I've been diligently working through the back end of my continuing-ed course requirements, which I need to certify within 30 days of my birthday next week /shamelesshint; just two one-hour courses to go:) A couple in my recent listenings have been on employment law, and both have mentioned the dangers of employers trying to save shekels by hiring unpaid "interns" rather than "employees" who get actual "money" for their "work."
On the whole, it seems a fair thing. Employers like Hearst Newspapers, Jay-Z and Charlie Rose can afford seven and change an hour for the kids who gofer their cawfees. But today's non-CLE news story goes beyond that, IMHO:
Yelpers Sue Yelp, Claiming they're "unpaid writers"
A group of Yelpers have filed a California class action lawsuit against the site, claiming that they are actually unpaid employees and legally deserve pay for their work, TechDirt reports. Plaintiffs are seeking "just compensation of wages, benefits, and reimbursement for the reviews they created, arguing that Yelp "could not exist, nor make its enormous returns, without its domination and control over non-wage writers."
According to the suit, Yelp has "devised a system of cult-like rewards and disciplines to motivate" writers in lieu of monetary compensation, including "trinkets, badges, titles, praise, social promotion, free liquor, free food, and free promotional Yelp attire, such as red panties with 'Make Me Yelp!' stamped across its bottom." The Yelp system's network of unpaid "employees," furthermore, "gives it an unfair business advantage over its competitors."
I read the entire complaint. It refers to the food, drink and other bling as "trinkets," implying that Yelpers are unsophisticated aborigines being taken advantage of by Big Money Paleface. Taking in the totality of the circumstances, I call bullshit on these plaintiff lawyers- speaking not only as an attorney with four fresh employment-law CLE credits, but as a blogger, Facebook user and, yes, the beneficiary of an older and slightly different class-action lawsuit.
My biggest toe-in-the-water of the Internet, before blogging began in 2004, was with AOL, which I first signed onto in the mid-90s. By the end of the century, I'd found a haven of kindred spirits, some of whom had official sounding names and (it turned out) free accounts with the service back when AOL was providing our dial-up access and costing us a twenty or so a month.
I eventually learned that AOL had a side business called ACI: AOL Community, Inc. This is where those Names and free accounts came from, and, in time, I could, and did, get one of them, too. I had to apply; presumably, I was vetted on the server side; I took numerous online training classes in chatrooms named after Bigass Universities (plus the occasional generic like "College Hall"); and when I'd proven my mettle, I was given free monthly access, a set of Tools (including the ability to "gag" disruptive chatters), and a work schedule of, I think, one hour a week writing and monitoring trivia games in exchange for my free monthly access for me and my (by then, or soon after) other two family members.
All seemed fair to me- but not to one or more plaintiffs or (more likely) lawyers. They started litigation to declare that we were all really employees of AOL, entitled to hourly pay beyond our comped time, plus other bennies. AOL Corporate reacted as you would expect Any Corporate to: they shut down the entire system. As of early 2000s, all "HOSTs" became lowercase, with no expectations and no benefits. Yet the case went on, and in 2010, long after AOL had shut down ACI and had become a free service (except for the millions of broadbanders still dumb enough to send them money every month for modem access), the case finally settled. I'd filed a claim at some point, just as I occasionally filed them with frequent-flyer mile class actions and credit card overcharge class actions and other oddities; this one, though, produced a modest payment to me to reflect my time and effort.
That was that, not Yelp, though. Our host assignments were just that; we were expected to prepare before gametimes and to be present every shift on a regular basis. ACI had supervisors trawling the rooms, themselves with clearly identifiable screen names, to keep an eye on us and presumably discipline us if we didn't show up or didn't follow the required standards.
The Yelp complaint tries to fit their reviewers into the same statutory hole. Sorry, ain't buying it; the only "damages" resulting from non-reviewing, or bad reviewing, appears to be the deletion of the Yelper's reviews. Which, unless Yelp claimed some kind of exclusivity in, remain the publishable opinions of the ex-Yelpers to disseminate as they choose.
I ran this scenario by one of the attorneys I work with today; his eyerolls were as palpable as mine were. "Just wait, though," I predicted; "let's see how much the attorneys get, versus how much the Yelpers get, in the inevitable settlement."
Which is how I predict it will go; millions for the former, coupons for the latter.
Can I have double preparation credit for writing this? Or does LJ owe me anything for providing content? Inquiring shysters want to know:P
This entry was originally posted at http://captainsblog.dreamwidth.org/167169.html
. Please comment here, or there using OpenID.