December 7th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Krista Stryker News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Mississippi Studios Down on Its Luck


Portland's beloved music venue Mississippi Studios received some more bad news this week.

In this Oct. 10th Rogue, WW told readers how the Oregon Employment Department roguishly declared that all of the studio's performers were by default employees, not independent contractors as the music venue and recording studio has always declared them as. The decision made after a random audit of the venue left Mississippi Studios with a $6,000 bill in unpaid unemployment taxes.

Well, longtime owner Jim Brunberg says it doesn't look like the OED is going to change its mind anytime soon. In an email passed along to WW, Brunberg said that the OED is not even willing to consider any evidence regarding independent contractor status of musicians. This is due to ORS 657.506, a 40-year-old Oregon law (which incidentally has never been enforced until now) stating that absent a contract containing specific provisions regarding taxation, musicians are automatically deemed employees of the venue at which they are performing.

Brunberg says the law originally meant for restaurants, not music venues, is "being misapplied." He's planning on taking the OED to court to combat the $6,000 in unpaid employment taxes the agency says Brunberg owes. But he doesn't seem too optimistic: "the courts will rule against us," he says. And though he says Mississippi Studios will appeal the damning ruling, Brunberg says they're unlikely to win that either.

The next step? Brunberg announced the formation of CHORAL, Concert Hall Operators for the Rational Application of the Law, what he calls a "resource, think tank, and legal defense fund and strategy team" for music studios. Its purpose would be to get all the music venues in the area to organize as one voice to combat ORS 657.506. Brunberg says that while no other venues have signed on to CHORAL for sure yet (he just announced it this week), he's optimistic about the group's formation.

Brunberg also says he's been pushing state lawmakers to have the law changed altogether. He says he's been working with Rep. Chip Shields and Senator Margaret Carter to bring the issue up in the Legislature. But the issue probably won't come up until 2009, which he says is "a long time to wait."

Brunberg is currently waiting for the final OED ruling on the issue. It might take a while, since the OED has decided its best strategy is to interview all the non-musician independent contractors to whom the venue has ever written checks to in the four years it's been in its North Portland location, which adds up to hundreds of people.

"We'll see what happens," he says.
As for the money, Brunberg says "it's unjust and I won't pay it."
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