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.
I wonder if this class-action lawsuit takes inspiration from the one that drivers filed against Uber and/or the debate that students are having with their respective colleges/universities about internships--are they being used as unpaid labor for the companies where they intern?
I remember talking to one volunteer at the 2014 SDCC, and she joked that she felt like an intern when it came to her con responsibilities. But she said that she said it was worth it, because she couldn't get a badge for that particular day.
I've never volunteered but everyone I've talked to has felt happy with the arrangement. Unpaid labor - for the most part, sure. But if you're just doing a short shift and get a badge out of it, I think it's a good deal.Delete
I've noticed different Cons treat their volunteers quite differently - SDCC seems to assign mostly basic tasks for defined sets of time, while I've been to Cons that give their volunteers complex assignments with real responsibility and sometimes too many hours. I imagine that feels more like being unpaid staff.
OK, that makes sense. Real responsibilities plus long hours for just a badge (most likely, for a single day )? I can see where the frustration comes from now. Thanks.ReplyDelete
Yeah, I think I mostly need more information before I can have an opinion on this lawsuit. My non-volunteering self is just going on what volunteers tell me.Delete