For-Profit Comic Cons & Volunteers: Changes Are Coming

Where most #costumers & #cosplayers like to show off their latest #costumes is at comic cons. Many volunteer to work at the comic con to save money or get in for free, but that’s beginning to change, and the #PhoenixComicon is a prime example:

Phoenix Comicon Volunteers Will Now Need to be Members of the “Blue Ribbon Army”

And what’s the Blue Ribbon Army? It was launched in 2013 by Phoenix Comicon director Matt Solberg and Jen Hinds as an unofficial Phoenix Comicon fan club, and operated as a registered 501(c)7 non-profit charity organization.

And what does that have to do with volunteers at Phoenix Comicon? Everything and it’s NOT free:

Anyone who wants to apply for a volunteer staff position will have to visit the Blue Ribbon Army website, and choose a membership level: Entry level ($20), Standard ($40) or Premium ($100). Subscriptions last for one year, and perks include early access to guest announcements and hotel reservations, access to a BRA lounge at Phoenix Comicon and Phoenix Comicon passes, depending on the membership level. Membership is limited to those 18 and older only.

In other words, in order to volunteer to work at Phoenix Comicon this year, you’ll have to pay to join the Blue Ribbon Army. Hence, volunteering is NO LONGER FREE.

Also, Matt Solberg is on the board of the Blue Ribbon Army; and Square Egg Entertainment, the parent company of Phoenix Comicon, is a corporate member.

Naturally, a lot of people are very upset about this change, but part of the reason it may be happening is because of a class action lawsuit that was filed earlier in 2016 against the organizers of Seattle convention Emerald City Comicon for using volunteer labor to support the show.

The lawsuit, which was filed in King County Superior Court in May, 2016, was brought by former volunteer Jerry Michael Brooks against Eitane Emerald Corp., which ran the convention, as well as members of the Demonakos family. (Jim Demanakos founded the convention in 2003.) The lawsuit was brought on behalf of what the plaintiff estimates is at least 250 people who volunteered to work at Emerald City Comicon in 2014 & 2015, and alleges that volunteers were not paid for their time, overtime, or break periods and were not paid the minimum wage. The lawsuit asks for double the back wages, interest, costs and fees.

There is merit to the lawsuit because by law, non-profit companies are allowed to use volunteer labor, but for-profit companies are not.

Since Emerald City Comicon was acquired by ReedPOP in 2015, unpaid volunteers will no longer be an issue because ReedPOP does pay its “volunteers” and they are treated like paid employees. This was stated by ReedPOP Senior Vice President Lance Fensterman, who admitted that Emerald City Comicon had not been paying its volunteers.

Thus, what Phoenix Comicon is now doing with its “Blue Ribbon Army” may be copied by other comic cons operated by for-profit companies that don’t want to pay their volunteers. Only time will tell.

Additional reference: For-Profit Conventions and Volunteer Staff–The End of an Era?


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