Larissa Archer has been asked to perform for free so many times she’s lost count.
Despite her years of training, impressive resume and credibility as the founder of San Francisco Bellydance Theater, she often finds herself turning down invitations to dance for a few wrinkled dollar bills.
As Archer explains it, event producers “can’t cut corners on how much beer costs. They can’t cut corners on the rental of the venue.” But many can, and often do, skimp on the take-home pay of the talent that attracts showgoers in the first place.
And it’s not just small clubs. As KQED first reported in March, despite reaching a valuation of $1 trillion last year, tech giant Apple doesn’t pay the artists performing in its stores, compensating them with low-end merchandise such as AirPods and AppleTVs instead.
Following our report, we heard from graphic designers, musicians, muralists and comedians who say they’re frequently asked to work for “exposure” by companies large and small, sharing tales of missing payments, false promises of paid work and full-time jobs disguised as unpaid internships.
In the arts, working for low or no pay has long been an industry standard for all but the upper echelon. But as workers in other professions prone to exploitation organize for a living wage, including teachers and rideshare drivers, creatives are questioning why event producers, venue owners and companies find it acceptable to pay below the minimum wage for their work or subject them to subpar working conditions.
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Recent Duke Ph.D. graduate Jae Yun Kim, Professor Aaron Kay, University of Oregon Professor Troy Campbell and Oklahoma State University Professor Steven Shepherd studied the ways that workers’ passion is increasingly being used as a justification for their exploitation in today’s labor market.
On one hand, passion for one’s work can lead to greater satisfaction. But the researchers’ new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Understanding Contemporary Forms of Exploitation: Attributions of Passion Serve to Legitimize the Poor Treatment of Workers,” lays bare the unique ways passionate workers can be taken advantage of in a culture that encourages us to find our life’s calling at work.
Through eight different studies with over 2,400 participants, researchers discovered that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions.
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“When people read about the exact same job but learned that the person enjoyed their work, they think it’s more fair, or less illegitimate, to have them do things that would objectively be considered approaching exploitation,” says Kay. “Meaning having them do things they’re not paid for, or the company getting more benefit without giving people more of the profits.”
“Passion, or expected passion, out of that work can be seen as compensating for poor treatment,” Kim says, adding that in his native South Korea, young professionals refer to low-paying gigs as “passion wages.”
Kay explains that there’s a common misconception that if someone loves their job, they would prefer to work instead of doing other activities that contribute to a fulfilling life, which he says can be a slippery slope. “A graphic designer who works for a cool website and gets to make cool art may love their job, but they may not want to miss hanging out at their kid’s softball game over the weekend,” he says. “Forcing them to do more of it assumes it’s more joy for them, when you gotta realize that, like everyone else, they’re trying to balance their lives.”
Link to the rest at KQED
So, are authors with day jobs (or not) asked to use their writing talents for inadequate compensation on a regular basis?