Is A Freelance Work Stoppage “Professional”?
So, today I’m responding specifically to comments made by Ron Lundeen, who I consider and friend and have nothing but respect for, in his role as cohost of Digital Divination, a podcast that is part of the Know Direction network.
Specifically, something he said in Digital Divination 041 – Mechs! The relevant section begins at about 5 minutes, so feel free to go listen.
Ron specifically said (as best as I can transcribe the punctuation of this statement): “I can speak about the freelancers who have elected not to… not to work with us as a statement. I respect that statement that they’re making, and, saying ‘We’re not going to take any more work’ is one of the most powerful statements that they can make. On the other hand I…, in my mind I do deem it pretty unprofessional to have agreed to turn something in and then to withhold it.
So those freelancers that are saying, ‘As a matter of principle I am not going to sign any more contracts or take any more work,’ I both understand and support that. Freelancers who have contracted for work and are refusing to turn in something that they have contractually agreed to turn in, … ah… I don’t consider that particularly professional. That’s… that’s… a.. in my mind, that’s kind of a black mark from the person’s professionalism.“
He then goes on to talk about his background in contract law and the fact that he’s closer to 50 than to 40 being factors that influenced this opinion of his. As someone who turned 50 last year, and who has filled the roles of freelancer, Paizo Dev, WotC Dev, Green Ronin Dev, Designer, and Publisher over more than 20 years in the ttRPG industry, I wanted to respond to Ron’s statement. I also feel the need to note I am not one of the freelancers who withheld work from Paizo, and I was not part of the group that coordinated that decision. However, I will not be taking work from Paizo until the United Paizo Workers union is recognized.
I absolutely, positively, do not consider it unprofessional to refuse to turn over contracted work as part of a protest against the corporation you have a contract with. I think judging that as a “black mark” against freelancers who choose to do so is not only wrongheaded, it’s dangerous.
I consider withholding contracted work for moral reasons to be in the same category as civil disobedience. That there can be a higher ethical calling than to follow agreed-upon rules. And that, especially given the freelancers did this not to aid themselves, but to aid Paizo employees they had reasonable suspicion were being mistreated, makes it the moral choice. The freelancers very clearly have little other power to affect change and, much like a strike, have turned to this as a last resort.
That leads to the question of “professionalism.”
Common law imposes obligations on employers to provide a safe workplace, provide safe tools, give warnings of dangers, provide adequate co-worker assistance so that the worker is not overburdened, and promulgate and enforce safe work rules. I would consider calling it a “black mark” to refusing to assist in ongoing conditions that numerous past and current employees are saying fail to meet that standard to be actually dangerous, as it is a statement that contracts should be followed even if doing so may cause you to be assisting in creating unsafe conditions.
Now, I acknowledge suspension of contract to apply pressure for a better workplace is not recognized in ordinary contract law or in commercial contract law in particular. A party to a contract must perform its obligations under the contract (subject to the terms and conditions of the contract and the exception of unusual circumstances which may cause disruption to the contract). A party which reneges on its contractual obligations is in breach of contract and the injured party may sue for remedies such as performance or compensation for damages.
But that doesn’t, to me, make it unprofessional to risk being sued in order to make every effort to aid people you believe to be in need, and lacking the power to affect such change themselves. To me, the question of professionalism is about how they did it. As a concerted action, having discussed it among themselves, and making sure their developers were aware of who was withholding work, and why, and then beginning discussions with Paizo management on how to fix those issues to a degree the work could be delivered, are the acts of professionals.
Which is why the freelancers have since changed from whatever their original concerns were straight to “Recognize the Union.” Because what they want is for their colleagues working at Paizo to have a voice to affect change.
I refuse to label that as unprofessional.
You can learn more about the events that lead to this freelancer decision and their desire to Support Unionization here: https://supportpaizoworkers.carrd.co/#summary
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