Columns, Opinion

Burning Out: How to exploit your employees and get away with it

It only takes a mozzarella stick pizza from T. Anthony’s to get me to wake up early on a weekend and walk in the rain — at least, that’s the way my life worked while volunteering for BU’s Admissions Ambassadors.

During my freshman year, my job as an Admissions Ambassador, also colloquially known as “Ambass,” was to give tours to prospective BU students and their parents. I had to memorize facts from a booklet, follow a dress code and fill quota hours.

Through it all, I was paid nothing but an occasional slice of pizza. Pretty disrespectful, now that I look at it in hindsight.

Yvonne Tang

I was young, and I was promised a fun experience that would make me grow as an individual. I realize now that I had been exploited for my “passion.”

It’s easy to stop fighting for labor rights because you enjoy your job. But isn’t it even better to enjoy your job while making the most of it?

There’s a pattern of abusing people’s passions in the workplace, and not just at Boston University. But it’s certainly not at the fault of the employees.

Employers have become comfortable with passionate workers being their secret advantage. It’s especially common to be complacent with mistreatment in the arts industry, where sacrifices are made to follow dreams.

Internationally, the anime industry in Japan is a clear example of this kind of exploitation. The anime industry boomed from 2002 to 2017, doubled in size and is now valued at billions of dollars. But even as anime artists became more in demand, their working conditions did not improve. Anime artists are getting paid as little as $200 per month for grueling hours of work.

In this very newspaper, I have worked 12 hours in one night with no salary. Being an editor doesn’t feel like work sometimes, so in that sense, I have nothing to complain about. But when my back aches the morning after and I skip class from exhaustion, there is no doubt in my mind that something fun can still be considered labor.

I think we need to stick it to the man. There can be a middle ground between work and fun, and there should be no guilt when it comes to cold facts: BU Admissions should be paying their ambassadors. Japanese animators need a liveable income. And dang it, someone go donate money to The Daily Free Press to fund projects like the Editors Equity Fund, and maybe even pay the editors at some point in the future. 

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

I was reminded of all of this when students came forward to say BU’s own Orientation Director Shiney James was emotionally abusive to her workers. While the circumstances of the situation do not parallel my own in terms of the emotional abuse the students suffered, the BU Orientation case reminds me of my time at the Ambassador program where I accepted the bare minimum without expecting more.

Although the toxic environment at BU Orientation was not necessarily about finances, there’s still something to be said about our attitudes toward working humbly.

In these situations, we should be throwing “be grateful” out of the window. If abuse or exploitation is institutionalized, no one will advocate for us so we have to do it ourselves.

Passion — or general satisfaction — is not everything a human needs to survive, and it should be okay to admit that.

It’s time to destigmatize asking for more within a “labor of love.” A job you love should not come at the cost of a livable wage. You deserve nothing less than the best, my friend.

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