Re: titles and archaeology <long>

Theresa Kintz (TKintz@AOL.COM)
Wed, 6 Mar 1996 17:27:16 -0500

Food for thought on this issue is a debate raging now within the
archaeological community regarding the titles and status of workers in
Cultural Resources Management........

A group of field workers formed a union to try to bring about changes in the
realtionship between labor and management in CRM archaeology. One of the
primary concerns was wages.

Archaeological technicians earn an average of $8 per hour in the east.
Couple this with the fact that our status is always "temporary employee" -
as migratory workers hired on a project to project basis - so we receive no
health or other benefits. And there is no job security since we get "laid
off" several times a year at the end of the fieldwork part of the job and
have to scramble to get on the next project. Wages had not increased for
field workers at all during the past 5 years and the union took on this issue
last year.

The UAFT (United Archaeological Field Technicians) did some research and
found out about the Service Contract Act - a federal law that sets the
prevailing wage for service employees working for subcontractors on federal

A job classification and wage determination for "archaeological technicians"
instituted by the feds several years ago has never been enforced. The
prevailing wage is set by the Dept. of Labor and Statistics. It varies by
metropolitan statistical area, but the wage scale sets the hourly wage for
"archaeological technicians" working on federally funded projects at between
$12 - $17 per hour.

The union brought this to the attention of the Dept. of Labor, which is now
investigating the CRM industry's widespread violation of the SCA.

The reaction of management has been kind of a surprise. One of the tactics
they have begun to employ is removing the word "archaeological" from our
titles. In industry publications, CRM managers have begun to refer to us as
"research assistants" and "crew members". Before this law was brought to
their attention, we were always billed as "archaeological technicians".

Our "identity crisis" is a result of the union's efforts to have the SCA
enforced. The argument is that if the prevailing wage for "archaeological
technicians" is enforced, the cost increase might cause the federal agencies
to stop doing archaeology. In essence, telling us that we workers could
"kill" the federal archaeology program if we press for the increased wages.
This has many of us worried because that is the last thing we want to see.

And to make things worse, accompanying our downgrading from "archaeological
technicians" to "crew members" is an attempt to argue that the technician's
job can be filled by anyone. It seems that there is a tempest now brewing
about who can consider themselves "archaeologists" - and CRM management seems
to be saying that those with only BA degrees should not be considered

The CRM firms admit to charging overhead rates, on average, of 100% or more -
which means if techs get paid $8 an hour, they have already been billing the
feds $16 or more an hour for our labor. The MA's and PhD's employed as
Principle Investigators report earning an average of $25 per hour. It
doesn't quite seem fair to make the lowest paid workers bear all of the
responsibility for keeping costs down - and now management wants to deny us
the right to consider ourselves archaeologists.

Most archaeological technicians have only BA's in anthropology. The
enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act in the 70's greatly
increased the amount of federally funded archaeological investigations being
conducted and a growing number of anthro BA's are trying to make a living as
archaeological technicians instead of returning to grad school for PhD's.

Many simply feel that a having a PhD will not necessarily result in better
career opportunities in archaeology. The academic sector is already
saturated and highly competetive, and the average CRM firm employs only two
or three PhD's, compared to anywhere from 5 - 60+ technicians on a per
project basis .

Many of us still want to make a contribution to archaeology and have found
that being a field archaeologist is one way we can do that. ACRA, (American
Cultural Resources Association) the trade association for CRM business
owners, estimates that there are around 10,000 people employed in the CRM
industry at this time in the US.

In the latest issue of the industry publication "The Grapevine" are the
results of an industry survey where the following comment was made:

>"One respondent stated that only CRM professionals with
> advanced degrees were under compensated. Furthermore
> "technicians are fairly paid relating to the tasks required of
> them. The training for their degrees is less rigorous, their
> jobs less demanding intellectually, and they have less
> critical responsibility...."

I think arch tech's acknowledge that the MA and PhD archaeologists have extra
training and very important jobs. They deserve our respect and they deserve
to make decent wages. But I don't think that what archaeological technicians
do is less important to the construction of the archaeological record than
what the PhD's do in CRM, or that anyone with a BA in anthropology deserves
to earn a poverty level wage.

The MA's and PhD's prepare the research designs and write the reports; the
archaeological technicians find the sites, collect the artifacts, and record
all the data compiled in the field - so it seems to me like we need each
other. It bothers me that things have become so antagonistic.

It is also interesting to note that when we are in the field, the average
citizen who is observing us while we carefully excavate a burial, or draw a
profile on a multi-componant deeply stratified site, would certainly assume
that we were "archaeologists".

Maybe our situation is just a classic labor / management dispute, but the
fact that the players are anthropologists does make it more interesting.....
and sad.

the underground