BURNILEAKS: Workers Want Rights

Thanks to Anonymous Burner for bringing this to our attention.


Burning Man Worker Rights

List of Grievances


my life is better than your vacationIn August 2014, members of DPW upper management, referred to as “The Council of Darkness”, were informed that the Burning Man workforce was unhappy and seeking to organize for more fair treatment.

This came as a surprise to the Council, some of whom have requested a list of issues with examples provided so they can start making improvements.

The Council promised no retaliation in response to members of the dpw airing their work related issues; a threat perceived by many, that has kept us silent. The meeting was recorded by the human resources department. Let’s move forward in full faith and present our grievances – the things we believe are wrong and should be addressed.


This form is meant to help create a list of grievances; Issues that you can choose to either agree or disagree with and a box at the bottom of each issue for you to contribute a relevant example. The grievances with the highest amount of “agrees” will be brought to our leadership with requests and recommendations for action.

You may propose solutions to these issues. Please add them in the “solutions” section at the end of the form.

We need DPW workers, volunteers, and management to speak up with concise examples in order for our grievances to be taken seriously. Some of the instances of unfairness are self explanatory and matter of fact. But others need further example. Remember that there has been a promise, recorded by human resources at the meeting between the Council of Darkness and two members of the DPW, that no retaliation shall be pursued for serious testimonials of instances of unfair labor treatment. You do not need to name specific persons, you can explain their position in the organisation and the circumstances as well as relevant facts. Please try to maintain appropriate discretion. We genuinely believe the members of the council will keep their word to diligently address issues to the best of their ability without punishing those who speak up.

This document is for past and present DPW members only. If you are a not member of the DPW, please do not participate here. We will release a petition when the time is right, and we will need your support at that time.

Below is a tentative list of grievances from the DPW community. You can and should add your own, by submitting them on the form you will find a link to at the bottom of this document. After a final edit, we will present this document to the council.

Read these issues carefully and then use the form to voice your support for these issues being aired. There is a group of us devoted to making a final edit, taking in consideration your input, for presentation to the council.

Issues relating to common labor rights

These are things that break federal or state labor laws.

1. Workers are often paid far below minimum wage for manual labor, and do not receive overtime pay.

2. Workers often do not receive forced breaks or the correct amount of days off.  Some worked weeks straight, and were on-call at night.

3. Workers are discouraged from sharing information about pay with each other.

4. Workers are not provided with adequate safety gear or training.

5. Workers are discouraged from organizing and in some cases, intimidated in response.


  1. I was treated with serious disdain, after presenting my ideas about organising the DPW, by a member of upper management. I felt talked down to and treated as a moron, and in the weirdest turn of events, I was then accused of being aggressive and threatening towards them.
  2. In reference to a person who was involved in organizing the DPW, I was told by a DPW manager that they would like to fire that person, but since they were not able to fire them, they would not promote them.

6. Volunteers may work for many years without reimbursement or consideration for the value of their experience.


  1. Compensation and workload vary dramatically within DPW.  I have witnessed many people on many occasions express anger and frustration about the discrepancies.  It erodes morale.

7. Budgets and pay rates stay the same every year and are not adjusted for inflation, but workers are asked to do more every year – meaning that every year the entire paid workforce effectively receives a pay cut.


  1. My workload increased tremendously this year and though I was given more responsibility, my pay stayed the same from last year. I was told by my manager that they simply were not given a budget that would allow an increase in my pay.
  2. Manager would like to give long term (5+) Assistant Manager pay increase.  Payroll budget actually decreased so was unable to.

8. Managers, Board members, and crew members are allowed to get away with harassment and assault of other crew members and keep their jobs

Things that go against Burning Man principles

The worst offenses are those that fly in the face of Burning Man’s Ten principles. List things that are unfair, unequal, and hypocritical here.

1.  Repeat and long-term (over three consecutive weeks of labor performed) Volunteers are not allowed to eat during the week of the event – how much money does this even save? How can you expect unpaid people with no access to a grocery store for three weeks to then provide their own food for a week?

2. Founders, many of whom no longer work in any capacity for the production of the event, have deluxe trailers, their own camp, a private gourmet kitchen, servers, and other luxuries, which are paid out of the same budget that could provide compensation to the workforce.

Issues that affect general morale and worker happiness

These are issues that relate to how special and different the experience of working DPW is and how it can be protected or improved.

1. In the decision making process of firings, because of interpersonal issues, those closest to the parties involved are not consulted enough. This results in misconceptions, and perceived poor treatment of those that are let go by people they do not know, and for reasons that may be unclear to those being fired. This in turn can cause mental distress and insecurity within the crew.


  1. One crew member [in a managerial position] was not asked back the next year.  This “firing” was due to behavior that was unacceptable to his bosses.  However, the behavior in question was not unacceptable to the rest of DPW. Also, the nature of the behavior was such that had he been asked to change it, he could’ve.  He did a great job and enjoyed it very much.  It distresses me that this type of firing takes place when other managers are true jack-asses in their manner, yet remain in their position of power indefinitely.

2. Psychological help for DPW could be improved. Every year we see mental breakdowns and in the worst case, suicides. There could be more focus and attention paid to the mental wellness of people who sacrifice 6-10 weeks of their lives to labor very hard, for very cheap, in a very harsh environment.

3. Worker freedoms and our general ability to have fun are being eroded. More rules, regulations, and restrictions are being unfairly imposed on the DPW, decreasing morale. There seems to be a lack of understanding or consideration about how these decisions affect us.


  1. The decision to ground all DPW vehicles for duration of the event was not only unfair and unnecessary, it was counter-productive to those of us that still have to work during the event. We have always chosen sober and responsible drivers to take a large groups on a tour of the event that we have worked ourselves into the ground for. It’s hard to want to walk or bike everywhere when you’ve been working the way we do for the amount of time we do it in. The DPW taxi program was a brilliant idea; it insured that there would be a sober driver and people would not abuse their work vehicle privileges.
  1. The last minute addition of required OSHA 10 certification was poorly timed and caused added stress to a workforce that is far from resources, short on equipment, and short on free time to devote to additional last minute requirements.

4. There is no clear and established process by which someone goes from being a volunteer to being an employee and getting paid for their work during pre event. There is no official path, and no rhyme or reason to who gets paid. If there is a rhyme or reason it seems to have a lot to do with favoritism, being liked, and knowing the right people. Many people work years volunteering during pre event without getting paid. It seems like there should be a standard path to employment and a logical and fair pay scale in pre event for repeat DPW members.

5. Considering the length of time workers spend in such a brutally harsh environment, it is surprising that more suitable housing is not provided for staff.  Some people seem to get housing (living container or trailer) provided if requested, and some do not.  Whether or not you are provided housing does not seem related to length of time on playa.  Again, the only reasoning here seems to indicate nepotism.  6 weeks or more in a tent is a long time.  Providing a dark, cool space for people to sleep would benefit the crew both physically, emotionally, and mentally.  If a worker is already able to provide their own housing, assisting with storage over the off-season would also be helpful.


  1. Manager requested housing for Assistant Manager who was to be on playa for total of 6+ weeks.  Was refused with the statement “housing is only for mission critical employees”.

6. There have been instances of theft in the past.  For workers without a vehicle or container to lock their belongings inside of, a set of crew lockers with posted accessibility hours would be helpful, perhaps located at the Depot.

7. There seems to be a disparity in how the work day is divided.  Most crews work during the day.  If a crew member is injured on the job site in the evening, it is considered “personal time” and not covered by worker’s compensation.  However, a worker can get terminated for activity that occurred during the evening.  That seems like a double standard.  In reality camp, if someone gets into an altercation at the pub after work, they do not get fired the following day.


Proposed Solutions

If you have ideas for how Burning Man can address any of the above issues, please submit them on the form and they will be added here.

  1. Implement a system of representation for the workers that empowers us from the bottom up (people we vote to represent us), so that we may contribute and be heard regarding the decisions that affect us.
  2. Create a clear and transparent system of pay with a standardized system of promotion in the company. Give DPW a fair wage with a clear path to sustainable employment.
  3. Create a forum for workers to express their concerns and ideas to management before the issues fester.
  4. Publish a budget online that not only includes expenditures, but also the income of Black Rock City LLC.
  5. There should be a formal procedure for hiring and firing.  There should be a clear and defined way to apply for any and all paid positions.  In order to be fired during the work season a pre-defined protocol, agreed to by DPW as well as the Council of darkness should be followed for each and every instance, regardless.  Any off season firings (pre or post) should follow a similar protocol and give written notice of the decision to all concerned parties.  A meeting with HR should be permitted if requested.


41 comments on “BURNILEAKS: Workers Want Rights

  1. Pingback: BMOrg Hath Spoken | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Pingback: Protesting the Protestors | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  3. Pingback: BMOrg’s Next Response | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  4. Pingback: BMOrg Continues to Cover for Commodification Camps | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  5. Pingback: The Great BMOrg Cash-Out of 2010-2017, $35-47 Million: an Updated Estimate | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  6. Pingback: Commodification Camp Concerns | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  7. A good lawyer out there could easily mount a class-action lawsuit against the BOrg for violation of the US tax code in classifying the paid DPW workers as independent contractors. (I would post some links, but that seems to keep my comments from posting.) The laws are there for a reason, and from the statements here, for this very reason.

    • Nomad, I have presented several queries in regards to the status, but no prior DPW labourer has answered. Which leads me towards the belief of it might be a tad better than usual construction labour practices in Nevada, but still independent contractors. Except, many awesome DPW labourers do not get paid.

      • In the FB Sherpa group, one commenter on the thread about Commodification Camp workers claimed that the DPW were W2 employees. This, of course, means that their employer is responsible for OSHA compliance. A new thread started quoting Will Chase as saying that “OSHA has been on the playa for years,” apparently hoping to stave off any complaints that might be filed in these last days of the 30-day horizon.

        • Much obliged, Nomad, I viewed it. Despite this query being presented a number of times prior, this was the first time it was answered, except of by a mate of burnersxxx. The post in regards of the prior DPW dispatch manager stated he was not fired, he solely was not given a new contract, and the reports of BMOrg offering a contract, of solely a small amount, perchance $15,000, towards the designer and build manager of the awesome spaceship man base, and of DPW prior being stated upon the contract labourers line, led me towards this belief.

          This unknown is the rationale of why I was conservative within the BMOrg cash out estimate, $4 million of salaries for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and solely $3 million of salaries for 2013. Do you know of how many DPW might have been paid? Fewer labourers were paid in 2010, and more in 2013. 150 people paid $12 each hour for 8 weeks is near to $600,000. In addendum, I viewed the comment in regards to Gate, it is good they are paying some Gate, it was not occurring a few burns prior, even supervisors were not paid, they are very deserving of being paid.

          burnersxxx, if you view this comment might you hold off on publishing the updated BMOrg cash out estimate? I desire to be near to certain it is correct. I might be of the need to change the estimate of their salaries within 2011 and within 2012 from $4 million to $3.5 million, and a change in the text, lowering their cash out by $1 million. Much obliged.

          • did you send it already? I can’t find it.
            I worked through some math with a source the other night. There are about 400 DPW workers. Nevada minimum wage is $8.25/hr. Paying them all for 4 weeks each, 40 hrs/wk, would cost about $528,000: about $7.75 per ticket. It’s roughly the same as what BMOrg spends on costumes and travel.

          • It is strange, yes, it was sent to the address in the about page. I will update the estimate post today, and send to the same address, and place a note within a comment.

            I know how to phrase the words now, the estimate was correct. Our numbers, in regards to DPW, are conservative estimates in due of many in DPW not being paid, and, the estimates are nearly the same, much obliged.

            Thank you.

          • ABP, I wish I could help you in your quantitative analysis of the DPW employment, but my concern was only qualitative – something not debatable. It speaks to how the BOrg is trying to skirt the laws of responsibility to explicit or in-fact employees. And I make this in contrast to an all-volunteer event, where OSHA, FICA payments and such simply don’t apply. For a well-run stone soup organization there is also no problem with this as the salaried people work for the volunteers, not vice-versa. Paying people to properly manage the slaves is entirely another model.

  8. What to do? For starters, do away with First Camp. It’s very existence screams “we’re better than you”. It’s the model plug-n-play camp that’s been tolerated for years. Most theme camps, especially ones placed on the Esplanade, are required to give something back to the community. What does first Camp offer other than a giant serving of condescension?

      • If they were doing this as volunteers, like Figment, then that would make sense. But that is not the case. They are being paid, well paid, to put on the event. Should you elevate the president of the Red Cross above those who donate blood?

  9. Please contact me for a possible solution to these issues – Organizing unions is what I do for a living. I would do this one for free and get it off and running. Several houses come to mind and all three would love to have these workers in their mix.

  10. Misty penned ‘They’re contractors, not employees. They don’t get worker’s compensation or other benefits because the law doesn’t require it. And most aren’t even contractors, they’re just people who show up and do what they’re told for free. ‘

    Are DPW labourers contractors, or are they employees? Within prior burns, DPW labourers have been contractors. The post in regards of the termination of the awesome prior DPW dispatch manager stated he was not fired, he solely was not offered a new contract for 2013. In the manner as the awesome Burner whom designed the spaceship man base of 2013, reports of the BMOrg offering him a contract of solely $15,000 upon his design, and to minister the construction.

    Much obliged, burnersxxx, for querying your mate, and of your mate stating temporary labourers are paid upon a W2 tax levy form, but, this is confusing to me.

    I would be much obliged might if a different commenter answer the query of

    ‘Are DPW labourers, the DPW labourers of sufficient fortune to be paid, paid upon a W2 tax levy form (thusly, they are employees), paid upon a 1099 tax levy form (thusly, they are contractors), or, do they sign a contract but are paid upon a W2 tax levy form, with the BMOrg stating to them of they are contractors, but, thusly, they are employees?’

    This query is purposed towards penning an update upon the BMorg Cash Out post. It is not a big difference upon the estimate, in due of the DPW labourers, by simple maths upon prior comments, paid lower than $400,000 of cash, solely $6 of each $380 or $650 ticket, the awesome DPW should be paid much more cash towards their pockets.

  11. I’m aghast that this was even posted.

    Whoever leaked this thinks they’re doing a favor for the DPW, but they’ve blown through a lot of advantages by posting this in the Burner Enquirer.

    Shame on you. You’ve hurt the people who work the hardest.

  12. Volunteers are disposable as far as BM is concerned. I got that message loud and clear when an LLC member (drunk) chewed me out for something I didn’t do, didn’t know about and couldn’t have stopped if I had known about it (I was a paid manager for another department).

    What we’re seeing in these labor issues is, in my view, directly related to the plug and play phenomena. BM is a volunteer run event, what makes the volunteers show up is the belief that they are part of a community where everybody is expected to contribute, no spectators. That’s always been somewhat of an illusion however there was enough participation to maintain the perception of all being in it together. When it becomes abundantly clear that some burners are more equal than others it shatters the illusion of no spectators. I used to happily give up my vacation and volunteer for weeks at a time and later work for below minimum wage. However if you want me to volunteers to produce an event for rich idiots who can’t even clean up after themselves you can damn well pay me for it because I ain’t doing it for free.

  13. ARTISTS and DPW: Love you guys and good on you for standing up. But standing up doesn’t seem to be enough. You have got to refuse to work under the current conditions. BM will be hiring a staff if they have no one else to built it. Same with artist – there are only about 20-30 artists that provide the “core” yearly art at BM (lotus girls, kate rodenbush, marco, etc). Of course there are 100’s of others but BM needs the core large-scale. Artists continue to pay for the bulk of their art, pay for their own insurance, provide staff meals, take all the risk & sign ALL their rights away to Decommodification LLC who can later sell the images to anyone with the artist having no say (picture book, commercials, t-shurts, anything). The handful of core artists need to present a fair contract to BM and say they will only build under those conditions. Same goes for the DPW workers. This is not the BM I began going to 20 years ago – when there were no tickets, everyone worked for free (including the board) and we all paid whatever we could on the way out. BM is highly profitable and it’s time they shared the benefits with all those that built it.

  14. Bravo to those who are moving and woeking toqrds fair treatment for DPW and all workers. The lask of consistant employment policies and fair wages is just another example of the inwards rot that maked the LLC and the Project stink. BMan is a coporation run on the Walmart model: money and flagrant luxury at the top of an organization built on a workforce with no rights. And people just keep going because the product is too irresistable. Keep trying to organize and we will support you!

  15. I whole hardedly agree i have a lot of friends in DPW and just because this is bm doesnt mean there are not federal labor laws the bm org is null too. I think it is disgusting how they treat here employees and how are there wages not increased bm is more expensive each year to attend. And non of that goes back into the pockets of the people (DPW) that make it all happen every year, without them corprate wouldnt have there nice office in san fran, there luxery RV’s to go to bm in…….I think its disgusting and corprate gets worse every year…..seems they are more aboutputting money in there pockets then even giving recognition to the hard work

    • The BM volunteer staff are like abused wives. “He hits me, but he loves me.” Well, you know where the door is, Sunshine – use it! I have no sympathy for people who continue in abusive relationships. If they’re psychologically week (like most DPW), then what can be done? They line up for punishment, and the punishment frequently results in injury. But they keep coming back. Darwinism at its finest.

      • By the same measure, the abuser should be jailed. A BMorg that is willing to shit on DPW doesn’t deserve to be the stewards of Burning Man.

      • You do realize that the only reason labor laws exist is because workers got sick of taking abuse and stood up for some rights, don’t you? Do you think you get two days off a week, healthy working conditions, workers comp., etc., (assuming for the sake of argument that you’re employed) because your boss is just such a nice guy? Fuck no, it’s because workers demanded it.
        DPW isn’t asking for sympathy (in fact, this was meant to be a private interaction between DPW and the org.). This isn’t an example of people passively complaining about their shitty situation, this is an example of people taking the steps to change their situation. Psychologically weak people don’t stand up for their rights.

        • They’re contractors, not employees. They don’t get worker’s compensation or other benefits because the law doesn’t require it. And most aren’t even contractors, they’re just people who show up and do what they’re told for free. They’re perfectly free to not show up. But it’s nice that they do because it makes the Mission District more pleasant for 2 months out of the year.

          If I ask a few friends to help me move house, I don’t fall under the control of labor laws. It’s like that.

          • it’s more like if you throw a house party, ask your friends to decorate the place, do security, bartend and DJ, bring all the booze and the sound system; then you sell tickets at the door and keep all the money, giving them $0 for their contributions. Then you go the Wall Street Journal and CNN bragging about how clever you are to throw the best party in the world, and at the same time complaining about how it’s so expensive that you barely break even.

          • The part about labor laws was an analogy. You have terrible comprehension of situations. Please stop sharing your opinion, because it’s not based in reality.

  16. it is a shame what happens with the DPW.. hearing some folks talk about the uncertainty the policies create is just sad.

    it seems to be company-wide problem. even with their shorter time on the playa the concerns of those in other departments are no less troubling.

    those working in other departments also get shafted, with some people getting paid and some not, with no clear reason why when one looks at the amount of hours worked.

    between the various department workers who are working the same amount of hours may or may not be fed, depending on the budget/policy of the management of the specific department.

    between the various departments workers who are working the same amount of hours may or may not get the consideration of a low-price or a free ticket for the next years event.

    training and safety is almost non-existent in some roles.

    explanations by management about the rules, expectations, and even event-related policies/procedures that are directly related to a position go unmentioned, creating confusion and hours of extra work when something isn’t done as per policy.

    activities happening outside of the event and unrelated to event related work have been cause for threats of being barred (fired) from any further involvement with departments.

    the internal documentation explains away some of these concerns saying that certain departments have different needs to get their job done and thus have different policies on things such as feeding workers and compensating, or offering them consideration for work… but the unequal policies lower morale, create uncertainty among volunteers and workers, and resentment for management.

    the senior staff and board need to create company wide policy that ensures all volunteers, staff, and crew in all departments access to equal treatment and clear information that everyone can understand.

    volunteers/workers in all departments deserve:
    -a safe working environment (reasonable hours, safety equipment/procedures, clean potties, more open shower policy for those that need to be clean for/after the work they do)
    -basic training available for a job
    -clearly communicate policies and procedures (to avoid confusion, wasted time, mistakes)
    -across the board policy for being fed (expecting workers in one department to feed themselves after working the same amount as people being fed in another department is not ok)
    -across the board policy for compensation/consideration (those working a certain amount, or with certain responsibilities should be paid, or receive consideration for tickets no matter what department they are in, the policy now is unfair)

  17. The DPW BUILDS our city! They deserve to be treated fairly. They spend more time out in the barren desert than anyone else. Give them what they need to continue to be the kick ass people they are. There would be no Burning Man without the DPW. Again, no DPW=no Burning Man. Thank you DPW!!!!!

Leave a Reply