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Being paid by Netflix to watch movies and TV series might seem like a dream come true, but not for some folks in a secretive program at the company known as “Project Beetlejuice.” These individuals, known as “juicers,” are paid $10 a film or show to pick the best still images and videos from the thousands of titles in Netflix’s library to help its users figure out what they want to watch. They are paid as independent contractors but now are demanding overtime, paid vacation and holidays, health insurance and a 401(k) plan.
Netflix refuses to reveal how many people work in the program, the rationale behind its name or much at all about this line of work. That’s because there are two putative class action lawsuits pending in L.A. Superior Court — one filed in November by Long Beach resident Lawrence Moss and the second filed in May by L.A. resident Cigdem Akbay — that claim the hundreds of people paid to watch Netflix deserve higher pay after being allegedly misclassified as contractors instead of employees. Netflix argues in court papers the employees signed agreements that require the dispute be handled privately in arbitration.
Famous for its use of algorithms to help make programming decisions, Netflix apparently requires at least a bit of grunt work computers are incapable of handling. Although the company never has publicly acknowledged “juicers” — who can work from home — it has spoken before about “taggers,” who are paid to watch a movie and label it as, for instance, “thriller with strong female lead” to better serve users. In 2014, Netflix even advertised its need for “taggers” in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Both Moss and Akbay allege they worked closely with Netflix management and sometimes labored more than 40 hours a week. “Theoretically, [Akbay] could set her own hours, but Netflix imposed deadlines for assignments that in effect imposed a rigid work schedule,” states her complaint (damages being sought are not specified). Watching Netflix became her primary source of income, and after she told the company this in 2014, she says she was terminated.
One labor attorney says it’s not surprising to hear about “juicer” class actions because there has been a rash of lawsuits of late — including from Uber drivers and Grubhub delivery people — testing whether their work fits the definition of an employment relationship. “There is a perfect storm of events, which includes the proliferation of ‘gig economy’ jobs and the advent of legislation with strict penalties for misclassification,” says Kate Gold at Drinker Biddle & Reath. “The employment laws have not kept pace with the new realities of the labor economy.”
This story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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