Seattleish has a thorough report on a class-action lawsuit filed by volunteers, known as “minions” for the 2014 and 2015 Emerald City Comic Cons. Minions worked various duties in exchange for access to the convention, an action that many joyfully accepted. However the use of unpaid labor to keep massive conventions running (ECCC drew over 80,000 people last year) has come under scrutiny from many avenues.
ECCC was acquired by ReedPOP in 2015, and volunteers for the 2016 show were paid, as are volunteers at NYCC, which is also owned by ReedPOP.
Minion applications are competitive and regarded highly desirable by attendees at the convention, who sign agreements before taking on the position. Minions are paid solely in access to the convention; those who travel to work for the convention as minions must cover all of their own costs. Still, many seem more than willing to do it under the agreements they sign.
That doesn’t necessarily mean ECCC is off the hook. Though the plaintiffs may have entered into this volunteer contract willingly, it’s possible that the courts could find that ECCC still knowingly violated labor laws, which could be trouble for them.
“In Washington, the base is that if you are an employer, you have to pay the minimum wage,” said Hardeep Singh Rekhi, the attorney behind the case. “We don’t believe that someone should be able to profit off unpaid labor, even if it’s something people love to do.”
The use of volunteer labor, unpaid interns and the like is a fairly fraught subject and this could be a precedent setting case, at least where comic-cons are concerned.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.