According to Christina Isnardi, an NYU student who worked as a crew member for the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012, the star-studded event is operated in large part by its interns. Like the volunteers at SXSW, those interns were unpaid--until now. As International Business Times reports, Tribeca Enterprises LLC, which produces the for-profit festival, will begin paying the hundreds of interns who make it happen.
The decision follows Saturday's announcement that Madison Square Garden Co will acquire a 50 percent stake in Tribeca Enterprises, a deal valued at $45 million. While the decision to pay interns (known as "volunteers" until Tribeca changed its language in 2011) isn't directly tied to the deal, the added attention makes it harder for the privately held company to justify using unpaid workers.
"The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't allow volunteers in the profit-making or for-profit sector," David C. Yamada, a law professor at Suffolk University and director of the New Workplace Institute, told IBTimes. "The whole volunteer exemption for nonprofits in public service was to honor the importance of encouraging volunteer service in our society."
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The decision comes at a time when unpaid labor has become an increasingly contentious issue; Isnardi, a film production and political science student, launched a campaign to get NYU's career center to stop posting unpaid internships.
In an average season, Tribeca has used around 1,000 unpaid workers, and while the festival had previously offered them compensation in the form of "education seminars and lectures" (as well as the appeal of being associated with a high-profile event), those practices would've been unlikely to fly in a labor dispute.
"I think what we see with these high-profile arts, entertainment and sports events is that there's a desire to be part of something like that," said Yamada. "The organizers of the events figure they can get a lot of free labor out of it in return for, I guess, being able to bask in the reflected glow of whatever that event is all about."
The festival told IBTimes that the formerly unpaid crew members would make at least minimum wage. Meanwhile, Salon reports that SXSW, which uses upwards of 3,000 volunteers, may soon be the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
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