Nevada’s premier desert gathering is starting to take some heat after multiple reports of suicide are slowly beginning to surface. Between the years of 2009 and 2015, seven Burning Man employees have died by suicide.
When the reports first surfaced, we all were devastated and demanded answers. It’s been a pretty slow process but more information surrounding the deaths of these current or former employees are now being released. The deaths are directly being attributed to unfair pay, mistreatment, stressful and extremely dangerous work conditions.
Caleb Schaber, a former photojournalist in Iraq and Afghanistan is known for his organized protest in San Francisco outside of the company’s headquarters. Caleb was a full-time employee who claims the company flat out didn’t take care of their employees and wanted to fight for worker’s right.
Here’s what he had to say:
“They don’t help out the workers that are injured, quite often, and they just try to get them to work for the most by giving them the least and then discard them. They seem to feel that it’s OK to exploit workers like they’re some kind of resource that’s just there to take and not help out. They’re a multi-million dollar corporation that has franchises, and they’re not taking care of their workers.”
Two years after the protest, Schaber was found dead by suicide. According to friends and former co-workers, they truly believe the way he was treated after the protest contributed to his death.
Here’s what they had to say:
“He just wanted to be paid a fair day’s wage, and he wanted the crews that he worked with to be paid the same,’ said a staffer who declined to give their name. ‘He wanted it to resemble a community and a job at the same time.”
Another employee, Ricardo Romero told Salon.com that during the years of 2013 and 2014, three of his work colleagues killed themselves. One of them being Ryan Brown, a 40 year old Burning Man employee who committed suicide just three days after being fired by management. Heres what Ricardo had to say about it:
“In years past, I had friends kicked off of playa or the worksite, and you can kind of tell when managers involved in this process are looking very stern, serious and looking over. What they do is basically just toss you off the site. They give you no compensation, and they basically tell you you’re on your own, a lot of times they are people who aren’t getting paid or they are getting paid very little.”
Eric Close, another former Burning Man employee was also another who’s death was ruled a suicide. A current unnamed employee gave this statement after his death:
“I wasn’t sure when the problem developed, but I remember him being stressed out working for (Burning Man), saying that he didn’t feel like he was earning money to do what he (wanted to be) doing because he was always working.”
A spokesman for Burning Man never addressed the suicides directly, but told Salon.com in a statement that ‘worker safety is paramount to Burning Man and we are exceptionally proud of the extensive resources we provide to staff’.
“Burning Man’s medical resources at the event also include a state-licensed urgent care facility and six satellite first-aid stations, mental health support services, and on-site emergency air transport,‘ spokesman Jim Graham added.
‘We also have our Black Rock Rangers and People Operations teams on site to support staff in need of mental health resources.”
Burning Man management and their employees seem to have two completely sides of the story, as usual. Women are also said to ostracized and under-paid compared to their male co-workers. Their’s even a section in the Burning Man workers handbook that addresses suicide, this is no joke.
The gathering is currently happening as we speak. From August 25 to September 3, Burning Man continues as the powerhouse festival it is in the Black Rock Desert.
Party safe people and look out for one another, fellow attendee and employees included!