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A fair day's wage for a fair day's work
March 26, 2011 8:27 PM   Subscribe

"People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they're going to outperform, they're going to try to please, they're going to be creative," says Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist, a Toronto and New York-based startup that provides Web-based interior design services. "From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it's huge. Especially if you're a small business." In the last three years, Fallis has used about 50 unpaid interns for duties in marketing, editorial, advertising, sales, account management and public relations. She's convinced it's the wave of the future in human resources. "Ten years from now, this is going to be the norm," she says.
posted by Slap*Happy (234 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I assumed slavery was outlawed.
posted by Malice at 8:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [41 favorites]


Soon we will all be living in cardboard boxes, with wifi and netbooks, furiously trying underbid one another for a cup of rice.
posted by LarryC at 8:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [91 favorites]


"People who work for free are far hungrier..."

And best of all they stay that way!
posted by LarryC at 8:31 PM on March 26, 2011 [53 favorites]


People with no experience will outperform?
posted by tremspeed at 8:31 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Love the subtitle:

The challenges of hiring and managing modern day serfs
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on March 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Free market whatever, but stuff like this makes me sick.
posted by rebent at 8:32 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Call me when she's doing big international hotels like Kelly Wearstler. I think this is bushwa from the bush leagues. Web-based interior design? send me a photo of your living room, and I'll tell that SW ivoire is the answer to your prayers.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:36 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Another single-link FPP? WTF.

She's able to make this work because she launched on the cusp of a recession. Most entrepreneurs do not think this way, and would rather attract good staff to a new business by paying them properly or at least offering them equity. In normal times she wouldn't be able to retain enough staff but would have to raise some capital instead like any other business does.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:40 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's a logical way to protect the upper class - good jobs only available to those who can afford to work the first few years of their careers gratis. One can't help but wonder whether Kelly Fallis would have been able to afford to work free when she started out . . . but I'll bet the answer is yes, only the born-rich would be oblivious enough to publicly champion this sort of this.
posted by chaff at 8:40 PM on March 26, 2011 [56 favorites]


She is apparently blissfully ignorant of wage and hour laws. For now.
posted by The World Famous at 8:40 PM on March 26, 2011 [26 favorites]


They do realize that hiring random interns to run your business for free is generally illegal in the US, right?

You can't just have people work for free because you call them "interns." Wage and hour laws still apply unless you're actually providing a legitimate educational experience. I hope she's shut down in a hurry.
posted by zachlipton at 8:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [89 favorites]


It's an L-shaped recession, angibrowl. Or at least a lot of people hope and are betting that way.
posted by kipmanley at 8:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Her web site seems incomplete, for what it's worth.

Remote Stylist

Test1
Test2
Coming Soon
Test3
Coming Soon
Test4
Coming Soon
Test5
Coming Soon
Test1
Test2
Coming Soon
...

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:43 PM on March 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


Why oh why won't someone put the fear of the DOJ into these people?
posted by Marty Marx at 8:43 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you use an intern, you are obligated to teach them stuff. And, when their father calls to ask how they're doing, you paint them in their best light.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:45 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm currently working an unpaid internship. Except that it's more like an awesomeship. It's a science internship in a laboratory where I'm learning extremely valuable skills that will make applying to PhD programs cake. That's what an internship is supposed to be like.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:45 PM on March 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yet another example of America eating its young.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:47 PM on March 26, 2011 [19 favorites]


I was at a job fair a few weeks ago. Though, there were no jobs offered. I spoke to 16 organizations and not one had a job opening. However, they all had multiple unpaid internship openings. When I told them I had graduated seven years ago and five years professional experience three of them told me I could enroll in college and earn internship credits.

Yup, this is worse than working for free. They wanted me to pay $700 for the privilege of working without compensation.

When the revolution comes...
posted by munchingzombie at 8:48 PM on March 26, 2011 [95 favorites]


You're still being ripped off, Made of Star Stuff. I'm sorry, but you are.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:48 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Her web site looks like someone vomited every jquery UI animation onto it.

This is like the even worse cousin of "You say it'll be $500?! I'll just get a college kid I know to do it. He said he could do it for $50."
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:49 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Another issue here (and there are many, obviously) is that it's callously un-meritocratic, in that those who can afford to work for free to get the necessary experience are those who already have the funds available to survive without pay.
posted by ropeladder at 8:50 PM on March 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


chaff is exactly right. This IS the wave of the future. This is just another battle front in the class war. (It's not just beginning. It's been going on for a while, the recession just showed everyone exactly where the battle lines were drawn.) Why stop with 50K a year college education when you can tack on an additional 3-5 years of unpaid labor as entry fee to a well-off life? It's a ticket to ride and they WANT it to keep getting further and further out of reach. Meanwhile, people who have to work for a living in college, let alone the years afterward, get screwed a little more with every year that passes.
posted by crackingdes at 8:50 PM on March 26, 2011 [22 favorites]


You're still being ripped off, Made of Star Stuff. I'm sorry, but you are.

Most people do not pursue Ph.D. degrees for money, from my limited experience.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:51 PM on March 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


How Dumb Am I? (click CC for english translation)
posted by empath at 8:52 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Slap*Happy: I appreciate what you're saying, and I'm very, *very* leery of unpaid internships generally. But I promise, this one is completely worthwhile. Publications are forthcoming; I could have converted it to six hours of graduate credit but didn't need the credit hours. I planned well ahead in order to take this internship, because it's at the premier marine biological laboratory in the United States.

That's not to say that internships shouldn't be paid. Internships should be paid. But -- maybe academic internships are a little bit different, especially when money is as good as course credit, and vice versa.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:54 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow... at least they pay me a paltry stipend a month in addition to covering tuition. Heres a tip, if youre in a nonacademic market and someone says work for free, LAUGH IN THEIR FACE and find ANOTHER MARKET.
posted by strixus at 8:54 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Kelly grew up in Durham, ON (population 2500) and by the time she left home to wrap up her last year of high school at Neuchatel Junior College in the swiss alps, the terms traveller and networker both had new meaning.

Oh come on.
posted by jokeefe at 8:56 PM on March 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think I'm lucky that I never went to college now, tbh.
posted by empath at 8:57 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, yeah. I'm saving $7,000 by doing this unpaid, instead of paying for the course credit. I mean, if it weren't an unpaid internship, I would be taking a class.

It's entirely different than actually doing the boring drudgery of a day to day corporate job. For example, nobody cares when I come in. I have no "deliverables."
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:58 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is this necessarily a bad thing? If someone wants to work for free, why should they be barred from doing so?

I've know a few people who worked for free. It generally turned out quite good for them. They didn't exactly call it working for free. Sometimes they called it volunteering. These were generally viewed as opportunities to get a foot in the door for something more meaningful. This isn't a judgment on the wisdom of doing such a thing. Clearly, it can be inequitable. The onus is on the intern to exercise good judgment against being abused. But as long as one can walk away, I don't see much problem.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:58 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


From the article: "Believe it or not, the competition for some unpaid gigs can grow intense. John Lovejoy, managing director of multimedia fundraising company Nomadic Nation, received 300 responses for an editor position and 700 cameraman applications after only one week of advertising a project to drive from Germany to Cambodia in plastic cars. Not only were the positions unpaid, but successful candidates had to pay their own expenses. One editor and two cameramen ended up quitting before the end of the trek due to rough conditions and 16-hour workdays. In retrospect, Lovejoy says, "I would screen a little bit better and make sure they understood that this wasn't a vacation."

In retrospect, I say, John Lovejoy is reasonably lucky to have avoided prosecution and/or a massive lawsuit when this went wrong. Actually, when you send a bunch of folks out on a trip where they are responsible for their own expenses, it is called a vacation and you're an incompetent travel agent with an agenda, not an employer. Who the heck would send three folks to drive across Europe and Asia in bloody plastic cars at their own expense and not expect it to end badly? Just look at a map: you get to drive across Iran and Pakistan or Kazakhstan and a massive chunk of Western China. This is the kind of trip that goes wrong even with serious planning by folks who regularly do long distance roadtrips, let alone a bunch of random marketers working for free. The amount of liability he took on by sending them out there is massive in comparison to the salaries he ought to have been paying.
posted by zachlipton at 8:59 PM on March 26, 2011 [30 favorites]


Holy shit, Neuchatel Junior College charges $50,000 US a year for tuition.

She's from wealth-- a lot of wealth-- and knows nothing, apparently.
posted by jokeefe at 9:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [21 favorites]


Is this necessarily a bad thing? If someone wants to work for free, why should they be barred from doing so?

For limited times and limited purposes, its fine. When employers are just abusing desperate people, it's immoral and illegal.
posted by empath at 9:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [18 favorites]


Unpaid internship as your workforce is not a good business model.
posted by jokeefe at 9:02 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this necessarily a bad thing? If someone wants to work for free, why should they be barred from doing so?

For the same reason child labor is outlawed on a federal level rather than a state level. To prevent a race to the bottom (or at least to raise that bottom to a minimum wage). That holds no matter how many 12-year-olds want to get a foot in the door at the coal mines.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:02 PM on March 26, 2011 [100 favorites]


If you are being compensated $7000, you are not working for free. It's around half a year's salary for someone working minimum wage.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:03 PM on March 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


What's funny is that someone slightly malicious could pose as an unpaid "intern," place backdoors in the code that they write, leave at the end of their internship, and harvest credit cards and other sensitive information... which unpaid intern is she relying upon to do security audits?
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:03 PM on March 26, 2011 [23 favorites]


If someone wants to work for free, why should they be barred from doing so?

Serfs don't enter into economic contracts by their own volition.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:05 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


People should be barred from working for free because it causes a race to the bottom situation. This is also why minimum wage is good, and countries like France have mandatory vacation. Because when times are bad, people will work for anything they can get, or even nothing, and it is better for all of us in society if there are rules to prevent that kind of exploitation.
posted by Nothing at 9:06 PM on March 26, 2011 [97 favorites]


"Ten years from now, this is going to be the norm"

In Wisconsin.
posted by spasm at 9:08 PM on March 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


Just wanted to second what zachlipton said. The article in fact has a lengthy section pointing out just how illegal most of this sort of hiring actually is.
Unfortunately for many employers hoping to use unpaid labor to advance their business goals, there are strict federal and state rules that workers must be paid the minimum wage and paid for overtime, and must abide by other provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which applies to about 135 million people working for 7.3 million employers. ...

"We don't have a system in this country where you can work for free," says Jay A. Zweig, a partner who works in employment law at Bryan Cave in Phoenix. "The exceptions are very, very rare, and generally there are state laws that would fill in to say that, unless you meet specific criteria, you're going to get in trouble with the government." ...

The Labor Department has a strict six-point test to determine whether someone is an intern or trainee and separate guidelines for independent contractors. An internship must primarily benefit the intern, who must work under close supervision and not displace existing staff.
I do like how Fortune starts this section off with the word "unfortuntely." Oh yes, how unfortunate that companies can't hire slaves!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:08 PM on March 26, 2011 [70 favorites]


this is what happens when you have a good many people in responsible positions that don't give a fuck about anyone else but themselves
posted by pyramid termite at 9:10 PM on March 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm continually surprised by the multitude of excuses people come up with to justify barring others from doing what they want with their own lives. Also by the sense of entitlement on the part of people who really genuinely believe that they shouldn't have to compete with people who will do the same work for less.

(wait, this is Metafilter - none of that should be surprising)
posted by ripley_ at 9:10 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


They're not even slaves. Slaves got food and housing.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:10 PM on March 26, 2011 [21 favorites]


I'm continually surprised by the multitude of excuses people come up with to justify barring others from doing what they want with their own lives. Also by the sense of entitlement on the part of people who really genuinely believe that they shouldn't have to compete with people who will do the same work for less.

It amazes me how little people know the history of labor in this country and why we have the labor laws that we do.
posted by empath at 9:13 PM on March 26, 2011 [175 favorites]


When employers are just abusing desperate people, it's immoral and illegal.

Well, yeah. The question is whether the intern has enough sense to say, "Fuck you", and move on.

For the same reason child labor is outlawed on a federal level rather than a state level. To prevent a race to the bottom

I think a better reason to eliminate child labor is not because of a race to the bottom, but because children are among the least powerful group of people in society, subject to the desires and abuses of their employers and guardians, with no ability to object.

Unless interns are children, I don't think the argument applies.

The race to the bottom argument is a weak one here. How many of us would work for free? Interns do so voluntarily, with the feeling that they are being compensated in ways other than financially.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:14 PM on March 26, 2011


I do like how Fortune starts this section off with the word "unfortuntely." Oh yes, how unfortunate that companies can't hire slaves!

Well, it does say "Unfortunately for many employers hoping to use unpaid labor." Not too different from the sentence "Unfortunately for the Nazis, the the Allies had cracked the Enigma code" or "Unfortunately for the invading aliens, humans carry deadly plagues."
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:14 PM on March 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


"Those who join Remote Stylist, whether they are students or out-of-work 20- or 30-somethings, must agree to a four-month run and sign a hiring contract. She asks interns to commit 30 hours a week; she has been burned in the past by people who were trying to juggle a paid job with their commitment to Remote Stylist."

I'm curious; everything I've read about contract law suggests both parties must be given "consideration". Aka both parties must receive something of value. What thing of value could that contract possibly be offering interns if not money?
posted by pwnguin at 9:16 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm continually surprised by the multitude of excuses people come up with to justify barring others from doing what they want with their own lives.

but they're not just doing it with their own lives - they're doing it with the lives of everyone who needs a job to earn a living with

Also by the sense of entitlement on the part of people who really genuinely believe that they shouldn't have to compete with people who will do the same work for less.

yes, it's just outrageous that people think they should get PAID for the work they do, isn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:16 PM on March 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


If the unpaid interns mutiny its not like she can give them full credit. Of course, she's not going to flunk them either... They'll all just get an incomplete.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:16 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is this necessarily a bad thing? If someone wants to work for free, why should they be barred from doing so?

You can volunteer at a non-profit as much as you want. The problem is that we have minimum wage laws in the US and the vast majority of countries (not always enforced, but that's a different issue). There's a lot of academic debate about whether the minimum wage makes sense and how it changes the labor market, but as long as we have a minimum wage, you make a mockery out of the law by allowing people to work for free, because then the minimum wage is always $0.

Here's what tends to happen when you let people work for free: John walks into the factory and is told that he'll get an unpaid "trial position" for six weeks, after which he'll be considered for employment. Also, he needs to be trained for two weeks first, and that training will cost $400/week, to be deducted from his paychecks if he ever gets paid. After eight weeks are up, John is unceremoniously fired for alleged poor performance and threatened with violence if he complains because he still owes $800 in debt for his "training." Or he's told that his employer knows he's an illegal immigrant, but they won't call the feds if he stays for another month. Or they just tell him that they'll pay him now, but his paychecks always work out to basically nothing by the time his "training" debt and other made up expenses are deducted.

This kind of crap happens all over the world and it's why we have wage and hour laws in the first place. It should be no less acceptable when it happens to white twentysomethings that we call "interns" than when it happens to immigrants that we call "sweatshop workers." Sure the interns are a lot less likely to lose their fingers inside a dangerous machine or to get beaten for not making enough t-shirts, but it's still a coercive practice that we've banned after a long history of abuses.
posted by zachlipton at 9:17 PM on March 26, 2011 [166 favorites]


Well, yeah. The question is whether the intern has enough sense to say, "Fuck you", and move on.

No, the question is whether there are a bunch of people desperate enough to take their place if they do. And in this economy, there might be.

They're not even slaves. Slaves got food and housing.

This is the obvious next step. You feed them meals in the company cafeteria, let them sleep in a company dorm. Maybe you give them some credits to order stuff online from the company store.

In an unregulated labor market, you are either an owner or a slave. There is no in between, except for certain skilled labor markets, which is going to be a small percentage of the marketplace.
posted by empath at 9:18 PM on March 26, 2011 [20 favorites]


I don't think her company has done enough business to really work any unpaid workers to death. democratic Underground is all outraged as well, which makes me wonder about the response to the story. She had a staging business, morphed it into the online decorating site, and seems to do a lot of promotion. I tend to think her unpaid designers are people who don't have any design training but would like to try.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:22 PM on March 26, 2011


And what do the interns get? References and experience - things that are invaluable when you can't find employment and your only other option is a crappy job that pays minimum wage making you still have to live at home...

I'll go a couple of steps further. For a few business segments, they're now expecting you to get your professional certifications on your own - with no contextual experience. So these kids are juggling, an unpaid intern, a $10K professional certification course load, and they have very little understanding of how the concepts they are learning are actually applied because they have no contextual reference points. This last part I know because I've sat through a few seminars on my company's dime while about 10-20% of the class are fresh graduates who either haven't found employment or have been told that they have to do this to progress in their unpaid internship.

I'd hate to be a grad right now - because they're getting screwed further and further into debt. I'd also hate to loose my job.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:24 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm continually surprised by the multitude of excuses people come up with to justify barring others from doing what they want with their own lives. Also by the sense of entitlement on the part of people who really genuinely believe that they shouldn't have to compete with people who will do the same work for less.

I would like to go on the record as disagreeing with this; I come from a family with a lot of financial privilege (super WASPy New Englanders) and, given the opportunity, I could have had unpaid internships &c. in high school and college. Although I am fortunate enough to have this option, I also recognize that I only have this option because I come from a family with, frankly, a fair amount of money (at this point I don't have any money, but my grandparents do) and so I would have been able to take unpaid internships in order to get better jobs later. This is completely unfair because there are people who don't have this luxury; they need to work over summers and so, while they make more money over the summer, they don't have impressive unpaid internships on their resumes which can hurt them as they look for jobs later and this is totally ridiculous and unfair. Why should I be rewarded for working for free because my family can pay for me to do that while other people -- including many of my close friends -- have "lesser" experiences on their resume because they needed to support themselves? Frankly, it's fucking bullshit and the idea of unpaid internships is something that REALLY pisses me off because it's one of the most glaring and ridiculous ways in which the people with money ensure that their children will also be in the upper class and that no one else will have that chance. In some ways, it's worse than that because it's so insidious; my grandfather in absolutely no way would ever intend that, he's a good man within his fairly limited experience and helps support education for children with fewer options than his own family has had. He is not at all conscious of this form of oppression and, while I love him and I think he genuinely does his best, he is absolutely, completely blind to the fact that not everyone can afford an unpaid internship, even for a year.

That got long and ranty, but my actual point is this; as someone who "comes from money" and has been in the fortunate position of having the choice to take an unpaid internship, I think that they are appalling because they are a way to differentiate those who can afford to work for free because their families have money from those who can't.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [122 favorites]


Yippie-ti-yi-yo, get along, little interns. It's your misfortune and none of my own.
posted by doubtfulpalace at 9:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


No, the question is whether there are a bunch of people desperate enough to take their place if they do. And in this economy, there might be.

Only if they see a benefit to doing so. Interns don't work for free. They get compensated in experience and networking. Do people really work without any compensation at all? That seems pretty hard to believe. If you're desperate enough, you don't work for free. You work a job that pays less than what you want.

This seems different from scams where someone is promised a paying job after a period of training, and is then stiffed. Some internships are viewed as trial employment. But if something is actually promised and not delivered, that is a different situation.

I think that they are appalling because they are a way to differentiate those who can afford to work for free because their families have money from those who can't.

May be appalling, but that's kind of the nature of internships. These tend to be job training of white collar, upper class persons rather than ditch diggers.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:30 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


THIRTY HOURS a week for an unpaid internship?

Also the fact that this suspiciously fluffy piece is in FORTUNE magazine is telling.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:31 PM on March 26, 2011


This is further evidence that there should be a session at the start of college where a drill sergeant slaps you across the face, hard, and screams in your face. You want to do WHAT with your life? *slap* fucking MARKETING *slap* Do you know that less than ONE PERCENT of people can pay the RENT doing that *punch to the gut* Oh yeah, your backup plan is being a FUCKING MOVIE DIRECTOR? Do you have a few million to invest in your first movie? * kick in the shins * And then we would retreat, bruised and bloodied, to change our majors to accounting or computer science.
posted by miyabo at 9:32 PM on March 26, 2011 [28 favorites]


Do people really work without any compensation at all? That seems pretty hard to believe.

Yes, of course, if they believe it will eventually lead them to a real job.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:33 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not that I could have used tough love at age 18 or anything.
posted by miyabo at 9:33 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also by the sense of entitlement on the part of people who really genuinely believe that they shouldn't have to compete with people who will do the same work for less.

Disagreement isn't the same as being blinded by entitlement. There are a lot of different ways a country can organize its economy. "Libertarian paradise" is one of them, but not the only one. Countries with minimum wage laws have made the judgment that they are better off forcing out businesses that require unpaid labor to turn a profit. There are other possible arrangements, of course. For example, we might allow unpaid labor, but also provide a guaranteed basic income.

We could have very interesting discussions about which would be the most just, or the most effective at reducing human misery, or the most profitable in aggregate, but the fact that not everyone begins the discussion agreeing with you isn't any sort of evidence of entitlement.

Well, not on their part, at least.

Unless interns are children, I don't think the argument applies.

The race to the bottom argument is a weak one here. How many of us would work for free? Interns do so voluntarily, with the feeling that they are being compensated in ways other than financially.


The concern is that some businesses will use unpaid labor and drive out businesses that do not use unpaid labor, driving down the standard of living for everyone. Take the construction business, for example. Many contractors say that they don't want to pay undocumented workers below minimum wage, but that all of their competitors do, so they must in order to stay in business. Even if every contractor said this and meant it, you'd still have a collective action problem. Passing wage and hour laws that require everyone to meet a minimum wage is one way of solving it.
posted by Marty Marx at 9:33 PM on March 26, 2011 [26 favorites]


May be appalling, but that's kind of the nature of internships. These tend to be job training of white collar, upper class persons rather than ditch diggers.

That's sort of my point; it's not that they're training white collar, upper class persons, it's that they only people eligible to receive this training are people who can afford it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:34 PM on March 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


that's kind of the nature of internships. These tend to be job training of white collar, upper class persons rather than ditch diggers.

So, uh, you're saying these positions should be hereditary?
posted by Serf at 9:34 PM on March 26, 2011 [19 favorites]


I'm always amazed by this stuff. We pay interns real wages, at least twenty per hour. We want them to come back and work full time eventually.
posted by octothorpe at 9:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


This seems different from scams where someone is promised a paying job after a period of training, and is then stiffed. Some internships are viewed as trial employment. But if something is actually promised and not delivered, that is a different situation.

If all you promise is "experience and networking," how do you tell whether the intern got stiffed? Federal law requires that employees get paid in actual money, not vague promises of a good reference and skills learned, because there's no way to enforce the laws against scammers and sweatshops when every scammer will just call the job an "internship? You don't have the legal right to receive a promise as compensation for your employment, you have the legal right to receive an actual minimum amount of currency, promptly paid.
posted by zachlipton at 9:37 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


that's kind of the nature of internships. These tend to be job training of white collar, upper class persons rather than ditch diggers.

So, uh, you're saying these positions should be hereditary?
posted by Serf at 9:34 PM on March 26 [+] [!]


[Soon to be] eponysterical?
posted by crackingdes at 9:37 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Obviously none if the people whining about this has ever started their own business. I work for free all the time but I call this "business development." Yeah I suck as a boss and quite often consider quitting these unfair labor practices, but for some strange reason - long term potential benefit - I soldier on.

No one owes you anything in this world. Wake up and smell the machine oil.
posted by three blind mice at 9:37 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]



You can volunteer at a non-profit as much as you want.


Thinking about this, if unpaid internship is wrong, why is volunteering at a non-profit not wrong? The distinction of non-profit vs for-profit seems a moral loophole for those who take this position.


Yes, of course, if they believe it will eventually lead them to a real job.


That would count as compensation.


So, uh, you're saying these positions should be hereditary?


Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. *rolleyes*

Actually, what I'm saying is, "duh". If you're jumping into the white collar world, you kinda gotta be prepared to jump through the hoops of the white collar world.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:38 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


none if the people whining about this has ever started their own business. I work for free all the time

I think you meant to say "work for a share of the profits." This isn't the same thing as working for free, or for experience/exposure/education/etc.
posted by weston at 9:42 PM on March 26, 2011 [48 favorites]


This kind of thing is OK when its pre-entry level, limited, and their are verifiable benefits.

When the system at large ignores those conditions en masse in the shadowy corners of various industries, its time to bring back The Eye Which Sleepeth Not.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2011


jokeefe:Unpaid internship as your workforce is not a good business model.

In any industry with the "cool factor" like publishing, music, fashion, etc, this is the norm. I worked an internship for my last semester of college at a record label. Come to think of it, I was the only one getting college credit. All the others were trying to get their band heard or otherwise "get their foot in the door", working for schwag or occasional tickets. The guy who supervised me worked for free for nearly a year just to get a job in the mailroom.

Forget business model, these places are run off the backs of kids who think that this is "paying your dues" and will land them a real job Any Day Now.
posted by dr_dank at 9:44 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some of the discussion here kind of reminds me of this comment.
posted by Flunkie at 9:47 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


The fact that this post right here came up just after this one is one of those whaddayacallit fortewitous circumstances.
posted by kipmanley at 9:49 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously none if the people whining about this has ever started their own business. I work for free all the time but I call this "business development." Yeah I suck as a boss and quite often consider quitting these unfair labor practices, but for some strange reason - long term potential benefit - I soldier on. No one owes you anything in this world. Wake up and smell the machine oil.

But the distinction there is that you own the business. Every minute you spend on business development is time spent to benefit an asset that you own, and you do so in the hope that your business will provide you with greater returns in the future. Every minute an intern spends working for free is time spent benefiting someone else's business, and the intern has no stake in the profits if the business is successful.

That would count as compensation.

As a society, we have decided that employees cannot be compensated exclusively in promises, because that practice leads to too much abuse and coercion. Federal law is very clear on what is and what isn't compensation, and the promise of a good reference if everything works out doesn't count.

Thinking about this, if unpaid internship is wrong, why is volunteering at a non-profit not wrong? The distinction of non-profit vs for-profit seems a moral loophole for those who take this position.

It's an imperfect distinction to be sure, but the point is supposed to be that non-profits are public benefit organizations formed to aid a charitable or socially beneficial cause where all funds raised or earned by the organization go to further its exempt purpose and not for the private betterment of owners. There are some dubious non-profits out there and there are for-profit companies that do a fair bit of good, but overall the system works and a non-profit can lose its status if it is abused. The basic idea is that volunteering for a non-profit is contributing to benefit society at large, while working for free at a for-profit is doing work to benefit the owner of that company. Volunteering for society = charity; working for a business = employment.
posted by zachlipton at 9:53 PM on March 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


If you're jumping into the white collar world, you kinda gotta be prepared to jump through the hoops of the white collar world.

There's a difference between "internships are training for white-collar work" and "internships are training for people who come from well-off families". Or there should be. As I read her comment, Mrs. Pterodactyl was objecting to the second of these, not the first.
posted by Serf at 9:54 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


This kind of thing strikes me as another "hiding the true cost" tactics that are becoming far too common and kinda reminds me of a somewhat similar situation I was in a couple years ago. It's the rationale behind the ratcheting of wages downward ("Why pay $X when we can get it for free?"), and it also degrades overall quality of the work, as tremspeed points out. In short, regardless of the benefits these internships may afford their recipients, the net effect is that they give those employers ammunition to devalue the labor involved.
posted by Rykey at 9:55 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]




There's a difference between "internships are training for white-collar work" and "internships are training for people who come from well-off families". Or there should be. As I read her comment, Mrs. Pterodactyl was objecting to the second of these, not the first.

Yeah, that's pretty much it; I wouldn't object in principle if everyone could manage to do unpaid internships, but assigning so much value to them when they are only available to a small subset of people is objectionable to me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a science internship in a laboratory where I'm learning extremely valuable skills that will make applying to PhD programs cake.

In my country we call these studentships and we pay you. Seriously, everything you're describing except with a salary (some people use them for course credit too, but they still get the salary). I know that in the US using students for free lab work is common, but it still looks kinda shitty from where I'm sitting.
posted by shelleycat at 10:01 PM on March 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


And why shouldn't children of 4 or 5 work the looms in the textile mills? Their little fingers are so much more dextrous than adults, and their sweet voices are so much more pleasant to listen to as they sing for their suppers!
posted by scody at 10:04 PM on March 26, 2011 [17 favorites]


Meanwhile.
posted by kipmanley at 10:08 PM on March 26, 2011


Well, worse comes to worse, her "interns" will still learn valuable knot-tying and fire lighting skills...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:10 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't tell you how much respect I've lost for friends who talk about opening their own businesses and figure the solution for any labor problem (this is all white-collar stuff) is "we'll just get a bunch of interns."
posted by maxwelton at 10:11 PM on March 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


Obviously none if the people whining about this has ever started their own business. I work for free all the time but I call this "business development." Yeah I suck as a boss and quite often consider quitting these unfair labor practices, but for some strange reason - long term potential benefit - I soldier on.

You've already been raked over the coals for this comment, but if you really believe that you are working for free, you should talk with your accountant. And if you are running a business, you should have an accountant, especially if you think you are working for free. And if you can't afford an accountant, you need to find a more profitable business. You should be accounting for the salary that covers your labor and the other expenses incurred in business development. Aside from making vividly clear that you are not working for free (your business's income is another matter), you may be able to reduce your tax liability. At the very least, you'll have a better understanding of what is going into your business, and what is going out.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:15 PM on March 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


Fuck that shit. You work: you get paid. You don't work: you don't get paid.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:16 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


If all you promise is "experience and networking," how do you tell whether the intern got stiffed?

I can't tell. The intern is the one who can tell if he/she got stiffed, if he/she has enough sense.


As a society, we have decided that employees cannot be compensated exclusively in promises, because that practice leads to too much abuse and coercion. Federal law is very clear on what is and what isn't compensation, and the promise of a good reference if everything works out doesn't count.


I think this depends on the nature of the promise. My employer promises that he will cut me a check for the amount we've agreed upon, after all. That promise was my exclusive compensation until payday. Sometimes, internships are much more nebulous when it comes to compensation. You may not see the value of the compensation, but the intern may very well see it clearly. In fact, the intern would be an idiot to accept the internship without seeing the benefit.


It's an imperfect distinction to be sure, but the point is supposed to be that non-profits are public benefit organizations formed to aid a charitable or socially beneficial cause where all funds raised or earned by the organization go to further its exempt purpose and not for the private betterment of owners.


I think it's easy to argue that this doesn't matter. Labor is labor, after all, even if it's full of warm fuzzy feelings with the most noble intentions.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:18 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


They get compensated in experience and networking.

Hohoho!

Actually no, you get told you are getting experience and networking. Mostly you get qualified to do another internship. The idea is that if you work hard you can get an in, but all too often you end up in a sort of twilight zone of unemployability. The reality- a college job board loaded with people asking us fresh young graduates to work for free. Big, national level companies asking for people to come in and do white collar office-y type work. And yes, they expect you to deliver.

I'm scared. I'm one of the lucky ones, without student debt, and I have no clue how I'm going to swing this middle class thing.

I have a friend who has done FIVE internships. She's good enough to get a foot in the door, good enough to get a reference but yet... not good enough to actually get a job. Granted she's trying to break into fashion, but you can do everything right, work your ass off and still get shat on.
posted by Phalene at 10:20 PM on March 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: you can do everything right, work your ass off and still get shat on.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:27 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hi five Phalene, totally shitting bricks with the same anxiety.

On the subject of not breaking into professions, here's one reason courtesy of academia. Said reason also tangentially related to loss of benefits, social security, and working rights (am I the only one starting to see a giant circle in this now...?).
posted by Slackermagee at 10:27 PM on March 26, 2011


Ooops...looks like they're based in Toronto (15 Fort York Blvd.). Unless Fallis is explicitly telling her "interns" that they are there strictly for training, for their own benefit, and will never receive compensation or a future position in her organization, she could be in a bit of trouble.

Normally in Canada, this sort of thing is handled as a "co-op" through an established academic institution.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this depends on the nature of the promise. My employer promises that he will cut me a check for the amount we've agreed upon, after all. That promise was my exclusive compensation until payday. Sometimes, internships are much more nebulous when it comes to compensation. You may not see the value of the compensation, but the intern may very well see it clearly. In fact, the intern would be an idiot to accept the internship without seeing the benefit.

But if your check doesn't show up on payday or that check bounces, you can call the state labor department and your employer gets to explain why he didn't pay you. If he violation is persistent, he can be forced to pay large penalties or even go to jail. If the intern doesn't get whatever the promised benefits are, there's no way to enforce that agreement. In a real job, you still get paid for the work you did up to the minute you get fired, even if you were fired for incompetence. In an internship, your boss can decide to fire you and you don't even get the promised good reference.

In short, a promise to pay you what you're owed on payday is backed by the best efforts of the law and the full faith and credit of your employer. Even if the company goes under, unpaid wages (at least up to a certain amount per employee) are generally given extremely high priority in bankruptcy cases. A promise to compensate an intern in magical future employment pixie dust is backed by nothing whatsoever and there's no resource to the intern if it doesn't work out.

I think it's easy to argue that this doesn't matter. Labor is labor, after all, even if it's full of warm fuzzy feelings with the most noble intentions.

You are attempting to simplify the difference between for-profit and non-profit corporations with a tautology. As I said, its an imperfect system, but there are good reasons for the distinction and those reasons are a fundamental part of the tax code. Think about it this way: if I give money to the Red Cross, it's considered a charitable donation for which I receive a tax deduction and for which the Red Cross doesn't have to pay taxes. If I give money to Bank of America, it's considered revenue, so I don't get a tax deduction for it and the bank has to pay taxes on it as part of its income. We make this distinction all the time, and yet "money is money, after all."
posted by zachlipton at 10:39 PM on March 26, 2011 [21 favorites]


Let me just say that there is no activity anywhere that merits less than minimum wage in exchange for someone's time commitment.

This includes internships, volunteering, and corporate executives with $1 salaries.
posted by chimaera at 10:47 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


My opinion:

If you are making a profit, and you have people working for you who are paid nothing, you are a bad human being. A bad person. You suck.

I know it can happen that you yourself aren't making enough to pay them a living wage. But if they are paid nothing while you are paid something, you suck and I hate you. Got to hell.

I did my internship at a goddamn theater company and you know what? THEY PAID ME. I ran a goddamn theater company on a shoestring for five years and you know what? I paid everyone who worked for me. All the time. Every show.

I was charging for tickets, and they were doing work for the show, and they deserved some of that money. Period. No question. Ever. I considered it a matter of basic respect, professionalism, and acknowledgment that doing otherwise would have been something only an asshole would do.
posted by kyrademon at 10:48 PM on March 26, 2011 [62 favorites]


...

Man, fuck that lady.

I work in an industry (entertainment) that is very fond of unpaid or lowly-paid labor, often in the form of interns. The competition is intense, even for those jobs ("jobs") that pay nothing and have big costs associated with them - L.A. is an expensive place to live, and you basically have to have a car.

Lots of smaller companies pay nothing, don't actually offer college credit, and want to use you to do real work in their horrible startup. Even the big companies that consider themselves too good to use free labor tend to have amazing 10-dollar-an-hour mailroom positions from which to bootstrap your way up to being Les Grossman.

I guess you can look at the people taking these jobs and think snide things about how they could be making better choices, but the reality is that if you're from a family that isn't connected in some way to Hollywood, and your school hasn't helped hook you up, you are not terribly likely to land one of the coveted (yet also crappy) post-intern assistant jobs. So you work for free, or you're probably not going to break in at all.

The kids who can afford to take these jobs are a certain kind of person, from a certain kind of family. Not straight-up rich, necessarily, but never poor. Mostly white. Almost always very young and unencumbered. 22, driving a car Dad bought you, living in an apartment in Westwood with two other kids from their school, nobody writing their own rent check.

Okay. Fine. But then the comedy happens.

Hollywood, for better or worse, tends to be kind of insular and promote from within. So several years later, when those fresh young interns have started to make their way up the ladder, you get handwringing at some of the bigger, more corporate companies. Why isn't there more DIVERSITY? How can we hire some PEOPLE OF COLOR who will bring DIVERSE VOICES to our company? Why don't we have, I don't know, some Black executives who come from poverty in Alabama? How can we find these diverse people? Where are they?!?!?!? And why don't they want to work here?

Sometimes I feel like the entire world is turning into 30 Rock.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [37 favorites]


Money Karma 101: You can't make any real money using pirated software. You can't make any real money using free labor. That's just how it is.
posted by squalor at 11:01 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe the board of directors at Remote Stylist will see the error of their ways and replace Ms. Fallis with an unpaid intern, as well.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:09 PM on March 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Not legal in North America actually.

Unpaid interns are illegal and yet ubiquitous

Internships are only legal in America if the employer is a charity or if the for-profit business offering them is “receiving no benefit” from the intern. In other words, unpaid interns are there to learn, not work for free. The laws are similar in Canada. The Ontario Employment Standards Act says that unless interns are students getting credit for school (or they’re working in an industry not covered by the legislation, like government or charities), the employee must be paid minimum wage. And the rules are pretty much the same coast to coast, says Matthew Cooperwilliams, a labour law professor at the University of British Columbia. Employers must ask themselves whether “the duty could go on either the intern’s desk or the paid person’s desk,” says Cooperwilliams. If the task is the same as what they’d ask a paid worker to do, it’s work that must be paid for.

Her predatory exploitation of desperate workers violates Ontario labor law, and she has openly admitted this. This ignorant dimwit is going to be really sorry she unzipped her self-entitled yap.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [25 favorites]


I haven't read any of the comments yet and do not care.
At what point is it no longer considered unprofessional to slit these bastards throats?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


But if your check doesn't show up on payday or that check bounces, you can call the state labor department and your employer gets to explain why he didn't pay you.

Indeed. If only internship agreements were as up front.

You are attempting to simplify the difference between for-profit and non-profit corporations with a tautology.

I think you may be the one using a tautology to make distinctions that are irrelevant. If you think labor is labor, as many people here seem to do, the notion that volunteering for a non-profit is OK, but volunteering for a for-profit is evil, kinda flies out the window.

I contend that volunteering one's labor is OK as long as it's, well, voluntary. The beneficiary of that labor is irrelevant. If you find such a notion abhorrent, by all means, don't do it.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:27 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Money Karma 101: You can't make any real money using pirated software.

I wish I didn't know of an exception to this rule, but I do. At least they eventually made good (probably as much about as looking good under due diligence audits that precede acquisition as about getting square), but at one place I've worked, for a long time, I'd guess that over 3/4 of the software used was either used well beyond the license grant or flat-out pirated.
posted by weston at 11:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


But the distinction there is that you own the business. Every minute you spend on business development is time spent to benefit an asset that you own, and you do so in the hope that your business will provide you with greater returns in the future. Every minute an intern spends working for free is time spent benefiting someone else's business, and the intern has no stake in the profits if the business is successful.

OK. So you have never owned a business. Let me explain for you how it works.

I am a consultant. My asset is me. Everything I do is in the hope that this asset - i.e., my self - will become more valuable in the future.

How is this any bloody different that the "unpaid intern"? Seriously? The intern hopes to gain some experience, a "foot in the door" to an industry, or something else she perceives as having value.

The problem it seems is that you do not want people to have the right to make a choice of what they do with their own bodies. Slavery is not a choice. Working for free is.
posted by three blind mice at 11:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I contend that volunteering one's labor is OK as long as it's, well, voluntary. The beneficiary of that labor is irrelevant. If you find such a notion abhorrent, by all means, don't do it.
posted by 2N2222


Contend all you want. Luckily, North America labor law, and basic human decency, disagrees.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [36 favorites]


And the downward spiral continues.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:48 PM on March 26, 2011


If you keep them hungry for too long, they might starve to death. People are not dumb, they won't work for free forever.
posted by Carius at 11:48 PM on March 26, 2011


Guys this is America, where you're free to work for free and die of curable diseases. If you don't like freedom, why don't you move to Europe and see how you like the tyranny of government-provided healthcare and a guaranteed decent standard of living.
posted by !Jim at 11:52 PM on March 26, 2011 [68 favorites]


The problem it seems is that you do not want people to have the right to make a choice of what they do with their own bodies. Slavery is not a choice. Working for free is.

The problems are:

(a) reliance on unpaid labor drives wages down generally;
(b) reliance on unpaid labor means that only people who can afford to work for free get experience in the relevant fields;
(c) it's highly duplicitous to cast it as a choice (an unforced choice, anyway). (It's like when Bart tells Lisa that he's going to walk forward kicking out his feet and if she happens to be struck by one, it was her choice to remain in his way.) It's a prerequisite in many fields to spend a period working as unpaid labor, and you can say that you've made your choice in attempting to work in that field in the first place, but you're nicely eliding, when you do so, that the terms on which one has to choose have been set from outside.
(d) mostly this experience is for naught anyway—for some reason or other there are more spots open for people to work for free than there are for people to work for money.

It's not that anyone wants to make it illegal for prospective workers to work for free. It's that people want to make it illegal for employers to make people work for free.

It turns out that an effective means of doing that is preventing people from working for free. Why? Well, think about the rationale in civilized countries for mandatory paternity leave. If paternity leave were optional, then there would be extraordinary pressure never to take it—because if you take it it's a sign that you're not as committed to your company as those who don't take it. So—from the perspective of someone who wants to retain a job at the kind of company where people would make this sort of inference—he doesn't really have a choice about taking paternity leave anyway: he formally has it, but basically he has to not take it. Paradoxically, the existence of a formal choice, by (seemingly) licensing inferences about the mindset of the person making the choice on the basis of the choice, actually results in there being limited practical freedom. The solution is to remove the formal choice: now when men take paternity leave (required by law!) you can't make any inferences about how job-oriented they are. It's out of their hands, see.

Similarly, if, for instance, one were allowed to choose whether one wanted to accept overtime pay or not, there wouldn't really be a choice: of course everyone would feel enormous pressure to say, "don't worry about it—unpaid overtime for me!". And so in a rightly ordered society it would not be down to the individual to make this kind of judgment.

And, similarly, if one were allowed to work for free or for pay, everyone would (at least when they start off—things couldn't really sustain themselves otherwise, plus there'd be no motive for working for free if not for the carrot of eventually working for pay) work for free. Employers would look askance on anyone who wanted pay from the get-go and anyway they'd obviously rather take those who would work for free, especially when that's the norm, precisely because those people are very motivated to prove themselves worthy of the being one of the few, the proud, the earning a paycheck.

It's really a mistake to look at everything on the individual level and say, look, you want to stop this one person from getting his or her foot in the door. There's not very much choice systemically in many fields, and, systemically, it's a real problem that leads to exploitation and immiseration.
posted by kenko at 11:55 PM on March 26, 2011 [65 favorites]


three blind mice, what exactly is this "business development" of which you speak? I'm technically self-employed, and I damn well bill every single hour that I work for somebody else. If I'm doing stuff to develop my own business -- maintaining my own website, attending conferences on my own dime, networking, whatever -- that is not work I'm doing for someone else's benefit, that is professional development that I am doing for me.
posted by twirlip at 11:56 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't tell you how much respect I've lost for friends who talk about opening their own businesses and figure the solution for any labor problem (this is all white-collar stuff) is "we'll just get a bunch of interns."
posted by maxwelton at 1:11 AM on March 27 [1 favorite +] [!]
Be careful with this way of thinking! In my world (engineering and software development), I've had bosses and owners of companies say literally that exact things, but the interns are paid, and generally paid very reasonably ($10/hr in one small firm I worked at in Arizona, and $20-$25/hr at some of the larger firms I did internships at.) Not only that, but the people I worked for always tried to provide a lot of valuable experience, and tended to use their intern pool as their hiring pool as those people graduated from college.

All I'm saying is, don't assume intern==unpaid intern.
posted by !Jim at 11:56 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, with some of the interns we had, they were far more skilled than 90% of the candidates who ever showed up after responding to our job postings.
posted by !Jim at 11:58 PM on March 26, 2011



OK. So you have never owned a business. Let me explain for you how it works.

I am a consultant. My asset is me. Everything I do is in the hope that this asset - i.e., my self - will become more valuable in the future.


That is not how it works.

Usually, people who own businesses establish a separate corporate entity. If you have not, talk to your lawyer or accountant immediately. That entity usually has a number of people on payroll. For very small businesses, that number might be one. The business should be paying everyone on payroll a wage, and accounting for that wage as a liability.

Entirely separate from this, the owner of the business can plow money into the business. She may have earned that money in wages from that very same business, or she may have earned it elsewhere. It doesn't matter because she is a separate entity from the business.

Sure, businesses don't always run a profit, and a business owner who is also the only person on payroll may forgo a paycheck. She still isn't working for free. She's just plowed her entire paycheck back into the business. Her labor is worth something to the company, after all, and the accounting should reflect it in good times and bad. TANSTAAFL.

It might feel like working for free, but it's really just investing money in a business that hasn't been profitable enough long enough to maintain a healthy cashflow.

Business development is entirely different. There, the business spends some of its resources to try and develop new sources of income. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's a business expense, not working for free. You might as well complain that you "worked for free" for everyone who saw your ad in the newspaper but didn't buy your products.
posted by Marty Marx at 12:00 AM on March 27, 2011 [29 favorites]


I contend that volunteering one's labor is OK as long as it's, well, voluntary.

Again, it's only even an issue in the first place because those who control the purse-strings can look at the number of people who want in in a given field and say, "hey, we can make these guys fight each other!". (It's easy in artsy fields because (a) lots of people find them glamorous; (b) they're not very profitable anyway for the most part so it seems (i) superficially excusable and (ii) expedient to be so expoitative; (c) many of the people who find cultural pursuits glamorous come from decently endowed families so the system can last simply in virtue of the fact that entities other than the employers are willing to subsidize the employees.) The choice arises because for systemic reasons (perceived glamour of the field, difficulty getting a job w/o experience (itself a sociopathic boondoggle), whatever) managerial types have learned that they can get individuals among the field of potential employees to, basically, screw each other. (Here one can't help but think of the service the so-called reserve army of the unemployed renders to employers.)

It's not a choice made in a void, atomistically. And the system that encourages it is itself pernicious and should be hemmed in.
posted by kenko at 12:07 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think advertising/creative work in LA is much the same as what thehmsbeagle describes (speaking as a currently minimally-paid intern) except minus the diversity concerns. I found out it took *four years* for the last hire to finally wedge his way into the company after frequent networking, so I'm not really holding my breath for transitioning up the ladder.

That said - working completely for free is for suckers. Even the few trust-fund children I know don't do that, and never have. If the company cannot/will not pay you now, why would they want to do so in the future?
posted by tautological at 12:16 AM on March 27, 2011


I contend that volunteering one's labor is OK as long as it's, well, voluntary. The beneficiary of that labor is irrelevant. If you find such a notion abhorrent, by all means, don't do it.

But the beneficiary does matter all the time in our system. As I said, money to the Red Cross = charity = tax deduction for me and no taxes for them; money to Bank of America = income = no deduction for me and taxes for them. If a local builder goes out and builds a house for a needy family, that's charity, but if the same builder builds that house for a local city councilman, it's usually considered bribery. If a charity spends a million dollars to build a school in Africa, its charity, but if they give the same money to me so I can sit on my couch in my underwear and eat Doritos, its a criminal misuse of funds. If I give money to build a school in the Middle East, its still charity, but if I give it to an al-Qaeda affiliate to build a radical Islamist school, its called supporting terrorism. The beneficiary is a fundamental difference. We have decided that volunteering free labor to a non-profit organization is more socially optimal than doing so for a for-profit company, precisely because of who benefits (society vs the owners of the business), so we allow the former and ban the latter.

The problem it seems is that you do not want people to have the right to make a choice of what they do with their own bodies. Slavery is not a choice. Working for free is.

Yes, and I also think that all pregnant women should be forced to carry their babies to term no matter what the circumstances and that death panels should decide when old folks are too expensive to keep around. </sarcasm> The point is that working for free is a coercive practice that we, as a society, choose to ban in most contexts. We ban all kinds of problematic things all the time for being against public policy because that's an essential function of government. How do you distinguish working for free from slavery? It sounds like a stupid question, but history has told us that it's anything but. Is Sharecropping a form of slavery? What about various forms of debt bondage? The Chukri System in India? A Truck system in which workers are paid in scrip accepted at the company store? It turns out that if you allow free labor, people who want to own slaves make their slavery look like the legal forms of unpaid labor and it's a lot harder to prosecute them.

We've decided to draw the line by banning most forms of unpaid labor, because it makes things really simple. If someone is working for a for-profit entity, their employment isn't in the context of a bona-fide educational experience or other very limited exceptions (family businesses, they're the owner of the business, etc...), and the amount of money earned is less than the number of hours worked times the minimum wage, their employer is breaking the law. It's a whole lot simpler to have this test than for the legal system to pry into the details of every single employment situation to see just how coercive it is, so that's what we do.
posted by zachlipton at 12:17 AM on March 27, 2011 [29 favorites]


Imagine that this were the norm in almost every industry. Just about everyone ends up working an unpaid, let's call it apprenticeship, of roughly equivalent duration no matter the field, before getting offered a paid gig. These apprenticeships (unlike the apprenticeships of yore) are real work—when you get a paid gig there isn't really a difference in kind in the work you're doing. Same sort of stuff as before, basically. There are some exceptions, fields in which it's the norm to start off with a paid job, but, of course, these fields are very competitive and it's hard to land one of these jobs.

Of course, everyone who works an unpaid apprenticeship in field X has made a choice to do so, insofar as they've chosen that field—and have also decided not to live with mom and dad pursuing no kind of career at all.

Now imagine that the duration of these unpaid apprenticeships starts getting longer and longer. Not that there'd be an equal increase in duration per year in every industry, but, in general, it takes longer to get to the point where you might be offered a paid gig, no matter what you're doing.

Working the apprenticeship you have is just as voluntary as it ever was, of course. And so you can still say, hey, you chose to volunteer your labor here. You could, for instance, have volunteered your labor there instead. You also had the choice of trying to get one of the jobs that starts paying right away.

I put it to you that the choices of which you would be speaking in this situation are meaningless.
posted by kenko at 12:18 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


The business should be paying everyone on payroll a wage, and accounting for that wage as a liability.

I am laughing out loud. Payday in Sweden is the 25th of each month. Want know what my salary was this month? Zero.

I account for this by sending my bookkeeper a note: salary for March - zero.

She puts a zero in the column where is says "wages" paid. I don't know what you call a liability of zero, but I don't call it a liability.

Business development is entirely different. There, the business spends some of its resources to try and develop new sources of income. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's a business expense, not working for free. You might as well complain that you "worked for free" for everyone who saw your ad in the newspaper but didn't buy your products.

You are, not surprisingly given your nick, confusing the bricks and mortar industry of Das Kapital with the 21st century "knowledge" economy.

Case in point, last month another small business owner came to me looking for help. She can't pay, but she has some good ideas and so I help her. I don't send any invoice, nothing shows up on the books. I am working for free. The exchange is one of knowledge, not "products."

Why do I do this? Again to increase the value of my business asset - that is me - the value of this asset is based on experience, knowledge, contacts, and other non-tangible things like that.

When these assets increases in value, I do not consider my work uncompensated, but when you look on the balance sheet there is a big fat zero in the column for that "client."

Same with the unpaid intern. She hopes to gain experience, knowledge, and contacts that will increase her the value of her asset. She does not leave these things behind when she leaves the internship, she takes them with her. She has received value - real value in the 21st century - but not one that shows up on a traditional accountant's balance sheet.

Again the problem seems that you (and others who agree with you) do not wish to compete for "jobs" against people who are hungrier than you are, who are willing to work harder than you are, and who are willing to take risks you are not willing (or able) to take. You pass laws making this competition illegal in the hope it will make your life better.

The 20th experiment with Marxism conclusively proved this to be wrong. All you do is make everyone's life worse.

posted by three blind mice at 12:25 AM on March 27, 2011


Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but the future is somebody writing a Chrome plug-in that displays a gigantic red pop-up that says 'Warning: You're about to make a purchase from a slave outfit! Proceed? No / Fuck No' every time somebody visits your half-arsed piece of shit website.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:30 AM on March 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Ahh, three blind mice, living off the fat of the Swedish taxpayer while decrying they slavery of minimum wage laws; what a joke of a human you are.

But I sure hope anyone outraged by this isn't part of the "artists should be happy I steal their music and movies for the valuable exposure" movement.
posted by rodgerd at 1:12 AM on March 27, 2011 [22 favorites]


"So, wait, everyone has to work here for free? Everyone?"

"Yes, but they get to choose what color hat they wear. What's with you liberals always wanting to take away people's choices in hats?"

"Can they buy other things with these hats?"

"Oh, no, but they're very nice hats. And if you can already buy other things, they're nice to have, you know, as hats."

"Are there any other jobs?"

"Nope. You want a red hat or a blue hat?"
posted by klangklangston at 1:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's been like this forever in the architecture field. If you want to work for a 'name' architect, you need to have done one of these unpaid internships. I did some DTP consulting for a well known architect around 20 years ago, and he had a studio filled with Harvard grads, mostly from Japan, building models for him. That kind of work is really expensive when you have to pay for it, so to say he wasn't deriving benefit from it was a joke. I only wish someone would've let me know about this system before I'd wasted 5 years getting my degree.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:39 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


!Jim, thanks for the insight, but trust me these people were thinking "free."
posted by maxwelton at 2:27 AM on March 27, 2011


!Jim: "Also, with some of the interns we had, they were far more skilled than 90% of the candidates who ever showed up after responding to our job postings."

But you couldn't hire the interns because they wanted higher pay than the candidates. I think I see the issue.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:55 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


At what point is it no longer considered unprofessional to slit these bastards throats?

Someday a real rain will come. Soon.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back in the Dark Ages, as we now call them, people worked for free while learning a trade. It was called apprenticeship. But there are differences between that and what Remote Stylist and their ilk are up to. Apprentices weren't paid, but the got a bed and fed. And when they got good enough, they became journeymen. And the wise master would want to keep his journeymen. Some masters abused their apprentices, but they got bad reps, and few fathers would send their sons to them.

These greedheads are just churning free labor, and they are following a system worse than feudalism. And they don't get bad reps, they get praise and sympathy from the likes of Fortune magazine.
posted by tommyD at 4:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Back in the Dark Ages, as we now call them, people worked for free while learning a trade. It was called apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships still exist. They're a cornerstone of any well-run skilled trade union (like electricians, masons, etc.) The point where things truly fell apart is when companies stopped training people on-the-job. Used to be, if you needed people to know how to perform company-specific tasks, you hired people with general, associated skills and then trained them to perform the specific stuff.

Today, though, businesses never train. They expect schools to be spitting-out drones with exactly the skillsets they need, no matter how specific or arcane. It's another example of their refusal to act as a member of the community from which they profit. The ocean of unemployed only serves to ensconce this attitude as SOP.

The entire reason free workers would work harder is because there is probably a tiny, dried carrot of a promise of possible paid employment being dangled over their heads by HR. HR, of course, knowing full-well no such promise actually exists.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:21 AM on March 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


And they don't get bad reps, they get praise and sympathy from the likes of Fortune magazine.

Some may get ratted out to the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Just sayin'.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I, for one, do not welcome our new oligarchic overlords.
posted by wadefranklin at 5:25 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Sentences like these are why she should have hired a professional copywriter, not just an intern:

"Kelly grew up in Durham, ON (population 2500) and by the time she left home to wrap up her last year of high school at Neuchatel Junior College in the swiss alps, the terms traveller and networker both had new meaning."

Because that sounds to me like she was an out-call only hooker.
posted by HopperFan at 5:58 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Today, though, businesses never train. They expect schools to be spitting-out drones with exactly the skillsets they need, no matter how specific or arcane. It's another example of their refusal to act as a member of the community from which they profit. The ocean of unemployed only serves to ensconce this attitude as SOP.

And, of course, students need to pay their own way while they learn these necessary skills, and pay tuition and all associated costs. Which is, oddly, not seen as 'interning'.

The circle is complete when companies shut down their independent research facilities and instead demand that the universities perform their research for them.
posted by jrochest at 6:09 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I hope she puts "unpaid" interns in charge of accounting, too!
posted by Mister_A at 6:13 AM on March 27, 2011


I took an unpaid internship before my senior year of college. Let me make something clear - it is the only reason that I am now employed full time. I could afford to do it because I had come from a financially stable family.

Looking back, I never thought about how profoundly unfair it was that this internship was really reserved for kids who came from well-off enough enough to stick it out. I was just so relieved to have found a place to get experience and to be able to put a prestigious company on my resume. So were the other interns.

Ideally, either every single college student would have the same opportunity I did, or stingy ass companies would pay their fucking interns a living wage like decent human beings. A quicker solution to this unleveled playing field would probably be the latter.
posted by windbox at 6:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Case in point, last month another small business owner came to me looking for help. She can't pay, but she has some good ideas and so I help her. I don't send any invoice, nothing shows up on the books. I am working for free. The exchange is one of knowledge, not "products."

I think I've figured out why your salary is zero.
posted by verb at 6:30 AM on March 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


> Another single-link FPP? WTF.

Another ignorant complaint about " single-link FPPs"? WTF indeed. Listen up: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SINGLE-LINK POSTS. They were once, and should by rights be, the norm. The ideal of a MeFi post is "Oh, cool, look at this amazing thing I found on the internet! I must share it with my fellow MeFites!" Check to make sure it's not a double, post it with an enticing description (or not, if you're the let-'em-guess type), and you're done. There is no requirement to provide "context" or "background" or whateverthefuck, and 99% of the time it's unnecessary and annoying. And MeFi is not an online university—I'm sick to death of these "I think I'll google up fifty links on this subject I've just gotten interested in and dump 'em on the public at large."

If you personally don't like posts with only one link for whatever perverse psychological reason, you know what the procedure is? Ignore them. That's right: take a look, say "Only one link? Ah well, not for me," and move on. You know what the wrong procedure is? Take a dump in the thread to let everyone know how you feel. Next time, resist the temptation.
posted by languagehat at 6:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [145 favorites]


The exchange is one of knowledge, not "products."
You didn't exchange anything. The transaction was completely one-way. You provided free labor/service/knowledge/whatever, and she profited. What did she provide back to you? A vague promise for paying work down the road once her project get off the ground? Sucker.

You still haven't worked-out that "knowledge economy" is corporate shorthand for "lowest possible labor cost", have you?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 AM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


If this person thinks those interns are actually working for free, she is sadly mistaken.

Those interns are stealing time, computing power, leveraging contacts and office equipment from the moment they are "hired." This is a bad model for business in any sort of capital economy, where the only value a worker has is to exchange their time on this planet for money.

This person is doomed to misunderstand how paid and unpaid labour actually works in such an environment.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:01 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The 20th experiment with Marxism conclusively proved this to be wrong.

Requiring that employers pay employees is Marxism? I guess I'm a Marxist.
posted by snofoam at 7:06 AM on March 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'm a peaceful person, but I really want to stab this person in the face.
posted by The Whelk at 7:07 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another ignorant complaint about " single-link FPPs"?

I'm not going to break out the "ignorant" gun, but this is correct. The wind blows where it will, mods permitting. My suspicion is that we're all better for it.
posted by Wolof at 7:20 AM on March 27, 2011


Way late to the game but:

If your business is benefiting from an individual's labor, you need to compensate them.

This is, basically, the entire notion of being an "employee."

It doesn't matter that someone may need on the job training (everyone does); it doesn't matter that working for free for you will open doors for the intern later (this is part of a quaint little idea called a "career," where a person works one real, paid job until developing the skills, interests, and connections necessary to move to a higher-paying position of more responsibility). Experience is not compensation. And it really doesn't matter that your business couldn't profit or would have to close if you paid your interns. Fix your fucking business or go do something else. Legally and ethically, you shouldn't be running a company whose success is predicated on free labor.

They are contributing positively to your bottom line. Pay them. They are your employees.

It is so mind-bogglingly simple. That this is even mildly controversial -- that people think the opposite position is a defensible one to take in polite company -- reflects a serious problem.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:25 AM on March 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


At the beginning of 2010, I decided to try a career change. It was not because I wanted to make more money - the field I wanted to move into paid quite a bit less - but because it was a field I felt genuinely passionate about. I got an internship (unpaid) and started working there on the understanding (which was spelled out explicitly by the employer) that this internship would in no way lead to a position in my desired field. It was only because I had saved a ton of money at my old job (and worked as a mover on the weekends and my wife had an income) that any of this was possible.

And the only reason i actually did get the position I wanted was because:

1) I made myself indispensable by figuring the position out quickly and staying late, often working much longer hours than the salaried empoyees.

2) working there just long enough as an intern (8 months) to see a staff member quit in my low turnover field.

What they were doing was almost certainly illegal, and considering as a fulltime employee I'm a member of a union, totally unconscionable. I recognize the extraordinary confluence of events that both allowed me to work for nothing and actually get a job in the field, in spite of the assurances that it was all but an impossibility were extremely lucky, and I've seen plenty of interns come and go since then who have not been nearly so lucky. Since I've gone full time, they've started to offer interns a $10 a day "cost of living" stipend, which seems more like a backhanded insult than anything else.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


When my company was in bootstrapping mode and I didn't have cash to pay myself, I recorded the salary that I should've received that month as a liability. When I did eventually get that cash, I paid myself the deferred compensation. I was never working for free.

(I did always pay my contractors, on time, out of my own pocket, and that money was also recorded as a liability, and then paid back eventually.)
posted by nev at 7:35 AM on March 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


"Don't point that gun at him, he's an unpaid intern."
posted by elsietheeel at 7:51 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unpaid labour is a filthy moral outrage. It's nasty, low capitalist exploitation at its most shamelessly evil. We used to recognise this when it was called slavery, and we treated those who perpetrated it with appropriate contempt. This is one of those things that makes us foreigners look at that phrase "Land Of The Free" with suitably raised eyebrows.

Those who try to justify it by saying it's okay for those who can afford it are missing the fundamental moral issue by several country miles, and they are most definitely part of the problem.
posted by Decani at 8:06 AM on March 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


You are, not surprisingly given your nick, confusing the bricks and mortar industry of Das Kapital with the 21st century "knowledge" economy.

Case in point, last month another small business owner came to me looking for help. She can't pay, but she has some good ideas and so I help her. I don't send any invoice, nothing shows up on the books. I am working for free. The exchange is one of knowledge, not "products."


FFS. I own a small business. It is a side project and not a major source of income, but I am, like you a small business owner, so get off your high horse. I'm just trying to give you a rough familiarity with some basic accounting principles.

Your case in point is is called "bartering" and it absolutely should show up on your balance sheet. In the U.S., it generates taxable income. I'm not in a position to know, but I suspect Sweden has similar rules.

Whether you are selling good or selling services, and whether you are investing time or investing money, you need to know what you are putting in and what you are pulling out. If you aren't accounting for your wages, you aren't keeping track of the value of your contribution to your own company. (Putting a zero down does not account for wages unless you didn't do any work). This may or may not have beneficial tax consequences, but you'll at least have a set of books that reflects your actual investment and the real costs of doing business.
posted by Marty Marx at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


three blind mice, if your salary is zero, how do you buy food, medicine, and housing? If your salary is zero and you are not starving and homeless, then I can only assume your basic needs are being met by your awful socialist government or your family. (Maybe you saved a boat-load of money and don't realize that some people's income goes entirely to food, shelter, and necessities.). Being hungry and willing to work hard and take risks don't pay the bills, and not everyone is privileged enough to be able to work for free. Quite frankly, it's offensive and more than a little self-aggrandizing for you to pretend that people who need to be paid a living wage are just too lazy to compete with risk-takers like you.
posted by Mavri at 8:36 AM on March 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


No one owes you anything in this world. Wake up and smell the machine oil.

Have you ever worked at or slaved over a single "machine" in your life? If not, shut the hell up or at least stop using that fucked-up metaphor.

The problem it seems is that you do not want people to have the right to make a choice of what they do with their own bodies.

The problem, it seems, is that you seem not to give a shit about the most basic principles of labor law and exploitation.

I am laughing out loud. Payday in Sweden is the 25th of each month.

I am laughing out loud that you live in fucking SWEDEN, of all places, and are saying any of this bullshit with a straight face.
posted by blucevalo at 8:37 AM on March 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Congratulations, you've discovered slavery. You're a two-faced waste of skin. Working for free may be a motivator, but you're lining your pockets. What would your response be to you working for free? I thought so.

Fuck you. I hope your workers beat you with your stick - and find painfully creative ways to dispose of your carrot, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:38 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


They could shove it up her bunghole, for example.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:43 AM on March 27, 2011


The truly fucked-up thing about this line of reasoning is that it hurts everybody. (I'm not going to link to cites, but google "rise in unpaid internships" and you'll see this has been ramping up for a while.)

It's another example of why the middle class has been stagnant and the rich have been consolidating wealth. This does nothing but put downward pressure on wages. Race to the bottom, anyone?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:44 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I get the outrage and all, but take that outrage and go start a company, man. I hate to say it, but fucking kids these days are lazy. It has never been easier to start your own business. The barriers to entry are disappearing before our eyes; the internet allows the layperson the chance to compete head-to-head with companies that have been around for a hundred years.

Yet for all this progress it saddens me to see young people so demoralized they won't even try. Generation Whatever. Take the subject of this article. "Web-based interior design services" really means "anyone could do this shit" design services. What's to stop someone from opening up their own website doing the exact same thing? And to all those decrying the terrible awful no-good non-hiring practices, here's the good part: all you have to do is offer more money and you will win. Because if I'm looking for a job in the interior design field, wouldn't I rather work for money rather than for free? Which means that you, doing the right thing, will actually be more successful in the long run because you'll have a larger pool of candidates (and thus talent) to build your services.

This is just Business 101. Why would anyone want to work for these evil, no-paying bastards, especially when, with just a little extra effort, you could do it yourself and get all the rewards. "Doctor, it hurts when I do this!" Then don't do that!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Generation Whatever.

How are you posting from 1993?
posted by The Whelk at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


all you have to do is offer more money and you will win.

This is Business 101? Seriously?
posted by uri at 8:51 AM on March 27, 2011


I hate to say it, but fucking kids these days are lazy.

and getting people to work for you for nothing so you don't have to do it yourself, or pay someone to do it, isn't lazy?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:52 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did some DTP consulting for a well known architect around 20 years ago, and he had a studio filled with Harvard grads, mostly from Japan, building models for him.

I really don't understand why, in industries where this is the norm, you don't have the exploited interns calling lawyers or the DOJ or whoever down on the heads of their bosses. I guess for fear that they'll be unhireable in the future? Or because they've internalized that that's just how it works?
posted by kenko at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Logically it shouldn't be the interns complaining, but the competing companies that pay fair wages. They have everything to gain from stopping these practices.
posted by nev at 8:56 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The main thing I've noticed about any office I've worked at where they think they maximize profitability by paying employees shit is that most of the office supplies tend to disappear at a much faster rate.

No, that's not a one-liner or anything. I work at a temp job right now and I'm positive they specifically put sub-industrial-grade toilet paper in the bathrooms just to make it not worth stealing. We don't even get free coffee.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:59 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Having started a (sole proprietorship) web development company back in 1997, I worked for free in an effort to build my portfolio and my client base, or so I thought.

My experience has shown me time and again when you work for free, others view you as worthless.... so when that company's site that you built with 50 hours of your "free" & "spare" time decides to revamp their site 2 years later, guess what? They PAY someone else to do it... it will NEVER be YOU. Why? You've deemed yourself as having no value, regardless of the quality of work performed.

Additionally, pro bono work can be difficult for the persons receiving the free work...because they are hesitant to ask for what they want because everything they ask for is a "favor" -- or on the opposite end of the scope the "free" work will ride you ass as if they were paying you top dollar, calling early mornings, late nights and weekends... It's a no-win carrot-dangling line of bullshit.

If anyone asks for free work run as fast as you can. It protects your self, your sanity, and and the middle class. Anyone trying to sell me on their dangling carrot can shove it up their ass until their eyes bleed.
posted by klairevoyant at 9:08 AM on March 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


There are some pretty specific federal and often state laws governing unpaid internships. One of the federal changes a few months ago drew a connection between internship programs and colleges, specifically preferring college-based ones to just corporate hiring.

That said, the problem with unpaid internships is that they often displace or limit people trying to get real jobs. I have seen paid contractors--themselves used to push out real employees--get dumped in favor of unpaid interns.

In addition, interns are too often glorified gofers. And many paid internships vanished in the 1990s and 000s. (what are we calling this last decade again?) But the rules generally say that education has to go on for it to be considered and internship instead of what it too often is, free labor.

And when are people like the idiot in this story going to realize that good workers need a salary and in return, they bring their expertise, ability to get to work on time and focus, to the job?
posted by etaoin at 9:13 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your case in point is is called "bartering" and it absolutely should show up on your balance sheet.

Amending this because the original "case in point" was ambiguous. It would be bartering if the client gave you her good ideas instead of giving you money for your services. Helping the client for free because she has good ideas for her own business would be business development, not barter.

(And I vote for calling the last decade "The Naughties.")

posted by Marty Marx at 9:17 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


(I've been calling 'em the Twenty-os for a while, because it sounds vaguely breakfast cereal esque.)
posted by hippybear at 9:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reiteratin':

"Actually, I could venture that unpaid internships are probably far more common in 'creative' fields, in glamour industries, like say: design, advertising, broadcasting. Places where young people are a lot more interested in working than at other jobs. It has been like this for while."
posted by ovvl at 9:25 AM on March 27, 2011


[coming very late to this, but...] What annoys me most about extreme libertarians is not that they're extreme libertarians, but that they so frequently don't seem to realize that they are. It's fine, I guess, to believe that any two people should be able to agree to any working arrangement, even if the long term effect is the severe degradation of society. But at least be honest that that's what you're saying. And if you're benefiting in any way from the ways in which your present-day society is not organised according to extreme-libertarian principles, at least acknowledge that you're a hypocrite.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I worked an unpaid but legitimate internship for four months at the end of college. I also worked a second job on Fri/Sat/Sun to make end meet during those four months. At the time I thought it was worth it, but I distinctly remember thinking that the company should at least half to pay minimum wage or a weekly stipend. All said, I am still grateful for the opportunity it created for me, but thank goodness it wasn't any longer!
posted by furtive at 9:36 AM on March 27, 2011


(And I vote for calling the last decade "The Naughties.")


Some people have been throwing around the Aughts, so I say call em the Awfuls.
posted by The Whelk at 9:42 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I doubt I'd have ever gotten a real job had I not had an unpaid internship in college. Like a few other people mentioned, they hired me for real pay after the school year internship was up (and even put up with my schedule), I worked there for another year afterwards and got tons of experience. So it really worked out for me. But yes, I was spoiled enough that I didn't *have* to have a paying job in college. (Though ironically, I started looking for jobs/internships because I was afraid my parents were going to cut me off halfway through college and I didn't have so much as fast food to put on my resume.) It worked out well because I could actually transition into paying for my own rent after graduation because I was employed. Not a lot of people I know these days that have graduated in a recession can say that now.

This is not to say that this crazy woman at the top is right to have nothing but interns forever, mind you, but there can be a use to working for free. Especially if you have nothing to put on a resume when you graduate and need professional experience and nobody will hire you without anything to recommend you but your grades. Wasn't that the point of internship in the first place?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:42 AM on March 27, 2011


"Web-based interior design services" really means "anyone could do this shit" design services. What's to stop someone from opening up their own website doing the exact same thing?

I think that you are missing the part where entrenched insiders work to use the government to restrict new entrants. Here is a list of 28 states that require some type of accreditation for "Interior Design".

I'm not quite sure why this is so difficult to accept...people in power use their power to limit the power of others. Be it political, monetary, or otherwise, this dynamic is not very controversial. To those of you who defend the powerful, I don't understand why you don't recognize how a defense based on the "laziness" of the young is deceitful (unless of course you have power...then you're acting according to your interests, I guess).
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think anyone is opposed to the normal semester-long internship in college.
posted by empath at 9:55 AM on March 27, 2011


Case in point, last month another small business owner came to me looking for help. She can't pay, but she has some good ideas and so I help her. I don't send any invoice, nothing shows up on the books. I am working for free. The exchange is one of knowledge, not "products."

I am also a self-employed 'consultant'. One of the first things I learned when I went freelance is to never, ever work for free. People only value what they pay for. Once you start working for free, people will always want you to work for free.

Unfortunately in my line of work (copywriting), the era of the content farm has thrown up a lot of people who are willing to work for next to nothing, devaluing the whole industry and making it very difficult for people like me to earn a living wage. These people aren't 'more hungry', they're just more desperate.
posted by Summer at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


If anyone is interested, NY state minimum wage act, available here, says (sorry for the length):

“Employee” includes any individual employed or permitted to work by an employer in any occupation, but shall not include any individual who is employed or permitted to work:

(a) in service as a part time baby sitter in the home of the employer; or someone who lives in the home of an employer for the purpose of serving as a companion to a sick, convalescing or elderly person, and whose principal duties do not include housekeeping;
(b) in labor on a farm;
(c) in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity;
(d) as an outside salesman;
(e) as a driver engaged in operating a taxicab;
(f) as a volunteer, learner or apprentice by a corporation, unincorporated association, community chest, fund or foundation organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual;
(g) as a member of a religious order, or as a duly ordained, commissioned or licensed minister, priest or rabbi, or as a sexton, or as a christian science reader;
(h) in or for such a religious or charitable institution, which work is incidental to or in return for charitable aid conferred upon such individual and not under any express contract of hire;
(i) in or for such a religious, educational or charitable institution if such individual is a student;
(j) in or for such a religious, educational or charitable institution if the earning capacity of such individual is impaired by age or by physical or mental deficiency or injury;
(k) in or for a summer camp or conference of such a religious, educational or charitable institution for not more than three months annually;
(l) as a staff counselor in a children’s camp;
(m) in or for a college or university fraternity, sorority, student association or faculty association, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, and which is recognized by such college or university, if such individual is a student; or
(n) by a federal, state or municipal government or political subdivision thereof.

(There could be some relevant provision elsewhere, but I am certainly not seeing a Remote Stylist Exception here.)
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2011


My office used to offer paid internships, but then money got tight, and paid internships were an easy thing to cut. We still offer internships, and still get people applying. We currently have one person who graduated from college and hasn't had luck finding a job, so she has taken an unpaid intern position, and is learning to apply some of what she learned in school to the real world situations. She's going on to grad school, to learn more, be more appealing to employers, and maybe the job market won't be so bad. But she said that in the few weeks of working as an unpaid intern, she's learned more in a few weeks than she had in months of schooling (and she's not saying that because I'm some person of authority in the office, I'm honestly a few steps above intern myself). But her experience is definitely more in the realm of typical college internships, not shoring up a shaky business with unpaid help.

In my field (City and Regional Planning), work experience is a valuable thing. I was lucky to graduate before times as tight as they are, and I was hired for a paying job without first-hand field experience. I learned a lot in the first few months on the job, because I had to. There's only so much you can learn about implementation in school. And I can see that being the same in many fields. In that sense, if you can take the hit in not being paid for a few months, the experience of actually applying your school education to real projects is very valuable, and does wonders for increasing your "marketability." A grad student in my field may sound like a valued person, but someone with 3 months of on-the-job has more applied knowledge, even if there's less understanding of the legal, social and theoretical side of things.

In short: not all unpaid interns are being duped into providing free services, and most who take unpaid positions realize that.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2011


Unfortunately for many employers hoping to use unpaid labor to advance their business goals, there are strict federal and state rules that workers must be paid the minimum wage and paid for overtime, and must abide by other provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which applies to about 135 million people working for 7.3 million employers.

Damn that Fair Labor Standards Act! Always getting in the way of some good wholesome American exploitation.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:13 AM on March 27, 2011


By far the most drearily depressing aspect of this thread is the people on the receiving end of this exploitation internalising and rationalising this as if it is acceptable and ethical behaviour. No matter what 'new commerce' exchange bullshit that you frame this as, it is exploitation pure and simple.

The rich kids that have never had to worry about a roof over their head, warmth, where the next meal is coming from saying 'it worked out for me' makes it grate even more.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 10:15 AM on March 27, 2011 [31 favorites]


Re: the name-of-the-decade tangent: I'd thought we all agreed it was the Aught-Naughts, as in, “We really ought not to have done that.”
posted by kipmanley at 11:01 AM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is abother example of why everyone in my profession, human resourcesm is a complete douchebag.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:07 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


  Moe: Okay, you're fighting a guy named Boxcar Bob.
Homer: Brawled his way up from the boxcars, did he?
  Moe: Uh, no, not yet, he still lives at the trainyard.  But he's a
       hungry young fighter.  In fact, he's actually fighting for a
       sandwich.

posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:10 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


When the revolution comes...

Stop waiting. Start doing.
posted by Fuka at 11:53 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think you may be the one using a tautology to make distinctions that are irrelevant. If you think labor is labor, as many people here seem to do, the notion that volunteering for a non-profit is OK, but volunteering for a for-profit is evil, kinda flies out the window.

It's not irrelevant, it's a defining principle of our tax laws. The primary purpose of a company is to create wealth for the benefit of the owners. Nonprofits do not have owners, surplus funds must be used to further the mission of the organization.

Same with the unpaid intern. She hopes to gain experience, knowledge, and contacts that will increase her the value of her asset. She does not leave these things behind when she leaves the internship, she takes them with her. She has received value - real value in the 21st century - but not one that shows up on a traditional accountant's balance sheet.

If it doesn't have commercial value, it's not compensation.
posted by desuetude at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2011


"Take the subject of this article. "Web-based interior design services" really means "anyone could do this shit" design services. What's to stop someone from opening up their own website doing the exact same thing?"

One of the big things that prevents others from doing exactly as she is doing is the problem of social capital, where the scions of moneyed classes call upon their peers for employment, especially in these nominally creative jobs. Her client list is unlikely to be equal to the client list I could offer.

This is something that shows up in all sorts of arty vanity magazines, where suddenly advertisers are willing to pay a shitload for a color spread in a magazine that will do them no real good. Nepotism greases a lot of wheels.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on March 27, 2011


Though, to be fair, nepotism was the reason why the intern at my last magazine job got paid more than most of the low-level staff there. When we were being lectured about how we had to build our own boxes to return photo sets (in order to fit more in and save on FedEx), having to help the intern construct terrible FinalCut promo videos was especially galling knowing that she was making $4k a month and was dining at Lawry's every day for lunch.

It was right up there with her describing herself as "working class" because she grew up in Pennsylvania and her parents only made just over a million a year running food services for universities there.
posted by klangklangston at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


You call this WORK?
posted by sneebler at 1:15 PM on March 27, 2011


One of the big things that prevents others from doing exactly as she is doing is the problem of social capital, where the scions of moneyed classes call upon their peers for employment, especially in these nominally creative jobs. Her client list is unlikely to be equal to the client list I could offer.

I freelanced at a nonprofit once when I was just settling here (and married, so my spouse supported me as I got my start), and this Executive Director of the nonprofit had been lauded as a young genius or whiz kid for starting this nonprofit while she was a teenager. She had gone to really fancy schools, and she was able to do a fluff major in theater, and turn her nonprofit into a full time thing by utilizing her parents' rich friends to donate to her nonprofit. Also, her father, who worked for the govt (sort of like dipping in and out every few years because he also ran his own company on the side which he sold for millions), was able to help her get pro bono help from a law firm so she could have guidance in navigating getting government grants to fund the nonprofit. She used Americorps volunteers for years and years, even thought Americorps was for capacity building until the nonprofit could stand on its own feet. But there was no incentive for her to get off the government help because there were volunteers who were young and willing to do so much while she took leisure trips around the world and "delegated" her work.

The Americorps volunteers all were pretty well off. They came from fancy colleges, wore name brand clothes, had their own cars and nice apartments. One girl drove a Lexus and had attended Emory. Everyday trips to Starbucks for coffee, lunch out, no real struggling. They had apartments in really nice places in Georgetown and Adams-Morgan. In fact, they could even get their well off parents to donate money to the nonprofits so the parents could feel like they were being supportive of their kid. The board of directors was made up of her father's friends. Other than that, it was a bizarre organization that treated some of the "volunteers" ruthlessly. One young woman's parents died in a car accident four months after she started there (seven months after she graduated from college), and there had been meetings on how to encourage her to quit Americorps so they could get a new volunteer in there who didn't have that "baggage."
posted by anniecat at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


See also FuckYeahFreeInterns, which hasn't been updated in a few weeks but I'm sure would be glad of submissions.
posted by Hogshead at 1:20 PM on March 27, 2011


After reading that ... thing ... and some of these posts in this thread, I felt like I needed to run and wash my eyes out. Historical ignorance, greed ... always my hotbuttons. I cleansed my brain by revisiting, for the second time this week, the Cornell website detailing the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire. Sunshine (pouring on the Max Blancks of this world and this thread) and historical reality are all excellent disinfectants for my soul in the face of increasing human greed.

It would be helpful also to read some of Frances Perkins' writings/speeches, but since her existence is being so quickly erased, so I'm not sure if I can still find any ...
posted by AirBeagle at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


We currently have one person who graduated from college and hasn't had luck finding a job, so she has taken an unpaid intern position, and is learning to apply some of what she learned in school to the real world situations.

If she isn't enrolled in a college and receiving credit (and you aren't working at a non-profit that can accept volunteers), I don't think she's an unpaid intern so much as an unpaid employee. Which may be illegal, however much you think she benefits from learning how to apply her academic skills to the "real" world for no pay. (A world that, sadly, seldom visits the real legal consequences of such lawbreaking on the heads of HR departments.)
posted by Marty Marx at 1:53 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mmmphy-some years ago, my dad, a serial entrepreneur who never quite got it right, landed a nice contract that paid him what would now be the equivalent of $200/hr, 40 hours a week, to redesign the logos and advertising for a regionally large firm.

Flush (for him) with money, he went out and hired half a dozen interns from the prestigious university next door, paying each 150% of the then minimum wage.

And to absolutely ensure that he didn't get entrepreneurship right, he then assigned the interns blue-sky research projects which had nothing to do with his paying work. Like a scholarly paper answering, "what would be the optimum societal organization for a space station?"

(After watching him blow through hundreds of dollars on this project, which the intern assigned to it never seemed about to complete, I took it over just to stop the hemorrhaging, and pronounced: the organization would be very much like one on Earth of an similarly isolated and similarly sized group: i.e., like a navel vessel or submarine for <= 200 people, like an Antarctic research station of <= 1000, like a small town for <= 5000. Now give me my $50, and give the interns something that pays the bills.)
posted by orthogonality at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Logically it shouldn't be the interns complaining

In fact, interns are often in the worst position to complain about the conditions of their work-for-free arrangements. If internships are to be used as a foot in the door for future employment at the same company, or if the value of the internship is to be future reference and commendations that will lead to paying jobs, or if the internship's utility is the chance to "meet the right people" in the chosen industry, there's a tremendous loss in internship value if the intern starts complaining to the company, to others in the field, or to their government's labor practices agencies. By complaining, the intern runs the same risk that whistleblowers expose themselves to; they risk being labeled a trouble maker, someone who isn't a team player, someone who doesn't want to "pay their dues," someone who bites the hand that feeds them, etc.

In my field, the media in general, and photography specifically, unpaid internships are the norm at the magazine level. In the daily newspaper subset of the media, most internships are paid (though there's the troubling problem of reporting positions being eliminated and replaced with intern positions as a way to duck the costs of benefits; likewise in other industries with the rise of the permanent temp).

There was huge controversy a couple of years ago when the studio of photographer, who is very well-known for coverage of poverty and the exploitation of people, posted a listing for an unpaid internship (read the comments!). Even when one is hired, the pay can be dismal; I've heard turns of phrase, on many occasions, similar to, "Her parents sent her to Conde Nast." At the magazine level, the field is so small, and positions so highly sought, the gatekeepers in the editorial offices can do whatever they please and will have a line of people around the block just trying to figure out how to drop off a portfolio. Because of this, refusing to work at an unpaid internship is a sure way of never making it in the industry, as is raising a ruckus about the unfair employment practices of an unpaid internship. Everyone in the field knows everyone else; if you complain, word gets around, and you'll likely never have the chance to work in the field, especially not for pay. The system, for lack of a better term, makes unpaid internships both impossible to avoid and impossible to complain about.
posted by msbrauer at 3:46 PM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is the obvious next step. You feed them meals in the company cafeteria, let them sleep in a company dorm. Maybe you give them some credits to order stuff online from the company store.

That's a big improvement, though. Rent and food can cost $1k/month alone.

Heh, here's another article on 'utilizing' 'rock star' 'interns' at that YFS magazine site
If you think labor is labor, as many people here seem to do, the notion that volunteering for a non-profit is OK, but volunteering for a for-profit is evil, kinda flies out the window.
First of all the "labor is Labor thing" was only said by you. Secondly it's a fucking tautology that means nothing to begin with.
I am a consultant. My asset is me. Everything I do is in the hope that this asset - i.e., my self - will become more valuable in the future.

How is this any bloody different that the "unpaid intern"? Seriously? The intern hopes to gain some experience, a "foot in the door" to an industry, or something else she perceives as having value.
It sounds like you're just a shitty consultant. If you're doing work for free to clients, then actually there is no difference between you and an unpaid intern.
posted by delmoi at 3:51 PM on March 27, 2011


Oh, and here's another recent, lower-profile controversy in the realm of unpaid internships in photography. A photographer asked for, and found no shortage of people interested in being, an unpaid intern for a 50+ day commercial shoot in Afghanistan starting in October 2010. This is a situation in which there is a very real possibility that you would be dodging real bullets, and there are plenty of people trying to defend the practice because of the possibility of learning from the experience, nevermind that assistants on editorial shoots (where budgets are lower than commercial shoots) in the US usually get $200 at a minimum for the day (which may be 1 hour or 12), and nevermind that budgets usually double or triple for shoots in dangerous situations. It's hard to imagine a world where this happens, but I guess we're in it.
posted by msbrauer at 3:57 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


yeah, would totally work for free if I could just get a guaranteed livable stipend that included health and retirement.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:02 PM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


@sneebler, there is a lot of evidence that the great pyramid complex was, in fact, built by well-paid on-site skilled labourers.

There is at least one paper out there about how the early Egyptians learned the hard way how slaves ended up costing more in the long run, as they lost or broke tools by the cartload. [citation needed]
posted by clvrmnky at 5:15 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


An interesting theory. Completely unconvincing, but interesting.

As a youngster I quickly realized that it was appropriate to proportion my efforts according to the wage I was being paid. If someone valued my contribution at $5, they got $5 worth, regardless of my capabilities. Overperforming only encourages the bastards to think that they're angels. You want more, you pay more.

Only someone so privileged that they've never had to decide what they could afford and what they would do without could ever entertain such a smug delusion.

Dear Kelly: have a listen to Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone". Now: reap it.
posted by Twang at 5:24 PM on March 27, 2011


and I mean in cash. No credits, tokens, in-kind donations or scrip good only at the company store.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:51 PM on March 27, 2011


Unpaid labor is bad for business in the long run. If you're an employer
unwilling to pay your workers, how in earth are you going to attract and retain the best people?
posted by storybored at 6:12 PM on March 27, 2011


storybored, i don't think most employers want the best people - they want the most compliant
posted by pyramid termite at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Somewhat relevant.
posted by dhartung at 6:23 PM on March 27, 2011


storybored, i don't think most employers want the best people - they want the most compliant

I really doubt a business can go very far in today's environment if they value compliance over merit and creativity.

How many zero-pay interns are there at Google?

The FPP reminds me of when I was working for a medium-sized telecom firm a few years ago. We were in an expansion phase and I was one of the hiring managers. We participated in a number of job fairs where people would bring in their resumes. (Note this was not intern recruitment, we were looking for experienced people).

Invariably, a few of the people who came in would offer to work for free for some period of time. We would immediately take this as a sign of someone we would NOT want to hire. Price sends a signal.
posted by storybored at 6:51 PM on March 27, 2011


When I was a student, my university asked me for my opinion on whether students should be allowed to do unpaid co-op terms. (I was asked because I was the chair of a co-op committee and a mentor.) I got very upset and noted:
- it violates labour laws
- it violates minimum wage
- it means the university does not value its students
- it means the unviersity endorses those violations
- students could volunteer for non-profits and gain experience
- the positions most likely to demand people work for free are those populated by women
- it increases the wage gap between the lesser valued positions and those in engineering, comp sci and so on
- the university is not responsible for providing free labour to the marketplace. If business is so "business-y", it should lobby the government for assistance or perhaps use that invisible hand....
- only rich students can work for free. Given that they're already sailing through university without many of the common burdens, they shouldn't be given university-provided opportunities to gain even more over those without the means to intern for free
- interning for free won't stop at university. It will continue into the work world and higher up the food chain. In Canada, at least, many jobs, such as those in publishing or even non-profits, are already staffed by people whose partners or parents provide for them.
- and so on.

Now that I am running a company and in a position to hire people, I still pay people. In fact, where I cannot pay as much as I would like, I am sure to structure the position to provide excellent experience and opportunity. But I pay everyone. And more than minimum wage.

I noted that the OP wrote the intern positions are in "marketing, editorial, advertising, sales, account management and public relations". Those are all fields where the entry-leve roles are almost all women.
posted by acoutu at 8:12 PM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


anniecat, I'm sure she was an irritating entitled person, but using connections to solicit gifts to fund one's nonprofit is pretty much the definition of fundraising. Pro bono legal advice is helpful when creating a business plan and getting nonprofit status, but I can't really imagine what good a lawyer would do in getting government grants. I can't speak to the use of Americorps volunteers, as I'm not familiar with the organizational requirements.

Theater majors have the same general requirements as everyone else at the fancy school. But it does teach a couple of advantageous skills for the business world, like being able to memorize large swaths of text and deliver it convincingly as spontaneous thought, exposure to a huge variety of rhetorical approaches, and a functional understanding of project teamwork between people of different trades.
posted by desuetude at 8:15 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really doubt a business can go very far in today's environment if they value compliance over merit and creativity.

most jobs aren't in the information industry, though - and in retail, manufacturing and many service jobs, compliance is key - merit can be important - but creativity is way down the list
posted by pyramid termite at 8:31 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


As others have pointed out the situation is fairly straight forward in the US:
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has developed the six factors below to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee for purposes of
the FLSA:
1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
If all six factors are not met the worker is entitled to minimum wage and overtime. Hopefully the DOL will continue to step up enforcement. If you worked an internship that did not meet all six factors you can sue for back wages and overtime. Scum sucking shitbag employers need to realize that they have to pay their employees or face the consequences.
posted by ChrisHartley at 8:37 PM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, for a pony to revisit this story every month or so to see how long it takes for the first wage and hour suit to be filed against them?

Waiting for the look on CEO's face when she finds out you can't get free "attorney interns" to represent you in court. In three, two, one....
posted by webhund at 9:14 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's been like this forever in journalism - well, at least since I was in college. It's almost essential to have an internship, and many if not most of them are unpaid. (I was lucky enough to land a paid internship, but based on the listings I saw at school, this was rare)
posted by SisterHavana at 9:51 PM on March 27, 2011


Totally illegal. Easily cured by a non-profit set up to find model plaintiffs and systematically sue the living shit out of any organization doing this.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:56 PM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


chimaera writes "Let me just say that there is no activity anywhere that merits less than minimum wage in exchange for someone's time commitment.

"This includes internships, volunteering, and corporate executives with $1 salaries."


Well I imagine at least a few CEO are actually making more than minimum wage at $1 a year.

three blind mice writes "I am laughing out loud. Payday in Sweden is the 25th of each month. Want know what my salary was this month? Zero. "I account for this by sending my bookkeeper a note: salary for March - zero. "She puts a zero in the column where is says 'wages' paid. I don't know what you call a liability of zero, but I don't call it a liability. "

You are doing this wrong. You should be recording a liability owed to you. Both to keep your books honest and to reduce your tax liability (at least in Canada). Also if you have insurance that provides benefits if you are unable to work if you haven't been paying yourself, at least on paper, then your insurance company isn't going to pay you either.

tommyD writes "Back in the Dark Ages, as we now call them, people worked for free while learning a trade. It was called apprenticeship. But there are differences between that and what Remote Stylist and their ilk are up to. Apprentices weren't paid, but the got a bed and fed. And when they got good enough, they became journeymen. And the wise master would want to keep his journeymen. Some masters abused their apprentices, but they got bad reps, and few fathers would send their sons to them.

"These greedheads are just churning free labor, and they are following a system worse than feudalism. And they don't get bad reps, they get praise and sympathy from the likes of Fortune magazine."


Even in the middle ages at least some apprentices received wages above and beyond room and board. Renumeration was standardized, recorded and retained in contracts for several trades.
posted by Mitheral at 5:13 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


To the folks equating voluntary free or low cost labor to slavery I ask: Where is the coercion from the employer? I hear this a lot actually but I have yet to get a good answer to my question.

Here are two answers I have historically gotten so you can either clarify on those (because they are baseless) or omit them from your response:

1. The coercion is inherent in the system (help I'm being repressed!) based on the capitalist model.

2. History has mis-allocated capital so the ones with the ability to hire are riding on previous coercion while the job seekers are being coerced by virtue of being within the system.


No snark involved here, I am simply trying to understand what ethical principal is the thought, that someone cannot give their labor for the price that they agree to, based on. The argument seems to be heavily weighted toward the labor user and not the labor supplier.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 6:16 AM on March 28, 2011


Some of the best work (and life) experience I ever got was through volunteer/unpaid labor. The great thing about not being paid is you have far, far greater power to define your own projects and responsibilities than you have when you're just working for a paycheck.

I feel sorry for anyone who has no motivation to work other than to get paid.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:09 AM on March 28, 2011


There are two wrongs, here -

1) Businesses make sure they only hire people of privilege, by bringing on unpaid interns who can afford to work for free until they are given a (well paying) position in the establishment. This is under the guise of "gaining experience" and "making contacts." This is cronyism. It's bad, as it locks people out of careers for reasons that have nothing to do with merit.

2) Businesses make further use of this fiction by claiming people they have no interest in giving positions in the establishment to will "gain experience" and "make contacts", and use this false hope to force free labor from the desperate and destitute. This is exploitation. I really shouldn't need to explain why this is bad.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:10 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've know a few people who worked for free. It generally turned out quite good for them. They didn't exactly call it working for free. Sometimes they called it volunteering. These were generally viewed as opportunities to get a foot in the door for something more meaningful. This isn't a judgment on the wisdom of doing such a thing. Clearly, it can be inequitable. The onus is on the intern to exercise good judgment against being abused. But as long as one can walk away, I don't see much problem.

Because for every person willing to do a job for free, there's going to be one less job out there for someone who needs to be paid for their work. I can understand unpaid internships in the non-profit and academic world (although even that is becoming problematic) but when this happens in the corporate world it absolutely means that someone, somewhere is losing out on work hours.

It's pretty much part and parcel with making everyone a "manager" so you can make them work 60 hour weeks without paying overtime. Its corollary is hiring people for exactly 34 (or whatever the cutoff is) hours per week so they are technically considered "part time" workers so you don't have to offer them health care or other benefits, then staggering their work schedule sufficiently so they can't really get a job elsewhere (I believe Walmart does this routinely). The idea there is you get the predictability of a full-time worker since they're stuck with you, but don't have to pay for any of the extra costs.

The fundamental problem is that the US economy is based on two basically incompatible platforms: efficiency, and consumption. Efficiency says: "make the fewest people do the most amount of work for the least amount of money". Consumption says: "get the most stuff for the most amount of money per person". As a result, we have fewer and fewer people working, but the economy depends on as many people as possible buying as many things as possible. I honestly don't see how this is going to work long term. And it's certainly not going to if the number of hours being worked greatly exceeds the number of hours being paid.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:39 AM on March 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


I feel sorry for anyone who has no motivation to work other than to get paid.

Plenty of us have motivation above and beyond "just" a paycheck, but some of us don't have any money, or any way of getting any, except to work.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:45 AM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


No snark involved here, I am simply trying to understand what ethical principal is the thought, that someone cannot give their labor for the price that they agree to, based on.

"The majestic quality of the law prohibits the wealthy as well as the poor from sleeping under the bridges, from begging in the streets, and from stealing bread." (Anatole France"
posted by jokeefe at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


)
posted by jokeefe at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2011


The great thing about not being paid is you have far, far greater power to define your own projects and responsibilities than you have when you're just working for a paycheck.

No, you don't, or at least not in any of the museums where I have been a volunteer and intern supervisor. In a well run nonprofit, volunteers and interns are considered very different beasts and treated very differently. All of them, however, have a job description and that is what they are there to do. If they would like to take on or create a project over and above their job description, well, yes, I suppose most staff would be open to it, but it would be a unique situation.

Volunteers are paid in love; unpaid interns are paid primarily in college credit and letters of recommendation as well as in experience and paid interns get a hideous, laughable stipend as well as the above credit, recommendations, experience and a whole lot of hours at the copy machine (it is generally acknowledged that it is okay to treat paid interns worse than unpaid ones.) Particularly for interns who are there for credit, which is the majority, you have to have a very clear plan that's usually gone over with the supervising professor. The internship has a goal, a beginning and an end and specified duties that must be met. That's to make sure that interns don't just end up making copies and getting coffee and also, although this is unsaid, that staff positions don't get eliminated in favor of slaves interns. Now, in the last ten years, internships have changed considerably: there are way more interns and way more unpaid interns than there used to be. Coincidentally, there are also a lot less staff positions. Nonprofits, like for profits, are unfortunately not blind to new paradigms in the workplace, particularly ones that make staffing cost less.

This system is flawed because yes, you have to have money to support your internship. And, as thehmsbeagle said upthread of the entertainment industry, museums then gather for handwringing here and there about the lack of diversity in museum staff. Well, yeah. I never had an internship, myself - I could not have swung it - but twenty years ago when I started my career, they weren't de rigeur yet. They are now and I think that is a shame. In the department of smallish silver linings, though, at least in my experience, interns and volunteers can set their own hours (within certain parameters) and many if not most of my interns have also had paying jobs, usually in restaurants.

Lately I feel as if all I do on Metafilter is say that things used to be better. The terrible truth is that they actually did. Even though things were not great at all - I mean AT ALL - in the eighties and even the nineties, they really were measurably better. The erosion of the middle class has taken place so quietly, so gently, so pervasively that people actually think it's the American norm and always has been. It is not. There used to be unions. You didn't have to have an internship to get a job in the mailroom in creative industries. Corporations and rich people used to pay taxes, a lot of them. Workers used to make more money. Executives used to not make ten and twenty and two hundred times more than workers on the floor. No, seriously, this is all true. We never have had health care, though.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:27 AM on March 28, 2011 [28 favorites]


One of the big things that prevents others from doing exactly as she is doing is the problem of social capital, where the scions of moneyed classes call upon their peers for employment, especially in these nominally creative jobs. Her client list is unlikely to be equal to the client list I could offer.

And? There is always someone in a better arrangement than yourself. Either they inherited more money than you, or they were born taller and better looking, or they have a photographic memory or are excellent with numbers… and what would you suggest, then, to even this playing field?

This is something that shows up in all sorts of arty vanity magazines, where suddenly advertisers are willing to pay a shitload for a color spread in a magazine that will do them no real good. Nepotism greases a lot of wheels.

It does, but in some places more than others. In IT, for instance, this shit doesn't fly nearly so far. You're right, though: the shallower the industry, the more transparent the prostituting of one's soul. But I find it hard to find sympathy for people losing their fight over the opportunity to make money writing about shoes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2011


I feel sorry for anyone who has no motivation to work other than to get paid.

Wow, this is a jaw-dropping amount of privilege. Just... wha.... umm... I am speechless.
posted by desjardins at 10:43 AM on March 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


I feel sorry for anyone who has no motivation to work other than to get paid.

What, if I may ask, is your source of funding to pay bills, housing costs, etc?

I mean, I'm motivated to do a lot of work that I really love. But none of that pays, so I am motivated to work my day job in order to get paid. I do other "work" for free, sure. But free work doesn't pay the bills.
posted by The World Famous at 11:38 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is a jaw-dropping amount of privilege.

With a nice sprinkling of condescension to top it off.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:55 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


No snark involved here, I am simply trying to understand what ethical principal is the thought, that someone cannot give their labor for the price that they agree to, based on.

Corporations accumulate capital, and in many markets only a few of them can very easily collude to distort the market if they don't control enough of it to set wages themselves (ie, Walmart). If people are desperate for any money at all to survive, then corporations can set wages at whatever level they want. There is no negotiation. Either you work for what they pay you, or you starve. Either you work 80 hour weeks, or they hire someone else. Either you skip vacations, or you work sick, or they fire you. Bathroom break? No, just pee in a bucket and keep making those widgets.

These things are not theoretical, worst case scenarios. We have labor laws because corporations did this -- they do this right now in other countries. We had child labor and we had slave labor in this country. Even with labor law we have abuses like this with immigrant labor.
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


> AndrewKemendo:

To me, the problem is that once it become, functionally, a requirement that people will work for free at some early point in their careers – and I do believe the trend toward unpaid internships has reached this epidemic level – we are essentially operating in an oligopoly situation, where via collusion (informal or accidental as it may be), companies systemically lower the price of labor. Once everyone knows that college graduates work for free and that nobody else is going to pay them, there ceases to be any incentive to do so.

Essentially, the argument that "people should be able to work for whatever wage they can get" ceases to be sound when that wage is artificially depressed across the board. Free market logic only works if you're in a free market.

Incidentally, in a perfectly competitive market, firms don't profit. That right there ought to give you a sense of just how laissez frigging faire the state of things is.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:18 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or, as I now read the rest of the thread, also what empath said.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:19 PM on March 28, 2011


"And? There is always someone in a better arrangement than yourself. Either they inherited more money than you, or they were born taller and better looking, or they have a photographic memory or are excellent with numbers… and what would you suggest, then, to even this playing field?"

And it makes it harder to break into an industry on talent alone.

You're not usually this stupid, but what made you connect your apologia for aristocracy with Harrison Bergeron instead of paying people for the work they do? Might that be an easier and less dystopic solution?

If you want to go the other way and support a universal welfare scheme so that everyone has the ability to work for free at whatever they'd like, I'm fine with that too.

"It does, but in some places more than others. In IT, for instance, this shit doesn't fly nearly so far. You're right, though: the shallower the industry, the more transparent the prostituting of one's soul. But I find it hard to find sympathy for people losing their fight over the opportunity to make money writing about shoes."

Prostituting one's soul? Are you in high school English, or have you decided that the arch manifestation of aristocratic values requires pretentious language?

But hey, get judgy judgy about entertainment you don't care about. I wouldn't want to stake the intellectual depth (nor social skills) of the typical IT worker against one working in publishing or journalism. Maybe supporting unpaid internships is your way of bringing them down to your level?
posted by klangklangston at 3:16 PM on March 28, 2011


I feel sorry for anyone who has no motivation to work other than to get paid.

Wow, this is a jaw-dropping amount of privilege. Just... wha.... umm... I am speechless.

I think Jacqueline means the other motivation should be stealing office supplies or deep discounts.
posted by anniecat at 3:32 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"And? There is always someone in a better arrangement than yourself. Either they inherited more money than you, or they were born taller and better looking, or they have a photographic memory or are excellent with numbers… and what would you suggest, then, to even this playing field?"

Well, if all companies were required to follow the law and not use interns as an alternative to paying people to do work, then people who were not financially independent in some way would also be able to have a chance to enjoy these opportunities.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:48 PM on March 28, 2011


Unpaid labor is also fairly common in small scale farming operations in the form of unpaid interns or WOOFers. Labor laws in agriculture are so lax that I doubt there are any legal issues but I think the same ethical issues apply to farming as they do to any other field. Many tiny CSAs probably could not survive without unpaid labor but if the idea is to create a sustainable local food economy then I don't think unpaid labor should play a part.
posted by ChrisHartley at 4:48 PM on March 28, 2011


Incidentally, in a perfectly competitive market, firms don't profit.

Well, that depends what you mean by 'profit'. Under perfect competition, firms don't make economic profits in the long run - that is, profits higher than what microeconomic theory would predict. This is because under perfect competition, firms are price-takers selling identical commodities in a market with zero transaction costs, and customers will desert any firm that tries to raise prices. Here is a nicely-written explanation of the concepts.

But even under perfect competition, firms can make a financial profit - or there wouldn't be any choice in going into business. Where P = MR = MC (price = marginal revenue = marginal cost), firms make normal profits of (P - ATC) * Q (price less average total cost, times quantity).

As a firm produces more of a good up to the limit of its capacity, its costs go up. Unless it adds more capacity, the return on each unit gets lower and lower until the point where it would cost more to produce another unit than that unit could be sold for. There's obviously no point in going beyond that unless capacity is expanded and costs brought down (eg by building another factory). But since cost changes with each unit produced, for most units the cost is less than the market price. It's only at the beginning and end of the production curve that average costs are higher than or equal to the market price (either due to startup costs or running out of capacity). In between those extremes, the firm is making a normal profit.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:05 PM on March 28, 2011


I worked for all of you (*) as an unpaid intern when I did my stint at the State Department. I actually paid about $5,000 for it. But, I got a ton of mileage out of that experience in job interviews after graduation... and I can still wander into a specific State Annex building and have secretaries be like "hey! How have you been!" Which is neat. That was in the late 1990s. Irony: they wouldn't give credit for paid experience for anything at the time. I got grades, not just "pass/fail" credit, for my time in DC. It counted toward my major exactly as much as that time I read War and Peace AND a good chunk of Anna Karenina in ten weeks. There were massive budget cuts (my internship coincided with the end of the government shutdown era) and the office I was in had just one secretary and me, and should have had four secretaries and seven interns. This is probably why that secretary still remembers me, come to think of it.

I ate ramen and popcorn and the occasional financially-ill-advised croissant and never did anything while I was in DC. That $5,000 turned into about $8,000 of debt, and does not include the amount my mother borrowed, and just paid off three months ago - I have no idea how much it was, because she wouldn't tell me.

(*) I was in public diplomacy, so I consider myself to have served everyone we had a desk for, especially people in Mongolia, because for whatever reason I visited that desk a lot.
posted by SMPA at 5:10 PM on March 28, 2011


anigbrowl: Thanks for the concise summary. I knew my B+ level microecon skills were getting rusty.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:17 PM on March 28, 2011


No one owes you anything in this world. Wake up and smell the machine oil.

If you want me to work for your business, you owe me a wage or salary at the bare minimum. If you offer me an unpaid "internship" when it's clear you want unpaid labor, I owe you the privilege of introducing you to labor law and the legal system.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:14 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel sorry for anyone who has no motivation to work other than to get paid.

That is not even my primary motivation in my current job. Of course, I am working for myself ... in the end, I do need to get paid, otherwise it's really a hobby and not a business. The IRS even has rules about that.

However, if you were interviewing me for a job and that slipped out of your mouth, I'd laugh and walk out of the room without looking back. Oh, and then I'd make sure the Board of Labor were notified about potentially illegal hiring practices, and I'd make sure they had your full name and details of the interview. Because, you see, I have respect for myself, even if you don't have enough respect for me to pay me a legal wage for my labors, by which you benefit.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:37 PM on March 28, 2011


No one owes you anything in this world. Wake up and smell the machine oil.

Similarly, no one owes business "owners" the privilege of keeping their money when a roving band of thugs kicks in the shop door.

Civilization is all about figuring out what the baseline expectations are, and enforcing them. The argument is not that such rights exist in a state of nature, but that the existence and respect for those rights is what makes civilization what it is.
posted by verb at 9:44 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


No one owes you anything in this world. Wake up and smell the machine oil.

Hm. You appear to be another person who is unaware of the existence of such things as wage and hour law, contract law, and other common law and statutory schemes that exist in the United States and elsewhere and create various legal duties whereby people and entities do, in fact, owe each other various duties and sums.

Obviously none if the people whining about this has ever started their own business. I work for free all the time but I call this "business development." Yeah I suck as a boss and quite often consider quitting these unfair labor practices, but for some strange reason - long term potential benefit - I soldier on.

You don't work for free. You work in exchange for what you accomplish as a business owner, including, but not limited to, an ownership stake in your business. If you were to work for free, that would mean that, notwithstanding your labor for the business you started, you do not get to hold any interest in the business. That's not the case, is it? I've started my own business, and I held a stake in the business in exchange for my work. If you were dumb enough to start your own business but structure it such that you held no ownership stake in it or any right to compensation of any kind by contract or otherwise, then you might want to reconsider the way you've been doing things.
posted by The World Famous at 10:16 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Given a basic income, unpaid internship as a normal part of the process of gaining skills would work really, really well. Without it: not so much.
posted by flabdablet at 11:01 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unpaid labor is also fairly common in small scale farming operations in the form of unpaid interns or WOOFers.

WWOOFers do, however, receive free room and board during their time on the farm.
posted by twirlip at 6:20 PM on March 29, 2011


Unpaid labor is also fairly common in small scale farming operations in the form of unpaid interns or WOOFers. Labor laws in agriculture are so lax that I doubt there are any legal issues

This is apparently changing. I took a class in small-scale urban farming a couple of weeks ago taught in part by a Canadian farmer, and he mentioned volunteer labor (in the context of family members helping out). The Californian class facilitator then paused the class to explain that while that may be permissible in Canada, it is increasingly NOT considered permissible in the US. (There are some exceptions if it's members of the immediate family, but that's outside the scope of this discussion.) And that, in fact, some WWOOF programs and other small farms are having trouble because of it.

Here are a few articles:

Room and board: Reflections from the front lines of free farm labour:
In arrangements like WWOOFing or farm internships, terms of employment such as wages, income tax, overtime and vacation pay are fluid, or simply don’t exist. In the U.S., this kind of unpaid farm labour is actually illegal and has recently drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor, which has been cracking down on unpaid interns and volunteers on organic farms.
North Bay farms assailed for illegal intern programs:
According to Carl Borden, associate counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation's Legal Services division, "persons are not allowed to act as employees for a for-profit entity without being afforded all the rights and benefits of being an employee." Unless a farmworker is provided with workers' compensation and state-specified benefits, their productive work for a farm profiting from their labor is illegal.

The reason for this? "Our society has these laws set up for the protection of not only those workers themselves but also to protect other employees whose own wages and hours and working conditions could be adversely affected by there being other people to do the work for less money or even for free," Borden says.
Young adults learn farming skills in WWOOFERS program:
Tighter work and pay rules coming down from the state of California's Division of Labor Standards are making it tougher for some farmers to use the WWOOF program. Griggs said he's now forced to pay his WWOOFers the minimum wage of $8 an hour if they work more than four hours a day. He said this may make it economically impractical for him to use them in the future.
The "Reflections from the front lines" article is an interesting one that looks at the question "Has small-scale organic agriculture become overly reliant on unpaid, underpaid and unregulated labour in order to remain financially viable? If so, can this be called sustainable?"
posted by Lexica at 3:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's not really surprising. After all it would be trivial to setup WWOOFing programs to slide undocumented workers into a quasi-legal employment state without significantly changing their working conditions.
posted by Mitheral at 4:31 PM on March 30, 2011


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