT at:
    http://www.libr.org/progarchs/ and see the first two items.
    Yours and best
    Peter Gunther

  6. […] up on this blog post, I helped write a letter that was co-signed by over 50 people to SAA concerning the current dues […]