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Amy Waller

allegations about Penland School of Crafts labor practices

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Amy Waller    7

For anyone who might have missed it, I wanted to draw attention to a situation involving a great and beloved center of ceramic education, Penland School of Crafts. John Britt, a former Penland clay coordinator, posted a few days ago on the Clay Club blog about Penland employees not receiving overtime pay in the past. You can read his post here.

 

John started a change.org petition; you can read it (and sign if you want) here.

 

Penland has issued a response on their website; you can read it here. (Note: Penland has removed their initial response from their website, so on September 6, 2012 I redirected this link to the Mountain Xpress website where the statement was reposted in full.)

John has responded to Penland's statement in the comments of the initial Clay Club blog post (here).

 

Editing this post on Friday, August 24, 2012 to add that John Britt has posted a detailed response to Penland's statement; you can read it here.

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For anyone who might have missed it, I wanted to draw attention to a situation involving a great and beloved center of ceramic education, Penland School of Crafts. John Britt, a former Penland clay coordinator, posted a few days ago on the Clay Club blog about Penland employees not receiving overtime pay in the past. You can read his post here.

 

John started a change.org petition; you can read it (and sign if you want) here.

 

Penland has issued a response on their website; you can read it here.

 

John has responded to Penland's statement in the comments of the initial Clay Club blog post (here).

 

 

Sounds like Penland has resolved the issue. As a major component of teaching in our discipline I respect that Penland will in good faith do its best to make sure that people do get compensation. Sounds like politics a little to me also. I don't feel anyone should really chime in unless they do a full investigative and informed type of research on both sides of this coin. The links you provides are great but I am sure if you talk to the people who worked for Penland at the time you will find that there are differences in opinion on what resolved means and their feelings of being either honored to be a part of Penland or slighted and taken advantage of by the school.

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GEP    863

I don't have any affilitation with Penland or John Britt. I read both sides of the story, and it seems to me like Penland admitted their mistake and did their due diligence to correct it. The reason those few people did not receive their back pay is because they did not come forward during the time the problems were being resolved. This all happened in 2007, they're just coming forward now? Where were they in 2007? Whatever their reasons for not coming forward on time, they need to accept responsiblity for that.

 

John should be commended for standing up against this problem in 2007, but I don't think it's fair to expect Penland to open up this process again at any time in the future whenever another former employee comes forward.

 

There are plenty of real examples of employers who victimize their employees, I don't think this is one of them.

 

Mea

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Amy Waller    7

Thank you Stephen and Mea for your responses.

 

I agree that people should inform themselves about both sides of this issue. That's why I posted all those links. Of course there is more information out there from both sides, on facebook and twitter and elsewhere, and I would absolutely encourage people to look for that, too.

 

I also agree that it seems that Penland thinks this issue is resolved. Respectfully, I am not sure I agree. I do not understand why Penland did not make an effort at the time to locate former employees who were affected by this. As I understand it, those employees had no way of knowing they were owed compensation nor that they needed to ask for it. I realize Penland has no legal obligation to do anything now since so much time has passed, but I think they would generate a great deal of goodwill if they made a good faith effort to locate those former employees and offer them some sort of compensation.

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John Britt    2

Mea,

 

You have hit the nail on the head. They didn't tell anyone about the issue and so no one came forward. Surprise. I only found out about it 3 months and have spent that time trying to get them to live up to the terms of our agreement. I was convinced not to file with the Wage and Labor board with the assurance that they would handle it properly. ( I will post a reply on http://ncclayclub.blogspot.com/ later today.)

 

 

http://www.change.org/petitions/penland-school-board-chairman-repay-the-artists

 

 

I don't have any affilitation with Penland or John Britt. I read both sides of the story, and it seems to me like Penland admitted their mistake and did their due diligence to correct it. The reason those few people did not receive their back pay is because they did not come forward during the time the problems were being resolved. This all happened in 2007, they're just coming forward now? Where were they in 2007? Whatever their reasons for not coming forward on time, they need to accept responsiblity for that.

 

John should be commended for standing up against this problem in 2007, but I don't think it's fair to expect Penland to open up this process again at any time in the future whenever another former employee comes forward.

 

There are plenty of real examples of employers who victimize their employees, I don't think this is one of them.

 

Mea

 

 

 

 

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Amy Waller    7

John Britt has posted a detailed response to Penland's statement; you can read it here. (I edited the first post to include this, but wanted to post it separately, too.)

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GEP    863

Amy and John,

 

I read the three specific violations ... I'm sorry I don't think any of those are very serious. Minor mistakes, and honest mistakes. And you can't argue "the law must be followed to the letter!" while also saying "but let's just ignore the statute of limitations part." You can't hold the employer entirely responsible; employees have responsibilities too. Employees are responsible for knowing their legal rights, whether the employer knows or not, and whether the employer tells them or not. "Good will" is the same as charity. That's not appropriate here, and it reinforces some bad stereotypes about artists as charity cases.

 

At the center where I teach pottery classes, I went through a six month period where I received numerous mistake-ridden paychecks. After the first one, I started keeping close track of my hours. Every time I got a bad paycheck, I called immediately and had it fixed. I can't imagine they would have or could have done anything for me if I brought it up five years later. There was another occasion when they asked me to do a lengthy project for them unpaid. I promptly and clearly said no. That's my responsibility. Employers make mistakes. Employees are not children. EDIT: There's plenty to like about the job, and I still like working there.

 

John is accusing Penland of being greedy and uncaring, and that just doesn't make sense. The greedy and uncaring people of this world are not up in the mountains running a craft school. Making a mistake about overtime laws does not make them evil criminals. Again I have never been there, but every person I know who has came away with a first-class experience. They are doing a whole lot of things right.

 

Mea

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Chris Campbell    1,086

I also do not have a dog in this fight but I am generally uncomfortable responding to emails urging me to take action against something simply by virtue of the facts stated by the person sending the blanket email. So often people respond without taking the time to hear the other side. Also, people who don't care all that much will still carry a negative feeling that will not change ... "yeah, I read something about them ....."

It's sad that this could not have been handled in a better way.

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bciskepottery    925

"John is accusing Penland of being greedy and uncaring, and that just doesn't make sense. The greedy and uncaring people of this world are not up in the mountains running a craft school. Making a mistake about overtime laws does not make them evil criminals. Again I have never been there, but every person I know who has came away with a first-class experience. They are doing a whole lot of things right."

 

No, From what I can see, John is accusing Penland of not fulfilling the terms of an agreement they reached with him -- an agreement that led John to forego filing a complaint with the State of North Carolina. It was in Penland's best interests to avoid such a complaint that would have brought in state investigators/auditors. Apparently, John found out about the non-compliance after the statue of limitations expired. John went to bat for many others and thought he had obtained an agreement that would have righted a wrong. Finding out the other party did not live up to their end of the agreement appears to be the root of John's current complaint. John gets absolutely no benefit from this, except making Penland follow the agreement they originally reached.

 

I visited Penland a couple years ago and was impressed with the facilities and the program. That is my only connection with Penland. But, Penland is running a business . . . and they make decisions and policies to ensure they either break even or make a profit. Yes, the location is in a beautiful mountain setting. Friends I know who have taken workshops there rave about the facility, staff, and experience. Yes, they are dedicated to preserving and fostering craft. But they are a business.

 

I also do not equate good will as being charity. Good will is righting a wrong or undesired situation . . . replacing a mug with defective glaze or a chipped rim with a new one at no cost, etc.

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bciskepottery    925

We could also look at this from another perspective. Let's say John had approached Penland and told them they were misinterpretting overtime regulations, resulting in his being overpaid and he wanted to give back the overage to Penland. Penland goes back, detemines John is right and -- much to their dismay -- finds out they had been overpaying staff overtime for everyone for the past five years. Do you think Penland would wait for staff to voluntarily step forward and offer repayment, or would Penland take the initiative to send letters out to all of their former employees, advise them of the error, and ask for repayment? Or would they have written the overpayment off as "good will"?

 

Appears the shoe is on the other foot in this instance.

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GEP    863

If a statute of limitations had passed in this hypothetical situation, the employees would not be obligated to give the money back. Penland wouldn't have a choice, and "good will" would have nothing to do with it.

 

Mea

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Amy Waller    7

Thank you Chris and Mea and Bruce. Perhaps not surprisingly, I agree with Bruce's assessment.

 

Regarding imagining the reverse situation where an artist/employee was overpaid: I can also imagine an artist feeling so bad about an arts nonprofit losing out on needed funds that he or she would want to make restitution, by donation of a piece of artwork if repayment of funds were not possible. Many artists are full of goodwill. (And I agree with Bruce: goodwill is not the same as charity.)

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JBaymore    1,432

Seems like what is actually being discussed here are the differences between "legally correct" and "ethically or morally correct".

 

best,

 

.............john

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My experience in working in human services non-profits is that this is typical treatment of employees. There is an expectation that employees will work long, unpaid hours in addition to their low-wage, paid hours. Employees are often new graduates who have few other job options and need to gain experience and develop their resumes. Such jobs do tend to offer that opportunity and, at least in human services, warm fuzzies.

 

I have heard it said that everyone is, by nature, either a poet or an accountant. Those at the top of non-profits and their board members are generally, out of necessity, accountants. Their role is to raise and manage money so the organization can function.They are hired/appointed because they are business people. The general workers and volunteers in non-profits tend to be poets. Poets new in their careers tend to assume, especially if they are working in a non-profit, that they will be treated fairly until they learn otherwise.

 

Poets and accountants base their decisions on very different criteria, with accountants considering logic and money, and poets considering the impact on people. Each wonders what on earth is wrong with the other that they think as they do. As a poet, I hold a strong bias.

 

When I was a new grad making little or no money while working long hours in non-profits. I did get lots of warm fuzzies, but that did nothing to pay my bills at a time when I most needed income. There was an attitude among established professionals that we new grads had to pay our dues, just as they did. There was a blacklist, and the only people who could risk getting on that list were people who were professionally established enough that they could afford the price of being blacklisted. Plenty of people were willing to talk privately about what was going on, but precious few were willing to risk doing so publicly. I will always be grateful to those that did.

 

I admire John Britt for being willing to speak up for what is right. It is a courageous and compassionate thing to do.

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Dinah    6

I will happily contribute to John Britt's War Chest if asked. I've signed his Penland petition. I've discovered via Clayart forum that many who oppose John's position are taking the collegiate coin. No real monetary problems vis a vis; comments regarding art auctions and contributions. Very telling. Many society mavens seeking approbation. I'm going to unsubscribe from Clayart. Has nothing for me. I used to love it...but it's all over now....

 

Mel Jacobson is a lovely and genuine chap, but I've not got that much time to deal with the jerks and twerps.

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Nelly    16

I will happily contribute to John Britt's War Chest if asked. I've signed his Penland petition. I've discovered via Clayart forum that many who oppose John's position are taking the collegiate coin. No real monetary problems vis a vis; comments regarding art auctions and contributions. Very telling. Many society mavens seeking approbation. I'm going to unsubscribe from Clayart. Has nothing for me. I used to love it...but it's all over now....

 

Mel Jacobson is a lovely and genuine chap, but I've not got that much time to deal with the jerks and twerps.

 

 

Dear All,

 

I am a hobby potter. In my "real" line of work, if overtime is not paid as per the policy of the province, a list of those involved is sent out publically. It is put in one of our professional forum magazines. Thus, if you are someone on this list and are owed money (i.e., by virtue of the fact you have left that agency to move on to something else or some such reason), you are told publically. Those in the professional circle read the list and make sure that person picks up their check. To me, that is what should have been done at Penland. Not wait for people to come forward. This would have been a really strong good-will gesture on the part of Penland to show they are trying to honestly make a wrong--right. Sitting back and waiting for artists to come forward is not be active. It is taking a passive role to save money.

 

But what do I know...?? I have never been to this school, am not a professional artist but do respect the effort Mr. Britt is putting into this cause. If nothing else, it will make others stand-up and hopefully realize that artist should not be taken advantage in their possible efforts to build a career, show some association with this well known school, use of facilities when you are broke etc.

 

They should have just made a list and sent it out rather than cower behind whoever comes forward will get the money.

 

Nelly

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Chris Campbell    1,086

We should also understand that the State of North Carolina would take care of this if it was reported. If what he says is true, it is totally against the law. If Penland does not have the appropriate records then everyone gets the overtime since it is their duty to keep accurate records. This is one reason why we pay taxes ... law enforcement. As I said before, I have no dog in this fight but regret the way this has been handled

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Mark C.    1,798

I will happily contribute to John Britt's War Chest if asked. I've signed his Penland petition. I've discovered via Clayart forum that many who oppose John's position are taking the collegiate coin. No real monetary problems vis a vis; comments regarding art auctions and contributions. Very telling. Many society mavens seeking approbation. I'm going to unsubscribe from Clayart. Has nothing for me. I used to love it...but it's all over now....

 

Mel Jacobson is a lovely and genuine chap, but I've not got that much time to deal with the jerks and twerps.

 

 

Boy does that sum up my thoughts on clayart

I also think the world of Mel but have had enough-I started answering directly to folks asking questions as the posts went sideways so fast. I gave up.

The format is a bear for me to plow thru as well in digest.

I think Johns not turning this over to the labor board shows he still cares about Penland really but its not my baby. I do support him though.

Mark

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Marcia Selsor    1,301

I gave up on Clayart two years ago for the same reasons. That was after 15 years on Clay art. I still have many friendships that originated there.

I also support John and do admire the History of Penland as a Crafts School from way back.

 

Marcia

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Amy Waller    7

A number of emails/letters have been shared on the Clay Club blog. All but one are in support of John Britt and his petition. The exception is the text of an email sent by Penland to the "local community" and posted at the request of a Penland representative. Right now, these are the most recent posts on the main page of the blog. I'm going to include direct links below, too, for people who may come upon this thread in the future.

 

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful discussion of this situation.

 

 

Penland Community Silence by Nick Friedman

 

This is an open letter to the Penland Director, Board Members, Donors, and Community by Jeff Supplee (former student, studio assistant, and Penland donor) & Martha Copp (Penland donor)

 

Penland is a Disappointment by David Freeman

 

Open Letter to Penland From June Perry by June Perry

 

Open Letter to Penland - Repay the Artists by Sterling VanDerwerker

 

Open Letter From From a Past Clay Coordinator on Penland's Abusive Labor Policies by Lyman Edwards

 

In response to Penland's statement ("Response to recent allegations about Penland's labor practices") by Amy Waller

 

From a former coordinator by Steven Tengelsen

 

exact text of the only message Penland School has sent to the local community about this matter (no author; posted at the request of Robin Dreyer)

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Chris Campbell    1,086

At the risk of sounding like a broken record ... if what they are accused of doing is true, it is illegal. All of this emotional turmoil is not bringing any resolution ... its not a matter of anyone being upright or doing the right thing or feeling bad or harassing or boycotting ... if true, it is a business/legal transgression. I don't see how all this uproar is less damaging than doing it through the proper channels. Notice, I keep adding the "if true" part not because I doubt the accusers, but because there has been no legal judgement of the situation.

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Amy Waller    7

Chris - This is what I understand: Penland apparently does not deny that employees were underpaid. At the time, Penland made a verbal promise to John Britt to pay people who were owed. Penland compensated then-employees who were affected and former employees who came forward on their own. Penland did not attempt to locate former employees who were owed money. As far as I'm concerned, these former employees could not reasonably be expected to know that they were owed money. My understanding is that Penland is not under any legal obligation to pay now because of the amount of time that has passed.

 

To me, yes, this is a matter of doing the right thing. If these allegations are true, I think some sort of restitution should be made to those former employees.

Penland's handling of this situation has been revelatory for me. I do not know what the resolution should be, but I hope that Penland will address this issue in a more forthright manner going forward.

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Chris Campbell    1,086

Yes, you are right ... there is a two year statute of limitations on claims against employers for wages so there are no legal avenues for either side to come out of this intact.

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