Emerald City Comicon ‘Volunteer’ Lawsuit Settled

The legality of volunteering for “for profit” conventions is a complicated issue, and one that’s caused some headaches for con organizers. Notably, as we reported last year, a class action lawsuit was filed against Emerald City Comicon over their ‘minions’ (the term the con used for convention workers) not being paid while working for the con’s old, pre-ReedPop acquisition management.

Well, it looks like that lawsuit has now been settled.

In the agreement, Emerald City Comicon has agreed to pay out $493,227.84. That number includes the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees ($123,300), $5000 to the plaintiff, and additional funds to pay an administrator to dispense the money. The rest will be paid out to people who worked for Emerald City Comicon in 2014 and 2015, and applications and necessary forms can be found here.

As you’d expect, Emerald City Comicon doesn’t admit to any wrong doing in the case. So while the threat of a lawsuit does seem like an obvious deterrent to for profit shows using unpaid labor, it doesn’t really change the legal playing field at all. The writing on the wall seems obvious though — if you’re running a for profit show, you need to pay your workforce.

  • Bianca Peterson

    I know of at least one for-profit con that found a reasonable work-around. Volunteers don’t get monetary compensation, but they get a badge into the con (badges are handed out daily and based on whether or not the volunteer fulfilled their hours the day prior), meal vouchers for a free lunch or dinner, and access to special events. Staff heads and volunteers for specific departments also get comped hotel rooms. These seem like reasonable trades to me since I’d likely be using any money I received working a con toward food and hotel costs.

    • Dessa

      That wouldn’t work for Emerald City. I did a bunch of research on this a few years ago because of the stuff with Aki-Con, and Washington’s labor laws EXPLICITLY state that for-profit businesses may not use volunteers, and that all workers must receive at least minimum wage for all hours earned. It also explicitly says that it must be paid, it can’t be in compensation.

      • Bianca Peterson

        Fair enough. The laws for the state of the con I was referring to allows other forms of compensation, far as I know. Aki-Con is the one with a bunch of questionable management decisions, isn’t it? No surprise for worry there. :/

  • Mark Hodges

    I run the Grand Rapids Comic-Con, and we have been paying our staff for a couple years now. This came to light in Michigan in a hard way and our state cracks down on it. In terms of Bianca’s comments below, that is not considered ‘pay” in Michigan–only cash or a check is. Of course, you can negotiate a certain pay in MI as long as it is minimum wage.

  • DR

    This is officially THE END OF VOLUNTEERS ! No more fun! Great job….maybe not.