Obstacle Races Tough Mudder and Spartan Race Taking Advantage of Workers

How Obstacle Races Exploit Volunteers

Nobody wants big corporations to take advantage of “the little guy.” If a company moved into Los Angeles and paid workers pennies for hours of manual labor, people would be incredibly angry – but something similar is happening. And instead of pennies, it’s discount coupons, T-shirts and free parking.

Tough Mudder and Spartan Race Volunteers Exploited

But obstacle races like Tough Mudder and Spartan Races are taking Californians’ jobs.

They’re profiting off the backs of volunteers – people like you, who just want to help. Rather than creating jobs, like they should, they’re asking people to volunteer to help them pull in millions of dollars each year.

Let’s be clear: it’s fine to work for free when you’re volunteering at an animal shelter, feeding the homeless or performing public services. In cases like those, you’re working for a nonprofit organization – a company that isn’t making money by profiting off your free labor.

But obstacle race companies are not non-profit companies. They’re making millions of dollars in pure profit.

They need labor, but they’re not willing to pay for it – and by taking advantage you, they’re depriving the public of jobs and the state of tax revenue. They’re doing an end-run around California wage laws.

Tough Mudder and Spartan Race Taking Advantage of Volunteers

That’s not fair to you.

Tough Mudder races, for example, hold hundreds of events all over the world. Tremendous numbers of participants (more than 3.5 million people have participated in a Tough Mudder race) sign up. The company boasts between 7,000 and 8,000 people at an individual race event. Even if the entry fee was only $59 (that’s the low end), that’s $413,000 in revenue – and that doesn’t include merchandise sales, sponsorship payments and other income. They’re not paying workers, so a lot of that is pure profit.

Spartan Races are similar (they’re in 42 countries and counting). Entry costs for adults range from the low $100s to just under $300 in most locations, and hundreds of people can enter each race. The company is earning tens of millions thanks to volunteer labor – and rather than setting up like an employer, hiring crews of helpers and paying into California’s economy, it’s using people who really just want to be part of it.

Let’s be fair. People who work hard deserve a living wage. That’s what’s codified in federal and California law.

How Obstacle Races Exploit Volunteers: When Volunteering Isn’t Really Volunteering

A volunteer, under California law, is someone who “performs work for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons for a public agency or corporation qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as a tax-exempt organization, without promise, expectation, or receipt of any compensation for work performed.”

Related: California labor laws 101

Taking Advantage of Free Labor to Make Profit

Neither Tough Mudder nor Spartan Races are creating jobs where they should be. Both have a very limited number of employees – typically working at the company’s headquarters – and although it costs money to ship obstacles for races from one place to another, they’re still pulling in millions of dollars in revenue. These race companies would still pull in millions in revenues if they hired local help rather than relying on volunteers – but they would rather take advantage of free labor and preserve their profits.

Why Do People Volunteer for Obstacle Races?

Tough Mudder and Spartan Race Taking Advantage of Volunteers

Most people volunteer to help at the races because they simply want to be part of it. Some volunteer because they want discounted race tickets the next time around, even if there’s a chance that they’ll get the discount but won’t be able to use it.

But in the state of California, the law entitles anyone who’s doing work for a for-profit company to fair pay.

Are You On the Losing End of the Deal?

If you show up at an obstacle race at 6 a.m., work 12 hours until the race is over – even if you’re making the minimum wage of $12 per hour, you should walk away with $168 in your pocket. Multiply that by two days for a full weekend of volunteering and you’re actually being robbed of $336.

Here’s why: California requires employers to pay workers overtime for every hour after 8 hours of work in a single day. You’d earn minimum wage for 8 hours, which totals $96. Then, the company has to pay you $18 per hour (that’s time-and-a-half, which is required for overtime) for the additional 4 hours of work, which totals $72 more. In 12 hours, you should earn $168. Multiply that by two days and the obstacle race company should have paid you $336.

Volunteers Exploited at Tough Mudder and Spartan Race

That’s a car payment, an insurance payment or a credit card payment, and it’s money that the company technically owes you. You’re earning more than the price of a race ticket, but all they’re offering you is a discount, a T-shirt and a drink. There’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be able to use the discount, either – what if the race doesn’t come back your way until next year, or what if when it returns you’re injured, sick or out of town? What if you lose interest or your friends can’t make it that time around?

Obstacle race companies are taking advantage of good people who just want to be part of the race – or worse, people who want to participate but can’t afford expensive tickets.

Have You Volunteered at an Obstacle Race?

If you’ve given up hours of your time to volunteer at an obstacle race, there’s a good chance you’ve been exploited. You worked hard to help a company make a profit, but the company didn’t share that profit with you. In fact, even if you got discounted or free entry into the next race, they owed you more. They took advantage of your willingness to help, and that’s not fair.

But you may have options. You could be entitled to compensation for everything you put into the race – your time, your energy and your sweat.

Call us at 818-230-8380 if you volunteered for an obstacle race like Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, whether or not you got discounted entry, swag or other “perks.” We may be able to help you get what you deserve.


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