Should Comic Cons pay their volunteers?

29 MARCH 2015

The Mary Sue has a provocative article up on whether Cons are legally obligated to pay their volunteers. If you've been to a Con, you know that volunteers are everywhere in their matching shirts - and that they can save your Comic-Con life by directing you to the right room at the right time. It's worth noting that volunteers are there because they want to be, and so their attitudes are generally positive and enthusiastic - making them a nice change from surly security guards who are sick of being asked where the Legends of Korra panel is.

Usually volunteers are compensated with a free badge of some type. However, this doesn't exempt Cons from paying them, nor does it serve as non-monetary payment in the eyes of the law; if anything, that can constitute legal evidence that volunteer labor is worthy of compensation in the form of minimum wage, overtime or more.

It's not entirely surprising that this could be an issue. Comic Cons have swiftly ballooned from podunk, grassroots events organized by nerds with more passion than business experience to mammoth, glittering superconventions that demand business expertise. And as we SDCC attendees know all too well, in many cases the business expertise doesn't always keep pace with the demand.

That said, I don't think the companies behind Cons have nefarious intentions. We all know that volunteers are eager to help and usually consider the badge they get in return adequate compensation. (I haven't heard any horror stories of volunteers being abused or overworked - if you have, let me know.)  So hopefully this doesn't become yet another ordeal for event companies to deal with, or a stumbling block for volunteers who might lose out on positions that could go to formally hired and compensated temp workers.

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