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Director Penland School of Crafts: REPAY THE ARTISTS!

August 28, 2012

via John Britt / Clay Club


Petitioning Director Penland School of Crafts: to get economic justice for all the artists who were denied pay because of illegal overtime practices employed by Penland School for 7 years.

I worked at Penland for about 4 ½ years and during my time as the Studios Coordinator, I was asked to conduct an illegal overtime policy that had been in effect from 2000 – 2007. This was against workers who made $10 -$12.00 an hour and were barely able to pay their bills. I declined and became a Whistle Blower against Penland School who refused to stop the policy. After, quitting in protest and informing them of my discussions with the Wage and Labor board, they finally admitted that they conducted 7 years of an illegal overtime policy, ceased implementing it and agreed to pay back wages to employees. I agreed to allow them to handle it “in house” provide they complied and stopped the practice. This was my mistake because I trusted that Penland would live up to their word. They did not!

Several months ago I was informed by a former employee that he never received payment and so I went to Penland and asked why that was? They assured me everyone was paid going back three years. Since that discussion, I found 3 others that were within three year window and hadn’t been reimbursed for illegal over time either. All they say now is that the matter has been resolved and they refuse to reopen it, in spite of multiple discussions with board members.

My thinking is that if you honestly made an error and mistakenly structured your overtime rules to deny coordinators the pay that they deserved, then you would surely want to reimburse them all. The coordinators did the work and Penland got the benefit so they should be paid.

The coordinators were all artists who were working very hard at Penland and simultaneously being asked for art donations to be sold at the auction, while being denied their legal overtime. To me it is just disgusting that they make around $500,000 every year at the Penland Auction and somehow can’t find any money to pay back what these coordinators/artists legally earned. And while this is going on, they manage to build million dollar buildings every year. They are not poor, they just choose not to pay their artists.

So I am coming to you to ask for help to get these artists the justice that they deserve. It is not about the money but the idea that arrogant not-for-profit arts organization like Penland can so egregiously abuse workers with no consequences simply because they will black list anyone who crosses them. If they are allowed to trample on the rights of the very people they are purporting to serve, artists and craftspeople, then workers there are never safe.

Please help me convince the administration that paying all of these artists, from 2000 – 2007 for work they did is the right thing to do. If you want to help to send email to , , and please cc: me at This is because the letters I have sent to them never see the light of day but this needs to be out in the open! So please post on your Facebook page and blogs.

If you don’t know what to write, just write: “REPAY THE PENLAND ARTISTS!” It is that simple.

If you could share this letter on Facebook and with as many artists and friends as you could, I would really appreciate it. I am trying to get 5,000 emails as soon as possible! I also ask that you stop donating to Penland’s until they REPAY THE ARTISTS!

The artists that work at Penland are the ones who make the Penland magic possible. If artists don’t stand up for other artists then there will never be justice.

Thanks for trying to make a difference!

John Britt Pottery

What follows is the text of the message Penland School has sent to the local community about this matter:

To the Penland community:
Some of you may have recently received a communication from potter John Britt having to do with past employment practices at Penland. During the past week, he has also made numerous posts about this on Facebook and other Internet platforms. We have posted a response on our website, which you can read here:

The situation in question was resolved in 2007, although John was clearly not satisfied with the way it was handled. We want to assure you that Penland follows all applicable labor laws, including those governing overtime pay, which is the issue underlying John’s complaint. If, after reading our response, you have further questions, you can direct them to Jean McLaughlin ( or Robin Dreyer ( We are committed to answering all inquiries and will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for your ongoing support of Penland School.

To sign the petition  in support of the Penland School of Crafts  employees who deserve compensation  go here.

To follow the blog where this case is being disccussed go here. 


UPDATE: Penland School of Crafts responds


What Happened and What We Are Doing About It
Action and a statement about the controversy over Penland’s past payroll system

September 1, 2012

Penland School of Crafts has recently been the subject of public discussion resulting from a past payroll problem. The board and staff are taking action at this time that we hope will bring the matter to a reasonable conclusion. We are also posting detailed responses to some of the issues that have been raised.

Prior to 2007 Penland’s payroll was managed in a way that unintentionally resulted in hourly employees not always being properly compensated when they worked overtime. Simply put, Penland paid employees every two weeks, and hours were recorded as a single number for the pay period. While hourly employees were paid time-and-a-half if they recorded more than 80 hours in a two-week time period, they should have been paid time-and-half if they worked more than 40 hours in a single workweek. Penland’s handling of overtime was not intentionally incorrect; the staff members administering the process believed it to be legal

The problem was brought to light in 2007, it was fixed going forward, and, following the recommendation of the school’s lawyer specializing in labor law, a group of then-current employees were compensated for back wages for the previous two years. Also following our lawyer’s advice, we did not attempt to contact former employees who had worked during that time, but we paid one former employee who contacted us about back pay. The mistake in the system was not denied or hidden–it was corrected. However, a recent campaign against Penland, led by a community member who worked at the school during that time, has brought a lot of attention to the limited scope of the retroactive employee compensation.

While we have elected not to conduct an adversarial public conversation on multiple Internet platforms, the board and staff of the school have revisited the decisions made in 2007 and have decided that the choice not to go beyond the recommendations of our legal counsel does not reflect Penland’s values and aspirations. Although the mistake in the timekeeping system was not intentional, we regret this mistake and the way in which it was addressed, and we are sorry that hard-working staff members were not properly compensated for their work.

In light of this, the board of trustees has decided to do the following:

This week, we sent checks and a letter of explanation and apology to two other studio coordinators who were no longer working at Penland in August 2007 whose records show that they should have received overtime pay for hours worked between August 2005 and August 2007. We are able to do this despite the inadequate information in Penland’s timesheets from that period because, during those two years, the studio manager kept and saved time logs for coordinators, which makes it possible to reconstruct their hours on a weekly basis. This means that all coordinators whose records show they should have gotten extra compensation in that two-year period have been paid. Several other coordinators who worked during this time period and whose records do not show they are owed compensation will also be invited to contact Penland if they believe these records are incorrect.

We are also sending a letter of explanation and apology to every studio coordinator who worked between January 2000 and August 2005 inviting them to call deputy director Jerry Jackson if they believe that they worked overtime at Penland and were not properly paid. Because the timesheets from this period don’t give us a way to tell how much extra pay any of these coordinators should have received, Jerry will work with each individual to agree on a fair amount of compensation.

Many people have expressed disappointment that Penland did not handle this more generously in 2007. We agree that we should have, and that is why are taking these steps. We feel these actions will bring the matter under discussion to a conclusion.

Although the problem raised had to do with the school’s fiscal relationship with its employees, much of the public airing has been framed as a conflict between Penland and artists. This has been especially troubling because artists–whether they are professional, amateur, or aspiring–are the reason Penland exists. Every dollar we spend supports artistic growth.

Penland is a magical place that has changed the lives of thousands. But it is a complicated place to run; it is run by people, and people make mistakes. We are sorry for the mistakes that created this situation, and we are proud of our association with this school. We hope that we can now go back to the business of helping people live creative lives.


Glen Hardymon, chair, board of trustees
Rob Pulleyn, vice chair, board of trustees


ADDENDUM: September 5, 2012.

We are in the process of contacting the former coordinators in question to let them know that we are addressing this situation and want to talk to them. Jerry Jackson, deputy director, is reviewing the timesheets and payroll records for any information that will be helpful in determining fair settlements. An independent party will evaluate our payroll calculations to determing the accuracy and completeness of the review and discuss with Jerry the method for working with the former coordinators on fair resolutions. Jerr will work with the former coordinators so the school can arrive at a fair resolution with each person.

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