Salon.com had an interesting story last week about the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, and whether it violates minimum wage laws.
The festival, which is projected to bring in more than $200 million into the state’s economy, uses approximately 3,000 volunteers to help do things like monitor party lines and setup for events.
According to Salon, due to a landmark case involving the movie “Black Swan” and interns who sued film studio Fox Searchlight for back wages, the festival may be wise to start paying volunteers. Last year, a federal court ruled that Fox owed former interns’ money for back pay; however, the studio is appealing the ruling. This has ramifications on other companies using unpaid interns or volunteers.
Salon reported that SXSW, Inc., the company that runs the festival, has just 75 paid employees, including many who work part-time. Strangely, the company claims that its volunteers are the “faces of SXSW”.
“Were it a nonprofit, SXSW might have more leeway to use those volunteers; were it a hospital, maybe, not a festival with corporate sponsors. But SXSX is not a nonprofit,” Salon reported. “The people in charge aren’t paying themselves with experience, but with money.”
“I can’t see how what they’re doing is legal,” Ross Eisenbrey, the vice president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., told Salon about SXSW.
“They’ve opened themselves up to a class action lawsuit,” Eisenbrey told the website. “[W]hich involves attorney fees and could involve liquidated damages, meaning double back pay for everyone.”
The website goes on to argue that SXSW is breaking the law, citing old cases and laws by the Department of Labor, which indicate that individuals may not volunteer services to for-profit sector employers.
My Employer Owes Me Back Wages
There will be plenty of Californians attending and volunteering at the SXSW music festival, and it is unfortunate that many will not be paid. In California, several corporations have been fined or sued for not paying workers they considered “volunteers”.
Laws exist in this country to ensure that employees are given adequate compensation for the work they perform.
If you have experienced a wage or overtime dispute, you may be able to file a lawsuit to obtain compensation. Our Los Angeles employment attorneys can help you decide whether to move forward with your case. Call our office today to schedule a consultation at (310) 273-3180.
Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob—Los Angeles discrimination attorneys
Did You Know? Legally, internships must serve as an actual training position, not as a replacement for employees among businesses.