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Uncle Sam: Nude models are public servants
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Editor’s note: This column first appeared on May 11, 2003

Here’s one for fans of the Occupational Health Safety & Administration: Should the federal agency regulate working conditions for nude models?

Don’t laugh. It’s a legitimate question.

Low pay and cold rooms are prompting art school models at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia to vote to form a union. That’s right. A union.

The art school had claimed that the nude models were independent contractors and therefore complaints about occupational hazards such as charcoal dust and paint fumes didn’t fall under anyone’s authority in the federal government to monitor.

First mistake. The federal government assumes authority to monitor everything.

The first blow came when the National Labor Relations Board ruled the school was incorrect to argue that models were independent contractors.

The federal labor board determined the 13 models had worked enough hours to vote on whether to join District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

That’s right. Nude models in art schools are public servants. If that boggles the mind, try this one: The union figures there are 200 models posing in art classes in the City of Brotherly Love and they want to organize them all.

The models want to be paid more than the $11 per hour they are currently getting regardless of experience.

They also want warmer work places and ones that are free of environmental hazards such as oil paint fumes and charcoal dust.

Michelangelo was lucky to have been born when he was. Can you image what the cry and hue would be today working around granite dust without protective eye goggles or a mask for the nude model?

And how would OSHA regulate “environmental” hazards just as charcoal dust and oil paint fumes? Outlaw the use of various art materials?

Of perhaps they could strike a compromise and require the nude models to wear protective suits or breathing apparatus.

One would think that OSHA would also get a bit concerned about those students. Heck, they have to deal with paint fumes, charcoal dust and probably the lead in sketching pencils as well. Who knows? We need a federal investigation to determine just how deplorable conditions are in our art schools using nude models.

The models also are upset about the lack of private changing rooms.

Excuse me if I don’t get that one. Their job is to stand completely naked in front of a group of budding artists for hours and they are upset that they don’t have private changing rooms?

Does this have something to do with a sense of modesty?

You may not know it, but staying still for hours is hard work. I can understand that. I get antsy after a minute or two.

Another complaint is the lack of heaters. I could see that. It can get pretty cold posing in your birthday suit.

But how will OSHA handle that one? The thermostat is a ticklish bone of contention in many workplaces. There’s always someone turning the air down or the heat up in winter either because they’re overdressed on hot days or they’re underdressed on cold days.

Won’t a higher thermostat unduly effect working conditions for teachers who one must assume might be represented by the same union?

How would the union handle complaints that are diametrically opposed: a nude model who is freezing and a fully clothed teacher who is sweating?

The conflict, though, may come from the models themselves. Besides complaining about the lack of heat they’re upset there isn’t fresh air.

Let’s see —open the window and turn up the heat. Makes sense to me.

Moore College of Art and Design may have another problem. The preferred model of choice is women. Does that mean Moore College isn’t an equal opportunity employer for men nude models?

The Philadelphia art schools had better drop real nude models from their classes or else prepare for an onslaught of federal inquiries from OSHA all the way to the Department of Justice.

Who knows, maybe all the over-regulation will force America art schools to move overseas where there are less regulations on business including the business of nude art modeling.

The meddling of the federal government may well dry up nude modeling at art schools in the U.S. and force the importation of more nude art work done overseas by nude Third World workers.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or (209) 249-3519.