Friday, September 26, 2014

What it is Like to be a Victim of Wage Theft in the Arts

Let me just say that I didn't expect to have my wages stolen, but they were.  The director of the museum where I worked knew full well what she was doing.  I even received an email from a former employee who told me the director did the same thing to her.  That former employee didn't think to take further action like I did.  I can't blame her because this is a museum that people love.  Even I love the museum, but I know that it is time for a new director to take over, thus I had to act.

Sadly, the museum faces a real financial crisis.  The city and county will revoke the museum's eligibility to receive grant monies.  Yes, I do love the museum, however, I am not the one who broke the law.  I am the one who stepped up to the plate to make sure it got enforced.  In March of 2013 the museum was close to having to close its doors for good, but somehow the director, being a professional fundraiser, was able to secure enough funds to keep it going.  That's great!  That is how I was able to get a job there.  What I didn't know is that the director would take advantage of me and the fact that I needed a job.

Now that I've filed a wage claim, there is a VERY STRONG possibility that a wage theft judgement will be passed against the museum.  What big donor is going to want to give her money once that happens?  Plus, once the judgement gets passed I will file a complaint with her professional organization, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and she faces a very good possibility that her credentials will be revoked.  That is what I want because I believe that she does not deserve to be a member of an organization that prides itself on high ethical standards if she can not follow all applicable local, state, and federal labor laws.

I think her behavior speaks volumes about the current state of the arts.  Yes, with a poor economic outlook fundraising has gotten more difficult and maybe she is just very ignorant of wage and labor laws or maybe she felt like it was acceptable to take advantage of me in order to save the museum a few extra dollars.

What bothers me most is that even though the city and county will not be willing to award grant monies to a nonprofit that has had a wage theft judgement passed against them, guess what?  Private foundations don't care.  They operate under the assumption that all wage and labor laws are being followed by default.  All the private foundation cares about is that the nonprofit has a current 501c3 status with the IRS.  So, my former employer can continue taking advantage of new employees without worrying too much about lost grant funding.  Unfortunately for her, it is my goal to give her something much more to worry about, like her career.  That is why I'm glad I can file complaints with her professional organization.

Also, I have an artistic side and I can do things to bring more attention to labor violations in the arts.  That is why I've created a Wage Theft Wedding Dress.  It is a textile art piece that is symbolic of the fact that one should not have to commit themselves to being victims of wage theft in order to get or keep a job.  I can bring awareness to the issue that wage theft and other labor law violations have no place in the arts because it undermines the integrity of the institution by limiting potential funding sources.  And I'm sure we can all agree how important it is to continue funding the arts, but only to organizations willing and able to comply with all legal obligations.

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