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.


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.


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:


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:



The Cult of Narcissistic Personality

Image: "Meeting the Borg Queen" by Eddi Van W/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: “Meeting the Borg Queen” by Eddi Van W/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Big thanks to our reader Nomad, for this guest post. He has shared many of his thoughts about this topic in comments over the years, I asked him if he could consolidate his ideas into a single post.

I feel very grateful that he has shared this insight, and I invite anyone reading this to also share your own opinions. My thoughts are at the end. Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have any of your own insights on the topic? Have you ever dealt with NPD people, in the workplace, in festivals, or in a philanthropic situation?

Listen to this while you read, I also recommend you watch the Vaknin cartoon video below.



NPD and the BOrg

by Nomad Traveler

We are all familiar with narcissism, but just like inattention can manifest as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), there is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. And just like ADD, NPD is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

MAYO CLINIC. As summarized on the Mayo Clinic web site:

“DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:

– Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance

– Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

Exaggerating your achievements and talents

– Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate

Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people

– Requiring constant admiration

– Having a sense of entitlement

– Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations

Taking advantage of others to get what you want

– Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others

– Being envious of others and believing others envy you

– Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner”


Further from the Mayo Clinic:

“Narcissistic personality disorder is one of several types of personality disorders. Personality disorders are conditions in which people have traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially distressing ways, limiting their ability to function in relationships and other areas of their life, such as work or school.

If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.

At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection..

Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence, it’s not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others.


TED TALKS. Issues also surface when you consider morality and those who seem to be exempt from those constraints, like NPDs:

malignant self love vakninSAM VAKNIN. One of the most respected authorities for NPD is Sam Vaknin, a self-identified narcissist. He has written what some forensic psychiatrists (MDs who diagnose people and testify in court) consider the seminal reference on NPD: Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited. He has also popularized the practical understanding of NPD in online social media, including techniques to help others deal with NPDs in their life. Many cite the value of his advice.

He offers this good basic tutorial on basic NPD:

1. Shamelessness. Inability to process shame in a healthy way.
2. Magical Thinking. See themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion, and dump shame on others.
3. Arrogance. Elevate selves by degrading others.
4. Envy. Use contempt to minimize others.
5. Entitlement. Consider themselves superior.
6. Exploitation. Using others without regard for their feelings or interests.
7. Bad Boundaries. Others are extensions of themselves, and exist only to serve their needs.


The purpose of any model is to explain observed phenomenon. Mysterious behavior disappears when you have a good model to explain what you see. While the true function of gravity is still unknown (gravitons and such), you need not understand Einstein to see the value of Newton’s equations to predict how gravity affects our everyday lives. In fact, that a dropping a cue ball and bowling ball show they fall at the same rate is fully explained by Newton, though it may be counter-intuitive to many people.

So, the value of psychological models can help us understand what others do. They establish patterns of behavior that we can recognize and let us predict what will happen, even though they may be counter-intuitive to typical people.

From the basic individual NPD traits in the video, we can see the core in what the BOrg does:

  1. Shamlessness. Others are always to blame.
  2. Magical Thinking. They see things to operate in a special way for them, distinct from others.
  3. Bad Boundaries. Others are extensions of themselves, and exist only to serve their needs.

As for (3.) Arrogance, (4.) Envy, (5.) Entitlement and (6.) Exploitation, they are better expressed in the group behavior.

But can a group, company or association of people have NPD? Vaknin recommends this reading:


With this DSM-like criteria, “Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:”

The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group –

  1. Feel grandiose and self-important (e.g., they exaggerate the group’s achievements and talents to the point of lying, demand to be recognized as superior – simply for belonging to the group and without commensurate achievement).
  2. Are obsessed with group fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance, bodily beauty or performance, or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering ideals or political theories.
  3. Are firmly convinced that the group is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status groups (or institutions).
  4. Require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wish to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).
  5. Feel entitled. They expect unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment. They demand automatic and full compliance with expectations. They rarely accept responsibility for their actions (“alloplastic defences”). This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
  6. Are “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., use others to achieve their own ends. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
  7. Are unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of other groups. This often leads to anti- social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
  8. Are constantly envious of others or believe that they feel the same about them. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
  9. Are arrogant and sport haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, punished, limited, or confronted. This often leads to anti-social behavior, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.”

(Let me note that an aspect that Vaknin often misses is that the envy thing (8.) is more often expressed in NPD as imagining that others envy them, rather than them envying others, though that may be the root cause.)


THE BORG. While clinical diagnosing a whole organization is not practical, the NPD model explains what the BOrg has and will do.   Using the criteria above:

  1. Feel grandiose and self-important. Perhaps best illustrated by how little importance they give to any others.
  2. Are obsessed with group fantasies of unlimited success. They imagine that they possess some special or magical secret to creating the NV burn, largely unspecified. The most they have formalized at the Tin Principles, but perhaps for fear that is giving too much away – or they just get in the way – they are all to ready to compromise them.
  3. Are firmly convinced that the group is unique only understood by and associate with other special or unique, or high-status groups (or institutions). They are all too ready to define themselves as an elevated, elite group that cannot associate directly with mere mortals.
  4. Require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation or to be feared and notorious (narcissistic supply). In all contexts they must be praised for their unique traits (1.-3.) and they seek this admiration and reject those who do not provide this. The concept of constructive criticism is foreign to their world.
  5. Feel entitled, expect unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment, demand automatic and full compliance with expectations, while rarely accept responsibility for their actions. Their word is golden and cannot be questioned. Those who would defy this premise must be ostracized prima facia, without consideration of the merit of what may be said.
  6. Are “interpersonally exploitative”, using others to achieve their own ends. This defines the BOrg business model, relying on others to create the NV burn. They always having intermediaries to do their bidding, such as the Regional Contacts, who are tightly controlled puppets.
  7. Are unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of other groups. They cannot see the hardships they impose on burners.
  8. Believe others envy them. They can only understand others as those who envy them and their power, ignoring that others – the burners – are those that create the NV burn.
  9. Are arrogant with haughty behaviors or attitudes with rage when frustrated, contradicted, punished, limited, or confronted. This is their world or magical thinking, where they degrade or use contempt to minimize others. They do all they can to retaliate against anyone who challenges them.


While we may see one or two of these traits in others from time to time, it is unusual for there to be a consistent pattern to the point of consistently predicting behavior. But if the model fits, it can arm the observer so as to not be surprised or frustrated by these actions. As much as you might think and want the bowling ball to fall faster than the cue ball, it just does not happen.



thanks so much Nomad for this detailed and informative post.

Please share your thoughts, readers – vote in our poll below, and comment on this post.

“The Borg” is a somewhat nebulous term. The pyramid structure that creates Burning Man can be broadly divided into these groups:

  1. The Founders  – the 6 owners of Decommodification, LLC, the main assets of Burning Man, The Business
  2. The Board – 17 people
  3. “Larry & Co” aka “McLarry” – the group of actual decision makers
  4. The Insiders – select individuals at Alabama HQ
  5. The Rest – paid employees and contractors of all of the above, who don’t get to go on the junkets
  6. The Volunteers – Burners who freely give their time to work Gate, DPW, Man Crew, Rangers, Ramparts, Arctica, Center Camp, and all the other many and various aspects of the city which Burners pay for with time and money.
  7. OSS: Outside Services Contractors, pumping and dumping RVs and camps for the highest bidders
  8. Burners: the ones who fund the art, bring the art, bring the party, and make the party. Oh, for those who insist Burning Man is more that just a party, they’re the ones who bring the yoga and speeches and fire twirling and body painting and foam scrubs and jiffy lubes and whatever else you want. BURNERS.
  9. Special Burners: the ones who might give a large donation, especially if they’ve never been before. The ones who pay $800+ for a $400 ticket because they think they’re “subsidzing the poor”. These Burners pay $10,000+ for luxury camping, and bring paid Sherpas to help with their experience. They may use concierge services to prepare for the Burn, commission costumes and art cars, and bring catering companies. Some even fly in the ingredients for french toast on private aircraft (I guess other stuff msut have been filling the fridge in their RV!)
  10. Tourists: safari campers looking for a bucket list experience, spectators who bring nothing to the party.

Apologies if I forgot any important sub-groups that are needed to make the city tick.

This is the structure of Black Rock City. I mean there’s more, details, factions, etc…I’m sure many Burners think “there’s no such thing as Special Burners, the idea that some Burners are more special than others is against our Principles”…and I tend to agree. However it is clear from this and this and this, just a few recent examples, that there are some Burners who are treated as more special than others by the ruling group.

Generally, when I refer to “BMOrg”, I mean numbers 1 through 5. Nomad has written this analysis specifically about “the Borg”, by which he means the ruling group, which would be #3 above. I feel this  model can apply to any of the sub-groups, and is a useful lens to apply when trying to understand their actions. The groups lower on the pyramid are more likely to be motivated by entertainment or other, more positive things.

What are some possible motivations of the ruling group?


Destroy the Temple, Save the Village

by Whatsblem the Pro

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch NZ - Photo: David Wethey/NSPA/AP

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch NZ – Photo: David Wethey/NSPA/AP

A crew of volunteers in Christchurch, New Zealand, including five professional engineers and a draftsman from global engineering firm Aurecon, are coming together to build a temple for the earthquake-stricken city. . . and then burn that temple down a few weeks later.

The Temple for Christchurch project is inspired by Burning Man and the Temple built there each year, which attendees use for valuable catharsis by writing about their lost ones on the walls before the building is burnt to the ground. The people of Christchurch will be allowed to visit their Temple and write on the walls for several weeks before the structure is burned as a public event.

Photo: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch Press/Reuters

Photo: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch Press/Reuters

There’s some interesting architecture to the project, too; at 6.3 meters, the building’s height will reflect the magnitude of the biggest and most destructive earthquake in the recent spate, which devastated Christchurch on February 22nd, 2011. The lines of the building’s 40-meter length and 25-meter width will be designed to mirror the seismic waveform of the quake, as recorded at the monitoring station closest to the epicenter.

Hippathy Valentine, a leader of the project, said that the volunteers are driven by the city’s need for a little catharsis and emotional balm in the aftermath of the devastation.

“We plan to open to the public in June on the site of the old Convention Centre on Peterborough St. before [moving the Temple] outside of the city to be ceremonially burnt. We hope that people will share their earthquake experiences and use the Temple as a catalyst for reflection on how the earthquakes have affected them, their city, and their communities.”

Aurecon structural engineer Luis Castillo called the design of the Temple “right at the cutting edge of architecture for the new Christchurch.”

Some areas were badly flooded - Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald/AP

Some areas were badly flooded – Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald/AP

“The project gives us the chance to ‘think outside the box,’ to be creative while having a good grasp of the many technical issues that range from material properties to spatial vision,” said Castillo. “We created a balsa wood model to help crystalize our thinking.

“It was also a great opportunity for Aurecon staff to be proactive in bringing the city back to life and creating a means by which [local residents] can go out and enjoy it.”

The Black Rock Arts Foundation is lending some support to the project, and you can too. Get involved, or just show your support for the Temple for Christchurch with a donation of money, food, tools, or other resources, by visiting the project’s website, or by going directly to their Indiegogo campaign.

Good on ya for it, too. . . she’ll be right, mate, with time and hard work and a little good old-fashioned soul-cleansing fire.