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FEATURES|Issues|Models v Kink.com

MAXINE HOLLOWAY: sacked after objecting to new work practices at Kink.com (www.theaperturist.com)

Models take a stand against ‘ethical porn’ firm Kink.com

San Francisco’s ‘ethical porn’ company Kink.com is known for high BDSM production values and high standards in its treatment of staff and models. So why is it facing legal action from a group of its performers? Maxine Holloway explains the models’ case

As a feminist, activist, educator, porn/BDSM performer and director, I often try to emphasise how consent, integrity and ethics are a central part of power dynamics and sex.

When explaining these dynamics, I have often used a large, well-known San Francisco-based company called Kink.com as an example of how BDSM pornography can be created in an ethical manner.

Kink.com is known for its high production values, quality content, company ethics, treatment of models and fair business practices. Its commitment to models can be seen in its mission statement on the Kink.com website.

This transparent business model aids in making the BDSM community seem safe, sane and consensual.

Having this successful company operating with such integrity was a big PR win for perverts who wanted to work and play in the kink world and still have their boundaries and bodies respected.

In May 2011, I was hired by Kink.com to work in the live camera department, KinkLive.com. This was a unique live cam set-up because we would go to the Kink.com Armory to work.

We were camming live from amazing sets built by Kink.com's art department. Three to four times a week I could be streaming right into your home computer from the sleazy ’60s motel room or a kinky office.

I had machines, implements and electricity at my fingertips to help delight and torture myself. I had a set schedule and was rapidly building a kinky fan base.

I worked my ass off for my fans, sometimes literally. I have an amazing group of talented dominants, slutty slaves and sultry switches that would come to see me on a regular basis.

Whereas most models working for Kink.com (and any porn site) are legally classified as independent contractors (ICs), in the KinkLive department we were being treated differently — as employees — because of the nature and frequency of our job.

We were paid a flat fee for a three-hour shift (or 30 percent commission, whichever was the greater), and our weekly earnings were figured out by KinkLive and deposited straight into our bank accounts, with no invoicing required from us.

This type of structure gave a wonderful financial backbone to my adult career. A steady source of income enabled me to attend Community College San Francisco to become certified in Sex Education and HIV/STI prevention.

I represented Kink.com in CCSF's magazine featuring BDSM porn performers who are also students (see Links, right).

I have worked in a variety of jobs in the adult industry. Camming for KinkLive was one of the most enjoyable and challenging jobs ever.

KinkLive models constantly use bondage, electricity, implements, fucking machines, pain endurance, humiliation, domination, etc. We rapidly switch gears as different people take us in and out of private sessions.

We become talented porn ninjas who can fuck, squirt, dirty-talk, zap, scream or dominate at the drop of a hat, while we give you relationship advice, offer kinky guidance, tell the story of how we lost our virginity (over and over) and still smile and remember specific details about each client.

I would never expect KinkLive to go on operating at a loss, but the lack of transparency with which the new policy was implemented was unjust 

But this May, some of the KinkLive models were abruptly notified that our payment structure was changing from a flat rate to a commission-only system because the department was struggling financially.

I would never expect the department to continue operating at a loss, but the way the new policy was implemented was unjust. We were frustrated by the lack of transparency surrounding the change in policy.

There was not an official announcement from KinkLive to its models about the new rates until May 7, well after certain models had already had their wages altered by the new system.

Some models were only informed through other models with no information coming from staff at all.

Many of us were suddenly aware that KinkLive would likely no longer be a fair or viable source of income for us. Some of us worried that some models could be pressured to violate their personal limits and abilities in order to make money.

Individually, our concerns were not being heard, so I decided to reach out to fellow models and call a meeting at my house to get everyone on the same page — to talk about our options and our negotiating power as a united front.

I had a living room full of KinkLive models who felt that the integrity and professionalism that we had been promised by our employer was not currently applying to us.

We collectively drafted a letter to send to management, HR, Kink’s VP and CEO Peter Acworth. His response (and a link to the full text of the letter) can be seen in the sidebar on the right.

During this process all of my shows were immediately cancelled on KinkLive. In a matter of days I went from having a great working relationship with management, and directly being assured that my shows were profitable, to being completely pulled from the site.

Since being let go, I have been informed by several other models that a specific employee had forwarded all of my e-mail correspondence pertaining to this issue to KinkLive management.

I was seen as a problem that needed to be removed from the situation so it could blow over and business could continue as planned.

I was devastated and shocked. I knew that there was a slight risk in encouraging models to organise but I did not suspect that a company so committed to fair business practices would view seeking a cooperative agreement as a reason to fire me.

In the midst of this we models were also looking at the legal aspects of our situation.

We are currently labelled as independent contractors (ICs), which allows Kink.com to let us go for any reason and apparently change our pay for any reason as well.

Some online research resulted in us questioning our employment classification. In order to legally be an IC as opposed to an employee, certain working condition requirements need to be met.

Upon review of a simple California Employment Department online checklist, it seemed very unlikely that we were actually treated as independent contractors.

For more detail on this, Maggie Mayhem does a great job breaking down the differences between ICs and employees and how they pertain to the KinkLive situation on her blog (see Links, above right).

I and fellow models Coral Aorta, Wendy Fairfax and Siren Wolf met with a lawyer to discuss the legal issues around misclassification. We are currently pursuing a class action lawsuit against Kink.com for Willful Misclassification and Labor Code Violations.

The objective of our legal action is to get KinkLive to end the misclassification of models, either by changing its policies to treat models accurately as ICs, or, if things stay the same, by giving the models their legal employee benefits.

Our legal team said they had never seen a company cave to a demand letter so quickly, which I take as further proof of willful missclassification 

Kink.com received a legal demand letter concerning misclassification from our lawyers. Since then it has been rapidly striking department rules and policies that were in violation of Independent Contractor laws.

Call times, on-camera rules, social media regulations, payment structure and management scheduling for KinkLive models have now all been abolished.

Scheduling and invoicing is now being dumped onto the models under the guise of “a model-run department” to avoid further legal ramifications.

Our legal team said that they had never seen a company cave to a demand letter so quickly, which I take as further proof that the KinkLive department was willfully misclassifying us.

As this issue became more public and was picked up by more blogs and media outlets, KinkLive offered to put me back on the schedule. I assumed that when letting me go did not silence us, they thought they would try to offer me my job back as a way to keep this under the radar.

Our lawyers are now handling all negotiations concerning my employment at KinkLive.

Since going public with this issue, I have experienced Kink.com employees from the past and present wanting to talk about some highly problematic experiences with this “Ethical Porn Company”.

Each person can tell their own story and pursue action as they see fit. But I truly hope that by standing up for our rights we will empower others to do the same.

This is an important issue for sex workers’ rights as well as labour rights. The way an employee is classified is crucial.

Workers treated like employees but misclassified as independent contractors are left with all the responsibilities of employees but none of the legal benefits or protections — sick leave, workers’ compensation, taxes, unemployment, right to organise, etc.

There are few resources for learning about the best ways to navigate within the adult industry. I feel that corruption in the porn industry thrives when models do not unite.

Coming together as an interest group has been instrumental in this situation with KinkLive.

While this is an alternative work choice, the people involved in the adult industry deserve to do their work in the safest, healthiest and happiest way possible.

My misclassification and later dismissal by a company that had set a standard in the treatment of models was a big “Fuck You” to all workers and sex workers.

This experience with Kink.com has only furthered my desire to create a greater sex worker community and more ethical adult work opportunities in the Bay Area.

I have been amazed and inspired by the kinky sex workers who have come together with me on this issue with KinkLive.

Fighting against social stigma, financial instability and occasional legal issues can be challenging. Having an accessible support system that can assist workers in career, educational, social, emotional and financial aspects is vital.

At the beginning of this year I co-founded a performer-run production company called Cum & Glitter — A Live Sex Show with my colleague and friend, Ava Solanas (see Links, above right).

This company puts creative and political control back in the hands of the artists. Ethics and treatment of models and staff is not only promised in our mission statement but easily and intentionally practised.

There is definitely a big change happening in the way adult content is being produced in the Bay Area. We are no longer waiting for someone else to throw the biggest and kinkiest events.

We are no longer hoping for them to hire us and tell us what we will be doing and for how much.

We are working together and creating opportunities for ourselves. I personally have some big plans up my perverted sleeve for BDSM performing opportunities in the Bay Area.

I think the scene is ready for some fresh kink created in a truly ethical style.

I have big plans for BDSM performing opportunities in the Bay Area. The scene is ready for some fresh kink created in a truly ethical style

Saturday, 14 July 2012

 




About the author + Links:
Maxine Holloway

Maxine Holloway (photographed above by TheAperturist.com) is a San Francisco porn performer, artist, sex-educator, and film-maker. She creates and collaborates with the Bay Area's hottest and queerest.

The Outlaw, her directorial debut film with Lexxx Sloan, was featured and awarded in the 2010 Good Vibrations Erotic Film Festival.

Certified in Sex-ED and HIV/STI Prevention, she runs educational workshops that focus on sexual-health and sexual exploration.

She is the co-founder of Cum & Glitter — A Live Sex Show, a sex worker-run performance group that is taking the Bay Area by storm.

She would love to talk to you about feminism, squirting, your biggest sexual fantasy, fetishes, sex worker stigma, country music and syphilis.

Principal links for Maxine, below, are followed by links she refers to in the main text on the left.


maxineholloway.com
maxineholloway.tumblr.com
twitter.com/MaxineHolloway
facebook.com/maxineholloway.18
Cum & Glitter — A Live Sex Show
CCSF Magazine interview
Maggie Mayhem: ICs v employees
www.theaperturist.com





KinkLive models’ complaint:
Kink.com’s response

Following the letter on May 16 from KinkLive models to Kink.com CEO Peter Acworth (above, pic by Tony Mitchell), outlining the concerns Maxine describes in her article, left, Acworth responded on June 2 with this letter, which in the interests of balance, we reproduce in full:

“Thank you for your feedback regarding the recent changes at kinklive.com and the operation as a whole.

“Our company has always taken great pride in direct and transparent communication with the models who chose to perform for us. On this occasion, we understand that there should have been more information and more response in a quicker timeframe, and I apologise if our communication came off as disrespectful. We look forward to stepping up direct communication between you, Sheila and myself to move forward.

“On Thursday May 31, 2012, we advised all KinkLive models that we would hold the “status quo” for 30 days so that we could more effectively define and implement changes to KinkLive in a transparent way. As you all know, we are still in the start up phase in this area of content, and there have been a few bumps along the way. We expect to be able to have you performing in your own location with your owned or leased equipment by October 1, 2012. 

“We have always been evolving toward this type of webcam model which is the industry standard. It has taken us a little more time than expected to get there. KinkLive in its current form has been a loss leader to get us where we aim to be. Losses have been running at $30,000 to $50,000 per month this year. This is an acceptable loss for a short period of time, but we cannot sustain such losses indefinitely.

“In short, we need to restrict the number of shows to those that we expect to be profitable so that KinkLive at least breaks even while we ramp via shows in model’s homes. We welcome your feedback as to ways of achieving this goal and we would like to host a Q&A session next week to discuss the situation more fully with you. (Details will be sent out by Sheila shortly.)


“Many of you are already contracting for shows with competing webcam companies such as Flirt4Free, StreamMate, ImLive, etc. While we enormously appreciate your loyalty, we completely understand if you choose to ramp up your contracted hours with one of our competitors while we build our feature set at KinkLive.


“It is our mutual goal to build KinkLive into a successful and sustainable product which can be profitable and rewarding to the models and kink.com alike for years to come. We very much appreciate your patience in sticking with us while we get there.”

Two days later, on June 4, Peter Acworth also posted a response in the Kink.com forums. In this extract from that post, he addresses criticism that the new policy for KinkLive models conflicts with the company’s mission and values:

“This of course was not a decision that was made lightly, and we certainly  never want to see hardship placed on our contractors. These changes were announced a full 30 days before they were to be implemented and we have chosen to extend that now to a full 60 days.
”

Maxine Holloway comments:
“That second sentence in Peter’s post is not true. Coral Aorta posted a reply explaining that many of the models’ pay was changed May 1st, without any warning. The extra extension of 60 days and reversal of models’ commission- only pay seemed to happen shortly after receiving our open letter and a letter from our lawyers.”

KINK.COM MISSION STATEMENT

Mission
We demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities by providing the most authentic kinky experiences.            
Values
We uphold a safe, sane and consensual environment.
We provide a fun workplace which stimulates innovation and creativity.
We operate with honesty and integrity.
We treat one another with professionalism and respect.
We foster collaboration while maintaining individual accountability.
We encourage candid, direct feedback.
We are proud of who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
Business Practices
Kink.com as an employer

Kink.com is an equal opportunities employer. Our 100+ employees include 40% women, a diverse mix of communities of color, and a strong representation from the LGBTQQ communities.
Employees are well paid and receive full benefits: health, dental, vision and employer matched 401K.
Kink.com usually hires production staff at the entry level, and provides a career path with training.
Kink.com has an unusually low turnover of employees.
Treatment of Models
Kink.com has a reputation in the adult entertainment industry for respectful and fair treatment of models. Kink.com complies with all laws regarding treatment and age identification of models. The following list shows some of the other ways Kink.com has worked to gain this very good reputation:    
Clean, safe working conditions that comply with all OSHA requirements
Models are given explicit rights
Directors are given explicit rules
Models are well paid and treated as professionals.


Read models’ letter to Kink.com
www.kink.com
 
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