City says Meow Wolf Violated Living Wage

Arts worker to get more than $17K in back pay

Rio Rancho resident Jeremiah Harmon says he applied to volunteer for Meow Wolf in 2015 as the art and entertainment organization's massive and popular space was being developed because it didn't seem like a standard job.

He'd spent a few years as a stay-at-home dad. The position seemed exciting as a way to re-enter the workforce gradually. But it was also something new and unlike anything he'd ever done. He believed in the mission.

After a few weeks of volunteering, Harmon says he was offered a paid job that came with promises of future, higher-paying employment once Meow Wolf opened in Midtown Santa Fe. He was given a staff badge, hours on the so-called Cave Team—which built the actual cave portion of the House of Eternal Return installation—and a $300 stipend every two weeks.

Harmon was even included in the Meow Wolf trading cards sold in the gift shop.

But when the corporation officially opened its doors in 2016, the job offer never came. In May of 2018, he asked state officials for help. A year later, Meow Wolf announced it would raise its base wage to $17 an hour for most employees. Harmon was reassessing how he was treated and whether he was paid fairly during his time working for the company.

Upon reflection, Harmon says, he was not. The city of Santa Fe agrees.

In July, Assistant City Attorney Gabriel Smith sent a letter to Meow Wolf's counsel, the Bennett Law Group LLC, ordering the company to pay Harmon $17,534.95 within 20 days.

"Upon review of the materials provided, a preponderance of the evidence shows that Meow Wolf is in violation of the Santa Fe Living Wage Ordinance," Smith's letter reads, in part.

Harmon says his duties were often unclear and he routinely worked overtime hours. Further, he says, he was led to believe he was ineligible for Santa Fe's "living wage" as he was technically codified as an independent contractor.

City code disagrees. It states that contract workers must be paid the living wage, currently $11.80, but between $10.84 and $10.91 during Harmon's employment at Meow Wolf.

The saga doesn't end there.

In another document obtained by SFR, Meow Wolf's counsel at first agreed to pay the outstanding wages if Harmon released it from "all and any liability of whatsoever nature and howsoever arising out of and/or in relation to the claims."

Harmon balked at that deal, and city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon writes SFR in an email that "Meow Wolf does not really have the right to require the claimant to sign anything absolving them from liability."

After SFR began interviews for this story, the city told Harmon that Meow Wolf had agreed to deliver a check with no strings attached.

"Meow Wolf has withdrawn the 'request' to sign that agreement, and has indeed cut a check which will be available for pick up from the city," Chacon confirms.

Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek tells SFR he's unable to comment on the matter.

Harmon's wage theft claim with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is still pending.

Employment-related litigation is becoming more common for Meow Wolf. In July, two women filed a lawsuit in Santa Fe's First Judicial District Court alleging a common practice of discrimination and gender bias within the company's corporate culture.

An earlier version of this story stated that Harmon filed a claim with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions in May 2019. He actually filed in May 2018.

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