So a bunch of bloggers agree to write for the HuffPo, a profit-seeking venture, for free. The HuffPo gets bought by another profit-seeking company, though this one is less successful in shrouding its financial goals in a cloud of feel-good progressivism. So the bloggers get mad. But instead of just quitting, they are actually suing the HuffPo for back wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
A few observations:
- I blog for free at Forbes. It's not like the arrangement was hard to figure out. They get some free content, I get some exposure and a bit of cache from being associated with Forbes. Seemed like a good deal to me. When it ceases to be so, I will quit.
- The fact that everyone agreed to the deal in advance and it was completed by both parties to their mutual self-interest is NOT a defense under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). I have employees who beg to work for free all the time (e.g. they have a disability arrangement that allows no outside income). I have to tell them no. Any defense from the HuffPo will come through convincing a court that the writers were somehow exempt or not actually employees.
- This same problem arises with internships as well as in my work. In short, people sometimes value non-monetary aspects of jobs that are not given any credit in the FLSA. My son would love to have a good summer job and for the right one would work under minimum wage for the experience. Even the experience of showing up on time, functioning in an organization, working in a hierarchy, etc. are important skills those outside of the work force gain from obtaining. (In an interesting parallel to this, probably the most important skill I am gaining at Forbes is simply writing to a regular weekly deadline. It's harder than it seems from the outside).
In short, I would say that these folks are utterly without personal honor for filing the suit, but in the current state of labor law they potentially have a case. How sad that would be. And what would be next? A class action suit by product reviewers at Amazon for back wages?