20 MAY 2016
Define "volunteer." Is it someone who works for free? At a Con, is it someone who works in exchange for admission? If that arrangement violates labor laws, but the said volunteers don't mind, should there still be a class action lawsuit?
Well, there's one now and it's aimed at Emerald City Comicon. The suit alleges that ECCC treated its volunteers like employees but didn't pay them. Specifically, the plaintiffs say that ECCC didn't keep a record of hours worked, didn't compensate volunteers for their time and violated the minimum wage law. And if you're thinking, "Well, duh, they're volunteers," that brings into the question the legal definition of a volunteer - usually someone who works for a non-profit. (That's not ECCC. SDCC qualifies, though.) Also at stake: if you exchange your time for a badge, are you still really a volunteer or an employee who accepted an alternate form of payment?
The lawsuit targets 2014 and 2015; this year ReedPOP paid ECCC volunteers, as they generally do. This could fizzle out, or it could stir up an interesting discussion on volunteering at Cons. We know that when it comes to popular Comic Cons, there are usually more willing volunteers than shifts available. But even if prospective attendees are willing to overlook a few pesky laws, they're not the ones who cast the deciding vote. We'll see how this plays out.