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Oct. 10, 2013 9:56 am

“Employees went months without being paid”: a 3rd Ward teacher’s perspective

"This comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked there," a longtime art teach at the coworking space, 3rd Ward, said.

A teacher at 3rd Ward who has taught there for the last two and a half years spoke to Technically Brooklyn about the conditions education side of the business last night, on the condition that they remain nameless. We can now confirm that the coworking and education space has closed for good, according to a letter sent to Philadelphia instructors.

Our source told us that it was no surprise that the space closed its doors this week, because for more than a year the work conditions there have been, in their words, “toxic.”

What that actually sounds like is 3rd Ward leadership was trying to keep the money coming in to cover the expenses of operating a large, two-city maker community.

  • About a year ago, a large group of staff were laid off, and then five months later all the staff brought in to replace those staff were laid off, this teacher said.
  • There were at least two different changes at the top management for the education department, including one that attempted to advance a new arrangement for paying teachers which led to a lot of confusion and frustration among freelance instructors — described as profit sharing, our source said it didn’t really sound like profit sharing, but something much harder to keep track of. “It led to a lot of questions among the teachers,” we were told.
  • The most well funded department seemed to be the PR department, which is why no one outside of 3rd Ward seemed to know there were problems inside, the source said.
  • “Employees went months without being paid,” which our source clarified to say that he knows firsthand that teachers weren’t getting paid.
  • Administrative emails went out as if it were business-as-usual as recently as Sunday, but when our source returned emails this week he got replies saying the person who had written them was no longer working there.

From the teacher’s perspective, it seemed like the company had spread itself too thin. It kept trying to take on projects that it couldn’t seem to complete, like building a cafe in the Williamsburg space that became a debacle and opening the Philadelphia location. Mixed signals from management were continual, the source said. Last December, our source was told that they might have lost their position, but had to wait for two weeks at the end of the year to find out for sure. In the end, the person kept the role.

“It’s a shame,” the teacher said, “because it was a really good population of people.” He expressed a lot of gratitude for working with learners who really cared about making better art and being creative.

Over the course of the different education department staff changes, there were multiple meetings that teachers had to come out to and they were constantly getting strange memos and emails that seemed to confuse the educators.

“They could have just said that they were having trouble paying people, so that if a class only enrolled four or five people then they would pay them $10 less per class.” This sort of practice, we were told, has been normal at similar spaces where our source has taught, but 3rd Ward did not offer anything like that kind of transparency.

As the letter from the management confirms, members and instructors with possessions at the site will be able to visit and collect their things this week.

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Brady Dale

Brady Dale is a freelance writer, comedian and storyteller. A native of Pittsburg, Kansas, he went to Cornell and worked as a progressive community organizer for over a decade before quitting his job to pursue writing and performance. He lives in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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