“13 Times More Dangerous Than Returning From Active Combat”

4. Barbie Death Camp IMG_0396

Salon has done an excellent piece on the epidemic of suicides amongst Burning Man workers.

There is a great deal of concern about the high frequency of depression and suicide among Black Rock City LLC (BRC) workers. While several factors contribute to depression and suicide, and correlation is not causation, the fact remains that 3 suicides (in a year) is an astonishingly high rate for virtually any population so small, and more so because, while these deaths are mourned, they are not entirely unexpected.

To put this in perspective, the US Army in 2011 reported a peak of 22.9 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, which was the highest rate seen in a decade. Per 100,000 appears to be a standard metric for this sort of thing. Assuming the combined numbers of Gate, DPW and Rangers to be approximately 1,000 strong, that would mean a suicide rate of 300 per 100,000. Statistically speaking, Black Rock City’s staff are 13 times more likely to kill themselves in the off-season than veterans returning from active combat duty. Even in a “slow year”, where only one BRC worker commits suicide, that is still 4 times the Army’s highest recorded suicide rate.

Read the full story at Salon.com

The story has also been picked up by the Daily Mail, Rave Jungle, and EDM Tunes. There’s also a rebuttal piece on Medium. If the suicide rate is just standard, nothing special to Burning Man, then why are there no other festivals with such a high death toll?

The seven suicides in seven years were just for DPW workers. There have also been Burners who committed suicide at the event, or after the event, workers who died on the job, and tragic fatal accidents.

Burning Man’s official history traces its origins to a secret society known as The Suicide Club. Coincidence? Or dark irony?

1998 ticket

Some previous related coverage:

DPW vs the Org – Labor Relations Board Ruling (2018)

Protesting the Protestors (2014)

Man Burns When Man Burns (2017)

RIP Lost Tom (2017)

RIP Spoono (2015)

Burning Man Electrician’s Tragic Death (2014)

Burner Dies At Utah Regional (2014)

Woman Dies At Burning Man (2014)

How Not To Die At Burning Man (2014)

9 Ways to Die At Burning Man (2013)

Monday is the New Saturday (2012)

There have also been two deaths by drowning at regional events, political activist Jay Houston Marx at Transformus NC (2015) and Matthew Vo at Lakes of Fire MI (2016).

The Black Rock Beacon also covered deaths at Burning Man in 2014:

Black Rock Beacon: A History of Deaths (2014)

Before this year, there were at least six deaths in Black Rock City. An additional number of Burners passed away after being evacuated.

The known deaths, reported by the Black Rock Beacon and other media or the Burning Man organization:

  • 2011 – Erika Kupfersberger, cerebral hemorrhage.
  • 2007 – Jermaine “Jerm” Barley, suicide by hanging.
  • 2006 – Adam Goldstone, a DJ with a known heart condition, died in RV after fainting.
  • 2005 – Sam Rich, a member of the fire-dancing group Controlled Burn, heart attack. Rich had sustained a head injury for which he was given stitches on Wednesday, the day before he died.
  • 2003 – Katherine Lampman, run over by art car she was exiting.
  • 2001 – A participant chose to run into a fire, according to the Afterburn probably the burning of Amazing Larry’s Lucky Seven Ages, the casino built into two large dice in the Deep Playa.

Among other event-related fatalities, an unidentified 52-year-old female Burner died in a Reno hospital after being transported from the Playa in 2010 because of an “unknown” medical condition, according to the Afterburn.

In 2005, a second Burner suffered cardiac arrest on the Playa and died that October after slipping into a coma in the hospital.

One fatality occurred from one of the two aircraft crashes in 2003. Barry Jacobs, the pilot of one of the planes, died after being hospitalized.

Two additional deaths in 2001 associated with the event included a Department of Public Works volunteer who died in a motor vehicle accident on the highway before the event and a second traffic fatality on Highway 447 during Exodus.

Michael Furey died in a motorcycle accident as the event was being set up in 1996.

 

Image: Fest300

“The Org Shows Its True Colors Once Again”: Staff Ticket Scandal

A post from Cranky_Monkey at Reddit:

The Org shows its true colors once again.

Fucking greed. Pure, unadulterated greed.

The Org has once again oversold the event, after coming within 60 attendees of the pop. cap last year. But as they say, actions have consequences:

This time the Org pulled earned tickets from departments. As in, people they bargained free labor last year in exchange for a ticket this year are being told AS THEY DRIVE IN to turn around and go home. These are people that were submitted on staff lists months ago. I’ve personally seen the confirmation emails from two list submittals to the Org.

Evidently, last Thursday the Org notified departments of their “oversight” and that they would not be honoring many staff tickets. DPW, Gate, ESD among others were all affected. Hundreds of workers for the event left holding the bag, many while enroute.

Keep it classy, Burning Man. First you hoodwinked so many to work for free, now you’re actually costing them money lost to preps, fuel, etc for an event they’re not even allowed into. To work. For you. For free.

What a fucking joke.

Feel free to give Event Director a piece of your mind: charlie.dolman@burningman.org

EDIT: No, I cannot share emails and texts. Most are coming from participants, and the emails they would share come from their department leads. Sharing them would immediately out them to their department.

You shouldn’t ONLY listen to me, but if you know anyone from any of the departments listed, feel free to reach out and ask “Hey, heard something is up with tix for staff & volunteers in Org departments” and see what they say.


This was then confirmed by tistrue1:

Completely true. The ORG oversold the event and now they are not honoring staff tickets and credentials earned last year. If your WAP/ticket was put into TicketFly in a timely manner and you have an e-mail from them; then you are good. If your department manager or the person they instructed to put the info into TicketFly didn’t for whatever reason (dropped the ball!) then you’re screwed. Even if you told them you would be attending and they confirmed.

I personally know at least 20 Gate personnel this affected. They are/were on their way to the event and were told to go home.

Here’s the e-mail from the personnel manager of Gate sent yesterday (8/21) at 3:30pm.
This is a tough message.
It is very hard to say this but very important to get the word out. Last Thursday every department at Burning Man was told that there were no more tickets of any kind available. This includes staff credentials, reduced price tickets, and gift tickets. Over the past few days we have been trying to see what kinds of resources we could muster to address the shortfalls we know we have. In most years we are able to continue issuing credentials and tickets up to the day before the event opens, and we can catch the persons that fell between the cracks.
Please check to see if you have an email confirmation from Ticketfly that has the words STAFF CREDENTIAL in it. If you can’t find one it is quite possible you do not have a ticket to Burning Man this year, and for that we are very sorry to disappoint you and break the promises we have made. This is the hardest message I have ever had to put on announce, and I fully expect to hear about it and will field all questions about this.


some other comments:

DPW vs The Org: Labor Relations Board Ruling

Towards the end of last year, we heard about a big case – one that dealt with issues that Burners who create Black Rock City have had for many years with the organization that collects the money and *ahem* saves it for future roadworks. Here’s a similarly themed protest from 2007:

It doesn’t seem like things have changed much in 11 years. BMorg’s attitude seems to always have been “DPW are volunteers, they can leave any time they want, they should be grateful we give them some food and money and social cachet”.

So what happened with this case?

The only media coverage I saw was in the Reno Gazette-Journal, first from 10-year volunteer Jessica Reeder:

In 2014, it all changed. The event was growing faster than the crew. The work got too hard, the days too long, and collectively, many of the crew realized we wanted to “gift” a little less of our sanity and health. A member of my crew started organizing for labor rights.

Burning Man, to its credit, improved working conditions somewhat. It started feeding laborers for the full season, for example, and instituted a transparent structure for those who do get paychecks. However, the company still “encourages volunteerism,”  asks workers to camp in the dirt for months — and last year, fired the crew member who was suggesting we unionize.

My coworker took his case to the National Labor Relations Board. In a settlement last month, Burning Man compensated him for lost wages, and notified the entire workforce of their right to fair treatment under the law. That’s not an admission of guilt, but it also doesn’t indicate innocence. My coworker was not the first to agitate for better working conditions; and whether it’s coincidental or not, the people who complained did not tend to keep their jobs.

It’s shocking to consider that Burning Man, a people-oriented nonprofit, would do anything other than invest in the health and happiness of its workforce. As a company whose strength is its people, I hope Burning Man will take the lead in treating its crew like a valuable resource, instead of continuing to expect them to “gift” their own lives and well-being.

[Source]

The story is not exactly critical of BMorg. Still, it was quickly followed up by another op-ed in the same paper by Joanne Fahnestock

I’m not sure where to begin in my response to Jessica Reeder’s column about Burning Man doing right by its volunteers (“Is 2018 the year Burning Man starts doing right by its workers?,” Jan. 14.)

The obvious first would be: What is the National Labor Relations Board doing getting involved with a volunteer? “Volunteer” says it all. You do not get paid and you can leave whenever you want. If someone wants to change that, it certainly should not occur while you’re accepting the position of volunteer worker.

I agree, the conditions at Burning Man are brutal — hot during the day, cold at night and windy and dusty all the time. You bring your own food, shelter and water. This is all made very clear at the start.

And if it was not clear to you when you signed up, it would be apparent as soon as you got there. You can leave at any time. There is no contract, no obligation. You stay or
you don’t.

One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is gifting time, energy, money, kindness. And it does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value. Clearly this is a misunderstood principle that neither the workers who filed the complaint, the ones trying to organize or the National Labor Relations Board comprehend.

I have been going to Burning Man for over 10 years and I gift my time. I do not expect anything in return. It is an experience I cannot begin to describe to anyone who has not been there. I expect nothing from the Burning Man Organization. I get so much more than they could possibly give me in dollars.

And when I choose to no longer go to Burning Man, I won’t go.

Doing the right thing is living by the 10 principles. Some are easier than others, but they are always voluntary.

[Source]

I wonder if this preachy person has any idea what it is like in the weeks and months leading up to Burning Man, building Black Rock City. Burning Man is hard enough with free pancakes and carcass washing, spare a thought for the people that are laboring long days in the sun and dust constructing things without any of that infrastructure being available to them.

There were no comments to either of these stories, although the case did draw some commentary from long-time Carson City critic Guy W Farmer. There were a few complaints about the obvious shill story on Reddit:

[Source]

There is some further discussion at this other r/BurningMan thread about the class divide between paid and unpaid workers and the rich tech bro clientele putting $12 million cash in the Org’s bank.

Jessica Reeder’s original story links to the National Labor Relations Board case information, which doesn’t shed much light:

Screenshot 2018-07-17 15.03.35

BMorg retained a notorious union-busting law firm to represent them against their worker.

I followed the instructions to obtain a copy through the FOIA system. Personal Identifying Information has been redacted by the government.

The plaintiff charges that they were dismissed for (1)discussing and (2)protesting their pay and working conditions.

In the settlement agreement, Burning Man did not acknowledge that they had violated the National Labor Relations Act, but paid the employee in full.

The key finding is that DPW have the right to unionize, and BMorg has been forced to inform all its (200) workers of that.

So there you have it. They will “not refuse to rehire” anyone who complains about working conditions. At least, that’s what they say. YMMV.

Here’s the full documentation:

NLRB-2018-000431_Responsive_Records_Redacted_FINAL

NLRB-2018-000431_Responsive_Records_Redacted_FINAL