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:

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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

BURNILEAKS: Sexual Assaults, Missing Kids and Violent Crime

Something that BMorg are always attempting to hush up are the details of the annual arrests. It used to be reported every year in the Reno Gazette-Journal, but since they appointed dedicated Burning Man beat reporter Jenny Kane that type of coverage has stopped. We have to try to piece the information together however we can.

I filed a FOIA request in January to get the 2017 arrest data from the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, but so far they haven’t even acknowledged it. Thanks very much to our source DS who sent us the 2015, 2016, and some 2017 information below. The information we received includes the names of all people arrested in 2015 and 2017 and what they were charged with, compiled from the local paper. Don’t panic! We won’t be publishing the names. We hope to get more 2017 information soon.

The official reports confirm a shockingly large number of sexual assaults – 15 in 2015, 11 in 2016 – and way more missing children than were previously reported. The rapes, not prosecuted; the children (thankfully) all found. No wonder BMorg wanted this hushed up. Sexual offenders who fail to register are a recurring problem. Kidnapping, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, jailbreaks, and celebrities with armed bodyguards are all issues at Black Rock City. Don’t think that just because you’re “home”, that means you are safe – and don’t think for a moment that having a rule “no guns” means there are no guns there.

In fact, the Sheriff specifically states that he does not believe he can provide for the safety of Burners.

hot girl back

Image: Steemkr


BMorg vs PCSO

This has been an ongoing battle for many years. The cops think they should get more money as the festival gets bigger and goes for longer, BMorg thinks they should keep all the money for themselves to give to artists and make the world a better place. BMorg has big lawyers and political clout, they tell the Sheriff where to stick it, so to meet the budget required the Sheriff’s Office feels compelled to arrest and cite more Burners – to make their side of the argument stronger. “Look at all these criminals, our budget’s not big enough!”. Burners who pay $500-$1200 a ticket are thus used as pawns in an argument that people with $40 million per year of ticket money are having with local officials over 50 grand.

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Pershing County normally has a population of approximately 6,800 people within the County.  This population includes approximately 1,600 inmates incarcerated at the [gated community of the] Lovelock Correctional Center.  For this population, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office has 13 full time Sworn Law Enforcement Deputies, including the Sheriff, to perform all of the duties statutorily mandated for the Sheriff’s Office.  This equates to approximately 1 Deputy for every 400 persons permanently residing in Pershing County, minus those incarcerated. 

During the approximate 10-12 days of the active portion of the Burning Man Festival, the population of just the Festival balloons to upwards of 80,000+ persons.  Still with only the 13 Sworn Full-Time Deputies within the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office.  Based on this population, it would appear the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office would need to have approximately 200 Deputies to provide similar staffing for the visitors to the Burning Man Festival. However, Burning Man provides approximately 800+ ‘Black Rock Rangers’.  These employees of Burning Man are mostly made up of volunteers, some of whom have very limited training, to interact with the population and attempt to mitigate issues before they rise to the level of a Law Enforcement Response.  Some of the Rangers are trained enough to provide a force multiplication, to a limited extent, for Law Enforcement. 


The Problem, In a Few Charts

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2015 Report – Highlights

  • 1 death before the event
  • 15 sexual assaults reported
  • sex offender failed to register
  • 6 children went missing – all found
  • incident with nude man and his nude 4 year old child at adult event
  • 1 arrest for kidnapping
  • celebrities bringing armed bodyguards
  • an inmate tried to escape from the temporary jail
  • event ran for 9 days, previous discussions were around 7
  • big load on Sheriff’s office while construction/tear down happening
  • year end load processing all criminal cases, court dates etc
  • “the comradery [sic] which was built during this event will extend through the state” – from cops, Feds, agencies working together
  • integration with Humboldt Medical Team, who were kicked out for CrowdRX

 

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You are more likely to get a citation from the BLM than the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office. The cops issued 143 citations and 175 verbal warnings. That makes 677 citations total for 2015, plus 43 arrests

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2015 Sheriff’s Report:

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2016 Sheriff’s Report – Highlights

The Sheriff actually says that after consulting with “entities” about Burning Man’s ability to deal with a critical incident like a mass casualty event, the results were “extremely dismal” and that he cannot in good conscience provide adequate safety to citizens attending the event.

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9 people including Burning Man organization employees were arrested on the site before the event began, charged with “possessing trafficking levels of narcotics”

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Other highlights

  • 46 arrrests (43 in 2015)
  • 152 citations (+326 BLM, total 478)
  • sex offenders failing to register
  • 11 sexual assaults reported
    • 1 arrest on playa
    • 2 reports after the festival, after victim returned to Reno and went to hospital for treatment – started by Reno PD
  • several reports of missing or lost children – not just the single Amber Alert we were told about, that closed exodus for 8 hours

2016 Sheriff’s Report

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2016 Burning Man Response

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DEA Activity at Burning Man? Sorry, That’s Classified

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VICE reports that a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) related to the DEA’s activities at Burning Man between 2011-2015 returned 43 pages of results. However, the report was heavily redacted.

From motherboard.vice.com:

A Freedom of Information Act request asking the Drug Enforcement Administration for “investigative files concerning the Burning Man Festival 2011-2015” is a great idea—after all, any neo-hippie-desert shantytown gathering is going to have as much drug use as it has nudity, and Burning Man is known for epic portions of both.

The results were rather disappointing, however. The FOIA-requesting/distribution site Government Attic just posted the response to​ the request this morning, and you’re welcome to check them out if you’re the type of weirdo who is really into blank pages of redacted information.

The request was sent down to the Las Vegas Field Office, where it brought up a hefty 43 pages alluding to the DEA’s work at the festival. Most of the material was redacted to protect the privacy of individuals involved and to obscure the exact techniques used by law enforcement.

“On August 29, 2013, Detectives of the Department of Public Safety, the Bureau of Land Management and other local law enforcement agencies worked as a narcotics task force at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, Pershing, Nevada,” the first page opens tantalizingly.

But instead of account after account of people trading mushrooms for beads outside the Slut Olympics—source material for a surefire comedic hit starring Will Ferrell as the uptight Agent Johnson—what follows is blank page after blank page.

Specifically, the exemptions are in the name of protecting against invasions of personal priv​acy; protecting information “which would reveal techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions or that would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions;” and protecting “law enforcement information which could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”

The documents reveal that the DEA conducted investigations in 2012 and in 2013. The agents from DEA and their collaborating agencies were on the playa just after midnight in August of 2012, and “working in an undercover capacity.”

One investigation led to a heavily redacted case that was “prosecuted at the state level” in 2012. “DEA retains no evidence or arrest responsibility for this investigation,” the DEA investigation report says. “The case is administratively closed.” However, there are no details on what the case was about.

Still, the few details provided may open the door to other FOIA requests, which hopefully will have more fruitful results. It also gives a place for the imagination to run wild. [Source: Vice]

We’ve all seen plenty of TV shows and movies about the DEA and what they do to gather evidence on suspects. Wiretaps, drones, infrared vision that can see through walls, undercover stings, hidden cameras, sniffer dogs. So what techniques could be so secret that they have to be classified?

This art car was revealed to us in 2013 by a whistleblower, as full of undercover cops.

In 2013 a whistleblower revealed that this art car was used by undercover cops at Burning Man.

marge burning manMeanwhile, even childrens cartoon shows like The Simpsons depict rampant drug use at Burning Man, while political figures like Grover Norquist and celebrity commentators like John Oliver and Jon Stewart make jokes about it to their mainstream audiences. This seems to be a double standard. “Oh we’re trying to keep drugs out of Burning Man”…really? You sure the whole thing wasn’t actually created specifically for the LSD/magic mushroom/DMT crowd? Anyway, where did that stuff originate from in the first place?

It seems like FOIA requests are about the only way we can get information out of the new, improved, “clean well-lighted suite of rooms” of transparency that is BMOrg 2.0. Things that used to be released publicly every year like crime statistics, are now kept quiet. Good luck trying to get them, either from BMOrg, Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, or BLM officials.

Here’s a previous FOIA request that shows that the FBI are also active at Burning Man, running intelligence operations. It also contains many redactions and page deletions. One thing that is mentioned is a company that who were contracted to provide a security threat assessment in 2010 – wonder if there was any specific concerns that led to that? Perhaps ISIS will have an art car this year – hopefully one without too many flamethrowers.

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The lucky agents even get paid overtime for attending Burning Man. I’m guessing they’re not waiting in the STEP or Will Crawl lines for tickets, either…

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marge iron wrinkles

 

Reminds me of this old saying we have, back in Australia…

 

 

Official BLM Arrest Statistics 2010-2013

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This data is from governmentattic.org, in response to a FOIA request. 433 citations last year (71% for drugs) and 6 arrests, out of 69,613 people. That a 0.6% (1 in 160) chance of getting busted at Burning Man, just by the Feds – there’s also the Pershing and Washoe police, the highway patrol, the Paiute Tribe police, and all sorts of others. Be careful, Burners! Do the speed limit at Burning Man, even before you get in the gate. Make sure your license plate is not obscured by a bike rack or anything else.

 

 

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