Thanks to Anonymous Burner for bringing this to our attention.
Burning Man Worker Rights
List of Grievances
READ THIS FIRST (yes you)
In 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Create a forum for workers to express their concerns and ideas to management before the issues fester.
- Publish a budget online that not only includes expenditures, but also the income of Black Rock City LLC.
- 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.