Friday, August 24, 2012

Penland Response 2 -John Britt's Response 2 (rev.)

Re: Response to recent allegations about Penland’s labor practices (rev.)

I read Penland’s Response with great interest.

I thought I would try highlighting a few points to clarify things. They said that 

“Five years ago, in 2007, it was brought to Penland’s attention by this employee that there we a technical violation of wage and hour statutes in the School’s methods of calculating and paying for overtime. Penland sought legal counsel to assess its pay practices, and made a good faith effort to address this error with its employees”

Translated this means: That I, John Britt, informed Penland of illegal labor policies and when they refused to cease them, I threatened to turn them into the Wage and Labor board and quit in protest. Penland then contacted its lawyer to assess the situation. I met with the then board chair, at  D.T.’s Coffee Shop, and he assured me that if I did not file a claim and allowed him to handle it “in house,” that he would rectify the situation in a fair way with employees.

To the best of my memory the “technical violation” was three fold. They structured the work week at 80 hours for two weeks, instead of 40 for a week. This allowed workers to work 60 hours one week and 20 the next so that there was no overtime. Could have been 70/10 or 50/30 but only after 80 hours for two weeks did anyone get overtime. This is a clear violation of Federal Law. But it suited their purposes because all coordinators have to work the changeover weekend which could add 12 – 24 hours in two days. The next “technical violation” was to require time cards be turned in on Wednesday of the second work week which ended on Friday. This forced employees to estimate hours for three days and it was always below the 80 hours.  Another clear violation. And the third “technical violation” was not keeping accurate records. It is their legal duty to keep accurate records!

Calling these three things “a technical violation”, kinda like it was a minor hang nail, and it really strains credulity. I might have called it a three egregious violations or a system of violations perfectly designed to deny workers their pay, but that is just me talking.

Oh, and the magical thing was that the Facilities Department had the legal overtime policy during that time. So Penland was implementing two different policies simultaneously.

My question is: If Penland surprisingly found out about a three-fold technical violation which deprived their workers of legitimate legal pay, why didn’t they immediately try to pay them all back for the entire period of the policy, 2000 – 2007 ? 

This had been going on for 7 years. These workers were only making $10 - $12.00 an hour and barely making ends meet and then being denied the most meager amount of overtime. It may only have been in the range of $1,000 - $1,500 a year. Why only pay 2 years if you were so sorry it happened? Why only pay only the legal minimum required by law, when your workers worked the illegal maximum for you? They did the hundreds of hours of overtime to help you and you don’t make the first effort to rectify the situation? Is that how we want our Arts Organizations to treat workers?

And finally I find it hard to believe that Penland, which has assets of 27,000,000, income of around $5,000,000, can file complicated tax forms, file and administer multiple government grants, and employ 30 or more people and yet somehow doesn't know the most elementary requirements of Federal Labor Law? How is that possible? 

These things don’t just happen accidently. Someone has to decide what the weekly hours are, how the pay period is structured and had to decide not to keep records. That is really weird. Was it really an accident? Maybe just an amazing coincidence? 

The next sentence is the best: 

“At that time, in August 2007, following the advice of counsel, Penland provided remedial pay to its then current employees, and to former employees who came forward at that time, for overtime worked during the previous two years.”

The interesting thing about this sentence is that they did not inform former employees, but allowed them to “come forward”. How could they come forward if they didn’t know?

So I am left trying to understand what is “good faith” about not telling anyone you withheld their legal pay? Why didn’t you inform them is the question?

Remember that this is a small organization.... there were only 7 coordinators. They knew all of them. It is not like GM with 10,000 employees. Seems to me you would simply apologize to your workers and offer to repay them.  It is that simple.

You can’t argue that everyone is satisfied when you didn’t inform them. What Penland needs to do it to send out a letter to the artists it shorted with a modest check for damages, $1,000 - $1,500 and apologize.  Simple as that.

Don’t ask the artists to come in and remember their hours worked. It was Penland’s legal responsibility to keep records. Also, the former workers don’t want to come in to ask you for back wages when they see how poorly you treated me, by banning me from the campus, black listed me from teaching and tried to portrait me a lunatic. That is why no one comes forward to complain. They would face the entire power of a multimillion dollar organization and no one wants to do that. Even the board members who are artists- are afraid of speaking out. 

This is not about bashing Penland. It is about being an example to all arts organizations on the treatment to artists. Penland wants to be a “leader in the field” then it needs to correct its past treatment of artists/workers. 

Why should any artists today want to donate work to the Penland auctions when they have such an unrepentant attitude when they found out they were denying artist their legal pay? 

When Penland has $27,000,000 in assets, maybe it is better support struggling arts groups who treat artists humanely!?

Perhaps Penland should not try to diminish me and rather focus on their policies that caused this mess and reform their current policies that are not allowing it to PAY BACK ITS ARTISTS!

I call on the Penland Board to do the right thing!

Join our protest:


Phillip Ahnen said...

AMEN Brother!

Mimi said...

They are lying through their well polished teeth, and we all know it.