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Getting an intern is so hot right now. It’s also bullshit 99% of the time.
July 6, 2011 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Why Unpaid Internships are Bullshit.
posted by dunkadunc (154 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
It might be worth it:
1) If the job takes place in an industry you really want to be a part of in order to get work experience or job-training
2) You can use it for college credits
3) You can get influential contacts in that field who can maybe get you a job or at least provide a good reference
posted by Renoroc at 3:06 PM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


In general, engineering firms pay their interns, because we have them do commercial work (even though there is a large training component). Even though we are paying them it is still wayyyyy cheaper for me to have an intern doing my mindless engineering work than to do it myself.

Seriously, if you own a business and you hire unpaid interns to produce valuable work for you (even if it's shitty valuable work), then I think you should be ashamed of yourself. And possibly fined for violating state and federal minimum wage laws.
People used to enter into years-long apprenticeships as stone masons – but they built cathedrals.
The whole point of an apprenticeship is that the apprentice is given room, board, and training from her master in exchange for manual labor, rather than continue to mooch of her parents. An internship which gives room and board is not unpaid. Otherwise I love this article.
posted by muddgirl at 3:07 PM on July 6, 2011 [15 favorites]


Is this the yearly FPP?
posted by dave78981 at 3:08 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


As an English/Arts kid I assumed most work at the start would be unpaid.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:09 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


We have unpaid interns here, but they get college credit (legally we have to verify with their school first before they start). We've had at least one intern come back to get a full-time, well-paid job, until he got fired for getting drunk at a holiday party and talking shit about his boss in front of everyone.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:10 PM on July 6, 2011


The Department of Labor has actually been cracking down on this sort of thing.
posted by dave78981 at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Those internships I know of are unpaid, provide a bit of lunch money, and nothing else. In one instance, my niece simply acts as delivery person, going all over NY City and its boroughs.
Her friend gets to do a bit of on the job work, free of course, but that is in a different field.
I did note that a piece in The New Republic was written by an intern.

My view: no one should be allowed to work free for any company or organization. Period. Crops picked by workers, legal or otherwise, are picked by people earning under the minimum wage. They get housing, and that is about it. Interns get even less.

There is so far as I know no law against unpaid internships. There should be.
posted by Postroad at 3:12 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't let the MeFi intern see this one...
posted by deezil at 3:12 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't let the MeFi intern see this one...

He's paid, of course.
posted by grouse at 3:14 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


As an English/Arts kid I assumed most work at the start would be unpaid.

The problem with this is that it keeps industries like, say, publishing from diversifying its workforce. Only the people who can afford to work unpaid--or severely underpaid--for years are able to enter these industries.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:15 PM on July 6, 2011 [56 favorites]


I work with a lot of student workers, and i have to tell almost all of them to stop working at the end of their shifts. They are paid hourly, and they should work for the hours they are paid. Going over for free just shows Management that you don't value your time, which is good for Management but bad for the worker and all other workers. The only exception might be if a student has really screwed up something that needs to be fixed now. And that's more in nature of a punishment in exchange for not getting fired (I don't think we have ever done this at my institution, but I suppose it's theoretically possible).
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Any company who claims that it cannot afford to pay people minimum wage for any job is either pathetically mismanaged, or there's not enough demand for their products to justify the company's existence.
posted by chimaera at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2011 [38 favorites]


There is so far as I know no law against unpaid internships. There should be.

There are no laws against it, but the guidelines are very strict:

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

posted by dave78981 at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


There is so far as I know no law against unpaid internships. There should be.

It varies by jurisdiction, but it's actually generally illegal unless the intern is receiving genuine educational value/training of some sort. If they're just being treated as free labour, doing work that would otherwise be done by a paid employee, it's usually illegal and they should be getting paid.

A combination of ignorance and a fear of being blackballed is what generally prevents unpaid interns from complaining.
posted by asnider at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


My unpaid internship covered all three points above, so it worked out okay for me. I'm fortunate I was in a position where I could do it and still work my other three part-time jobs.
posted by marxchivist at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2011


My wife recruits interns for her company. They are very handsomely paid. When she told me it was illegal, I almost did a spit-take.

I worked an unpaid internship at a photo agency. I did very technical work that the company then sold. It was all stuff I knew already. At the end of it, I was being offered jobs as assistants to well-known photographers, also, naturally, unpaid.

I now work in TV, also a bastion of unpaid internships. The interns at the station are really great at getting coffee, meeting talent and making sure they're comfortable, etc. The only things I ever see them learning are almost by osmosis. I don't see a whole hell of a lot of regimented training going on.

What I do see, and my general feeling, is that the whole thing is a giant shit-eating contest. The interns who eat the most shit, work the longest for free, might get a spot on the paid-working-person ladder. And they could actually work themselves into a great job. But boy, is it rough schooling in the way the world works.
posted by nevercalm at 3:19 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


dave78981 beat me to it, with a much more detailed explanation.
posted by asnider at 3:19 PM on July 6, 2011


We've done the unpaid intership thing before here, and pretty much all of my thoughts were summed up pretty nicely by this comment, written by someone who also , when she's not posting spot on comments, moonlights as my wife.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:21 PM on July 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


Just for fun, since I've been unemployed and generally bored a lot, I occasionally call to inquire about unpaid internships that I find on Craigslist and Careerbuilder and then I ask them if they know the criteria and if what they just described meets the criteria. There's usually alot of sputtering and backpedaling, and almost always the phrase, "We meet the guidelines, whatever they may be."

good times.
posted by dave78981 at 3:21 PM on July 6, 2011 [28 favorites]


I've had unpaid internships, but they've all been for nonprofit organizations, which makes the whole thing feel considerably more tolerable. Also, thankfully, the most recent involved people who were so concerned with my educational opportunities that I spent probably half my time just following people around getting to watch stuff, which was awesome. (And made it feel worth what I paid for the class credits for it.)

They aren't a horrible idea 100% of the time, but there needs to be a clear distinction between who is an unpaid intern, and who is an illegally unpaid employee.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I was inspired to send an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Labor about a business I know that often has internship positions with a job description that appears to fall outside the guideline. We'll see what they say.
posted by grouse at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


It varies by jurisdiction

No. It's decided by the US Department of Labor.
posted by dave78981 at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2011


"Did you know that so-called 'volunteers' don't even get paid?" -- H. Simpson
posted by chrchr at 3:25 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It varies by jurisdiction
No. It's decided by the US Department of Labor.


There are other jurisdictions besides the U.S. For example, asnider is in Canada.
posted by grouse at 3:25 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are other jurisdictions besides the U.S. For example, asnider is in Canada.

Completely correct, and I apologize.

However, of course, there are conflicting jurisdictions in the US also, between Federal, State and County, etc, and I was specifically referring to that. In fact, if there was an edit feature, I would've edited for clarity already.
posted by dave78981 at 3:30 PM on July 6, 2011


Just for fun, since I've been unemployed and generally bored a lot, I occasionally call to inquire about unpaid internships that I find on Craigslist and Careerbuilder and then I ask them if they know the criteria and if what they just described meets the criteria. There's usually alot of sputtering and backpedaling, and almost always the phrase, "We meet the guidelines, whatever they may be."

good times.
posted by dave78981 at 6:21 PM on July 6 [4 favorites +] [!]


Funny, last summer when I was unemployed and feeling very abused by "employers" wanting tons of free work as examples and concerned too about age discrimination, I started emailing those Craigslist posters who were asking for "young, attractive" women to do things like work at car washes, hawk products in stores, etc. Most of them wouldn't respond to my emails noting that age and gender requirements were illegal. A few responded but first took down their ads.
posted by etaoin at 3:36 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are other jurisdictions besides the U.S. For example, asnider is in Canada.

Exactly; I was making a somewhat broader statement than just the US. Also: I wasn't sure if labour standards were determined at the federal or state level so I used fuzzy language to hedge my bets.
posted by asnider at 3:36 PM on July 6, 2011


There are other jurisdictions besides the U.S. For example, asnider is in Canada.

The rules for unpaid internships in Canada are startlingly similar.
posted by muddgirl at 3:38 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


It might be worth it:
1) If the job takes place in an industry you really want to be a part of in order to get work experience or job-training
2) You can use it for college credits
3) You can get influential contacts in that field who can maybe get you a job or at least provide a good reference


Lemme tell you why your second example is the worst of all: A lot of the time, in order to get that credit, the 'student' must pay thousands of dollars in tuition for the semesters covered by the internship, despite not taking any classes. The student is effectively paying--a lot--to work for free.

And then, when they finally get their degree, they can't find work because all the positions are filled by unpaid interns.

Yep, totally worth it!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2011 [27 favorites]


My apologies, the link I provided talks about the Ontario ESA only.
posted by muddgirl at 3:41 PM on July 6, 2011


Oh, unpaid internships, I do love thee...

I've found so far an internship that offered to pay you in up to $100 of their pet food, one who chattered at me that their marketing internship required a marketing guru because they had no experience in the subject (actually no product either), and still more that basically want someone to update their facebook, company blog and twitter accounts for free, which again, doesn't teach the intern anything and profits the company.

Not one of these internships is giving you anything but "experience" to pad your resume with, and at this point I'm highly tempted to group together with friends and hire each other as "interns", so that while we're job hunting we'll have experience just as valid as working for free for some bozo who makes money off us.
posted by Phalene at 3:42 PM on July 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


I did an internship as part of my Architecture degree, and got paid by the hour, at low wages. However, the firm I interned at was one of those 'we work until 3 AM every night because we underbid our projects and can't finish them within normal office hours' kind of places, and I was all alone in Santiago in the summer when my friends where on vacation and my GF was in Milwaukee, so I always volunteered to stay late.
Everybody else (the people with contracts) got paid a fixed wage with no overtime, whereas I got paid for every hour I spent at the office.
The end result was that I ended up making more money than people with 5 years at the company, who were in fact training me.
So my 6 week internship paid for a trip from Chile to Milwaukee, and a second hand Washburn guitar.
I like internships.
posted by signal at 3:43 PM on July 6, 2011


I've worked with interns before and in my experience if it's a proper internship then it's costing the organization as much or more than the organization is getting out of it.

Because running an intern is HARD. They don't know everything they need to know. They might know certain narrow areas, but the whole reason they're there is to get experience. If the person running the intern isn't spending a lot of time teaching and guiding then, as the post here says, it's not an internship - they're an employee.

There's a lot of value in internships done right. I suspect some of the anger directed at them is slightly misplaced - because intern direction is hard and time-intensive they often get misused. I suspect in a lot of cases that's why this happens, not malice - an organization thinks it sounds like a neat idea and assigns it to someone without recognizing how much effort and time will be required. So that person, still expected to produce, shoves the intern some junk and goes on with their life.

I think Joel Splosky wrote about effective intern experiences but I'm too lazy to go find it. Someone ask their intern.
posted by phearlez at 3:44 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Post-college it definitely seems like a given that an internship should be paid. If you're receiving college credit and it's set up as an educational experience then that should be acceptable too. Psychology & human services internships are often unpaid, but people in those positions aren't generally producing something that the company can profit from, nor do they displace the need for any regular employees given that there are often tricky ethical issues to having them do many tasks solo.
posted by bizzyb at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2011


phearlez - a proper unpaid internship at a for-profit company should net the intern more than the company. That's right in the rules.

As I said, my company and most of our competitors pay our interns, and if we pay them 1/3 less than a full engineer, we expect everything to take maybe 2x-2.5x as long as a competent engineer would do it. That's still net-positive, plus it's essentially a summer-long interview.

(Also, note that non-profit companies often don't have to follow the DoL internship rules, as non-profits can accept volunteer labor).
posted by muddgirl at 3:48 PM on July 6, 2011


I honestly thought it was illegal to hire a college kid and not give credits. The choice is credit or pay. (I had both at only one internship).
posted by stormpooper at 3:53 PM on July 6, 2011


they've all been for nonprofit organizations, which makes the whole thing feel considerably more tolerable.

Well, yes. If it's at a non-profit, it's volunteering, which is completely ethical and legal.
posted by dersins at 3:53 PM on July 6, 2011


I work with a lot of student workers, and i have to tell almost all of them to stop working at the end of their shifts. They are paid hourly, and they should work for the hours they are paid. Going over for free just shows Management that you don't value your time, which is good for Management but bad for the worker and all other workers.

This is entirely untrue in my industry - which is to say scientific research. If our interns left exactly as their 8 hours were up, we would consider them undedicated not only to their position at my company, but to science. This is true for full-time employees as well.

That said, both academic and industrial scientific internships tend to be paid. Industry pays better, academia is more interesting, generally.
posted by maryr at 3:54 PM on July 6, 2011


I worked for the federal (US) government for free. Actually, I paid a ton of money to do it, and not just to my school.

On the other hand, that line on my resume got me a lot of (paying) jobs I would have otherwise. And excellent talking points on a variety of bizarre subjects, such as the sudden Chinese fascination with french fries circa 1999, and the death of the US Information Agency.

(If internships should be illegal, then what's so ethical about volunteering? Given, especially, the kind of money senior leadership at not-for-profit institutions can make?)
posted by SMPA at 3:59 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think Joel Splosky wrote about effective intern experiences but I'm too lazy to go find it. Someone ask their intern.

Here (on his own site, 2006 Sep 6) and here (for Inc.com, 2007 May 1).

Friendly neighbourhood intern substitute, signing off.
posted by stebulus at 4:03 PM on July 6, 2011


If internships should be illegal, then what's so ethical about volunteering?

The clue's in the name.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:12 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


(If internships should be illegal, then what's so ethical about volunteering? Given, especially, the kind of money senior leadership at not-for-profit institutions can make?)

Is this a rhetorical question?

The easy answer is that when volunteering, you're giving up your time for some cause you believe in, and the only thing "profiting" from this is the cause, not some company's bottom line. It has nothing to do with who's getting paid what.
posted by dave78981 at 4:15 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


1. I'm very surprised that Intern Nation hasn't cropped up during this discussion so far.

2. The quality of unpaid work experience varies so much by organisation that it really needs doing on a case-by-case basis. Wannabe Hacks, for example, recently published the top 50 work experience placements in the UK that helped separate the wheat from a chaff a bit - I would imagine that as people realise how much the quality varies, we're going to see more of that sort of thing.
posted by garlicsmack at 4:17 PM on July 6, 2011


We pay our interns $10/hr. For bullshit work.

If internships should be illegal, then what's so ethical about volunteering?

The clue's in the name.


The argument is that volunteering at a non-profit organization is sometimes similar to interning at a for-profit corporation. You give up free time now for the (true or not) promise of fortune later. Perhaps true in theory, but I don't think it is in reality.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:17 PM on July 6, 2011


The interns where I work make a higher salary than I do, plus they get relocation packages and transportation stipends and all kinds of free shit while they're here.

I wouldn't mind any of this at all, except that our interns usually get job offers to come work here full-time after graduation. So they do their internship here (where they're paid handsomely, wined and dined, given virtually everything they ask for), and then they come back here to work, and most of them have never had any work experience anywhere else, so they think the way they were treated as interns is the way they should always expect to be treated as employees, and when they come to my office demanding things they're not entitled to, it's really hard to respond in a civil manner.

(Yesterday a guy who was here last summer as an intern and was hired full-time this spring barreled into my office, disregarding the closed door and the "in a conference call, please knock" sign on the door and said very loudly, "You need to buy me a way better computer, the thing you gave me is shit." Way to be professional, bro. Enjoy that dressing-down you're gonna get from your manager about how to treat people with respect in the workplace.)
posted by palomar at 4:17 PM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


The first time I'd come across the idea of doing an internship for "experience" and "references" was when Gawker had posted about some internet pseudo-celebrity (who was running a pseudo-business with two friends; there was also a plagiarism controversy about this person) putting out a ridiculous ad looking for interns. I recall that this mildly high-profile person continued to do so year after year without any consequences.

The idea of unpaid internships was (and still is) entirely alien to me, but I did note that this person continued to get applications and fill up these unpaid intern positions year after year.
posted by vidur at 4:26 PM on July 6, 2011


I worked for the federal (US) government for free. Actually, I paid a ton of money to do it, and not just to my school.

I think that, in general, we can assume that the US Government is not subject to its own laws or rules. "Government employers" are generally not considered to be "employers."
posted by muddgirl at 4:27 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unpaid internships are a fact of life in glamor industries, such as broadcasting, design and journalism (especially design journalism). Are unpaid internships bullshit? Well, at least the interns will learn that bullshit exists in the working world. It's a learning experience.
posted by ovvl at 4:36 PM on July 6, 2011


I remember being in London shortly after I graduated with my design degree. I spoke to a recruitment agency about getting work. They told me about some potential openings and the subject of remuneration came up. She primly informed me that of course there was no money, these ad agencies had a waiting list of graduates who were prepared to work for nothing for TWO YEARS just to be able to say that they'd had the privilege of working for these firms.

I told her that was great for them, but if I was to be living in the world's most expensive city, I would actually require an income to be able to do so. She looked at me like I was something she scraped off the bottom of her shoe. How dare I expect compensation for being worked into the ground...
posted by Jubey at 4:48 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's magic! via Reddit.
posted by Xoebe at 4:50 PM on July 6, 2011


I worked for the federal (US) government for free. Actually, I paid a ton of money to do it, and not just to my school.

Me, too! Hey, were you a State Department intern in one of the most expensive cities in the world, too?

I accept interns from my trade association every year. Frankly, they DO impede on my business, and keep me from getting a lot more things done than their occasional trips to the post office or whatever that benefits me. They get college credit, usually (one intern didn't want credit, she just wanted the chance to work with me specifically -- I helped her get an amazing position in NYC this summer, so she's very happy about that).

My interns get rave reviews from me for future job applications, they get dragged along everywhere with me, so when I call a related company and say Intern X is looking for a job in City Y, do you have anything? they'll get right through any preliminary slush pile, no questions asked.

Connections in small industries like ours are more valuable than gold and they DO get you your next position. Learning the ropes (and learning it's not all glam glam glam, or easy, or even fun, for that matter) is a good way to sort out the people who are serious about it versus want to do it because they think it's fun.

If I had a giant budget, I'd happily pay them minimum wage or whatever, but I don't. My company -- which is basically ME -- can't even afford to pay ME a salary right now. But I have experience and I have connections, and that's what they get from me during their internships. It's not the horrible experience so many people paint it to be.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:52 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason this is back in the news is that the Irish government has started a national internship scheme called JobBridge, where the internships are supposed to lead to jobs after 6-9 months. This is generally considered a good thing, as our economy is totally fucked and unemployment is through the roof. A lot depends on implementation details, though. Here's the Intern Nation guy's take on it.
posted by kersplunk at 4:55 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mother Jones All Work And No Pay: The Speedup

Guess what: It's not you. These might seem like personal problems—and certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is happy to perpetuate that notion—but they're really economic problems. Just counting work that's on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn't solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time (PDF), and paid maternity leave. (The only other countries that don't mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland. U-S...A?)

I wonder how many people who have full time, ostensibly paying jobs are under the gun because, at least in part, of the constant threat of being replaced by unpaid interns. I also wonder why so many Americans are trivially cowed into working all this overtime, away from their families and for free, but somehow still think unions are bad.

It's a little perplexing, but the end of that road is pretty clear. Except nobody will be called slaves; they're all going to be called "unpaid interns."
posted by mhoye at 4:55 PM on July 6, 2011 [18 favorites]


That said, both academic and industrial scientific internships tend to be paid. Industry pays better, academia is more interesting, generally.

Huge problem with the graduate student (i.e. academic intern) pool: There are too many of us, there isn't enough money to give anyone a decent wage for their level of education and ability, and the promise of academic jobs at the end of 5-6 long, stressful years is patently false. After the initial PhD slog is another 3-6 years of post-doc positions while you wait for some guy, somewhere to die. We are quite literally the bottom of a pyramid, looking up and hoping that the next layer isn't as skinny as it looks.

Because that's the current bottleneck for academic interns: they took away the retirement age at a lot of universities and this stuff is just too damn interesting to walk away from willingly.

I could have bumped up to the PhD track from the MSc track. Turns out, there are biotech jobs out there for MSc grads which aren't nearly as stressful as continuing into a PhD. They pay better. The X years of experience you get while being paid better goes into getting you a better job down the road. Bloody grad school...
posted by Slackermagee at 4:56 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


nobody will be called slaves; they're all going to be called "unpaid interns."

nobody has linked to Team Zissou yet?
posted by mrgrimm at 4:57 PM on July 6, 2011


The easy answer is that when volunteering, you're giving up your time for some cause you believe in, and the only thing "profiting" from this is the cause, not some company's bottom line. It has nothing to do with who's getting paid what.

What if you believe in the for-profit's bottom line?

Last time this topic came up, nobody was really able to make a coherent argument why someone should not be able to do as they see fit with their own effort. There was some hemming and hawing about non-profits doing a valuable service to society, therefore, volunteering for a non-profit is good, while volunteering for a for-profit is bad. Even though there are plenty of examples of really dubious non-profits. And plenty more that are really dubious in my eyes. That seems to be your bottom line, if the cause I believe in is worthy enough, then it's OK for me to decide to work without monetary compensation. But only if the cause has that magical government granted status.

The presumption here is that people cannot be trusted to do with their effort as they see fit. People I've known, like SMPA, and like most people, are perfectly capable not only of making this kind of judgment for themselves, but coming out ahead as a result. Which is the big reason folks do unpaid internships. If interning without pay is bullshit, then by all means, don't do it. But it seems plainly clear that for many people in various industries, they are indeed worthwhile, and a valuable stepping stone into the their chosen industry.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:00 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had an unpaid intern at my last job. Seriously, during some periods, we had as many unpaid as paid people in the place. It's a fact of the PR industry, they're basically accessories and I definitely felt a little squicky about it. However, it also makes a twisted kind of sense.

Intern-heavy industries tend to require things like connections, "face time", practice attending social events, and a weird understanding of workplace dynamics that can't be taught in class and have to already be acquired before you can get a job. PR internships are very much an apprenticeship, that's why they give school credits for it.

Mine came in the equivalent of one class a week and I made sure that she actually learned stuff. I also gave her fun, rewarding assignments, which had the benefit of freeing me up for grudge work (ugh). Kids were fighting every term to get a spot, it can't be that exploitative.
posted by Freyja at 5:02 PM on July 6, 2011


craigslist is infested with these ads, and they generally piss me right the fuck off. Why not just title it, Assholes wanted!

You work for free, and we collect our salaries while making money off you!


But it isn't just interns, of course... a lot of people actually seem to expect many types of creatives to work for free. Writers, artists, videographers...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:03 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, internships.

I do believe that internships where there is a genuine focus on the training and development of the intern can be incredibly beneficial. As the final component of my MA degree, I am heading off in a few weeks for a two-month placement at an institution and to work on a project that will look pretty damn awesome on my CV. Both my school and the institutions they liaise with are very much committed to providing a valuable educational experience, and if I'd needed any convincing, I've already had the opportunity to attend and contribute to project-planning meetings. They take me seriously as an emerging (if inexperienced) professional, and I get to help shape what I'll be doing over the course of the placement. Awesome.

And yet.

I have, in fact, paid for this opportunity as part of my course, and it is part of the requirements for me to get my MA (although the department is pretty sensible about this, at least; if you actually manage to land a paying job within the sector, they're willing to handwave a bit and accept that as your 'work placement' so long as you submit the Wot I Lernt During My Placement report). In addition, although this is a required component that I have already paid for, the fees do not cover transport, accommodation, or other living expenses. I am lucky in that my chosen placement is in a comparatively inexpensive part of the country, and I have snagged a cheap summer dorm room at a local uni. But a good chunk of my classmates will be living, eating, and Tube-ing in London for eight weeks, out of their own pockets and with no financial compensation.

So there's that.

On a broader scale, the internship/volunteer model is starting to really jack up what the sector looks like from the inside. Industry blogs/periodicals/etc. regularly complain about the glut of graduates on the market, and it doesn't help that this particular sector is one that has taken some of the heaviest hits when it comes to government cutbacks. At a career day a few months ago, a couple of graduates from the program came in to talk to the class, and their advice to a one was the same thing we hear everywhere: volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. Do it for as long as it takes. It'll bulk up your CV. It'll get a foot in the door. It'll get you contacts. Volunteer. That's messed up enough in itself, but what you never hear is people admitting to the fucked up effect it's having on the industry itself.

1) It is now standard industry practice that we are expected to spend the next few years of our lives working for free. As has been plenty discussed both here and elsewhere, this pretty much closes the door to any graduates who can't afford to do that, no matter how bright or talented they are. And as a secondary result,

2) There is, effectively, no longer any such thing as a paid entry-level position in this sector. They don't exist. Period.

I may just be a newbie, but when your lowest-rung recruits are graduates who have already burnt themselves out trying to get by as unpaid 'interns' and 'volunteers' for 2+ years, that does not seem like a sustainable business model to me.
posted by sophistrie at 5:15 PM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


But it seems plainly clear that for many people in various industries, they are indeed worthwhile, and a valuable stepping stone into the their chosen industry.

Of course. The complaint isn't about the individuals making the best of the options available to them, but about the structural conditions which dictate what options are available.

(I agree with your larger point that there's no intrinsic moral distinction between volunteering for a non-profit organization and doing an unpaid internship in a for-profit organization. It's all about the context -- whether such work is a gateway restricting entry to the industry to those of independent means, and the effects of such restrictions.)
posted by stebulus at 5:18 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I accept interns from my trade association every year. Frankly, they DO impede on my business, and keep me from getting a lot more things done than their occasional trips to the post office or whatever that benefits me.

If you don't benefit from interns, then why hire them?
posted by muddgirl at 5:22 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


My current internship at a small local paper treats me pretty well; I get a lot of bylines, I learn the ropes, the editors always give me real work to do and not coffee-fetching crap. I'm basically the part-time reporter who writes the less important articles. For someone like me, I'm just glad to get the opportunity to get clippings that I can use to get more internships, and a real job down the road. Journalism is competitive as hell, so these things are hard to come by; I moved to a city I don't know for three months just to do an internship. Of course I need to work so I can avoid living in a box, but unemployment is fairly high and no one wants to hire some kid for three months, so I didn't find a job. I'm basically lucky enough that I go to a wealthy private college (on full scholarship) which gave me a stipend to run off and write. It's just depressing because if it weren't for this scholarship, I wouldn't have this opportunity, or at least I'd probably be working two jobs just to hold onto an unpaid position. I'm so goddamn grateful people are willing to give me this opportunity at all, but it does make me wonder whether people value their industry enough to give opportunities to those who deserve it. You shouldn't have to be well-off to do an internship.
posted by mmmleaf at 5:26 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


My employer hired interns last summer and attempted to pay them $16/hr. We filed a grievance due to the fact that they were doing union work for sub standard wages. The company had two options, get rid of the interns and let the backlog of work continue to grow or pay them the correct wage for the work they were doing. The kids got their $25/hr and a retro check.

Unionize, people.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:28 PM on July 6, 2011 [30 favorites]


If you don't benefit from interns, then why hire them?

You can benefit from the work of interns. You just can't benefit from unpaid interns.
posted by grouse at 5:29 PM on July 6, 2011


Of course, I should have added that. bitter-girl states that she can't afford to pay them, so I assumed that they were unpaid.
posted by muddgirl at 5:32 PM on July 6, 2011


"Can I recommend to you that you hire young Sally here for a position? She successfully impeded my business for 3 months."
posted by smithsmith at 5:36 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're going to do an internship, try to make it interesting too. I did an unpaid internship at a police station for a few college credits one summer. Some of it was boring but the couple of weeks that I was able to ride in the squad car with the different officers was very interesting, and I learned a lot about how they work when doing their job.
posted by Threesix at 5:40 PM on July 6, 2011


The NYC publishing industry would cease to exist if NY authorities cracked down on unpaid interns. Every magazine and media web site would literally shut down tomorrow without unpaid intern labor.

What always blows me away is the shock and dismay recent college graduates display when they can't find employment in the publishing industry after working several unpaid internships. It would be cute how naive they can be if it weren't so damned sad.
posted by photoslob at 5:47 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


The NYC publishing industry would cease to exist if NY authorities cracked down on unpaid interns. Every magazine and media web site would literally shut down tomorrow without unpaid intern labor.

Well... good? I mean look, I'm not really cool with this whole capitalist system, but the only way I can stand it is if it's internally consistent. Businesses that cannot pay for the labor that they exploit should go out of business.
posted by muddgirl at 5:55 PM on July 6, 2011 [29 favorites]


An industry that can't get by without unpaid labor deserves to die.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:57 PM on July 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


Gah!
posted by The Hamms Bear at 5:58 PM on July 6, 2011


Engineering internship definitely aren't this way, at least from what I've seen and heard.

I'm interning at a well-known national laboratory this summer doing computer science work, and we certainly get paid well--enough that I can easily cover my expenses and walk away with a healthy savings account at the end of the summer.

I really don't even think we impede much real work. We have a full-time "mentor" for each project, but I've exchanged about 3 emails with one of mine since May and I only see the other one for about an hour a week. I'm sure if we needed more help they would come help us, but I'm in an office with 40 other interns and we mostly take advantage of each other's experience and skills.


I would not, under any circumstances, do an unpaid internship. I already work much cheaper than full-time employees, why should I have to pay my way?
posted by DMan at 6:02 PM on July 6, 2011


And then, when they finally get their degree, they can't find work because all the positions are filled by unpaid interns.

But remember, young men living at home with their parents are stupid deadbeat man-children.
posted by rodgerd at 6:17 PM on July 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


Oh man, as someone who's been in the internship rat race, I really do appreciate this article! I've worked an unpaid internship before at a nonprofit, so it was completely kosher. But at the same time, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge about grant writing which I've used pretty extensively since then.

I would not, under any circumstances, do an unpaid internship. I already work much cheaper than full-time employees, why should I have to pay my way?

That made me think of a friend of mine who is not only working in the Hollywood film industry this summer as an unpaid intern, but also took out a loan to do this internship. We all told her it was a pretty silly thing to do, but who knows, she might actually make the contacts she needs to succeed afterwards.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:18 PM on July 6, 2011


(I work for a bank, incidentally, and all our graduate programs are full-time and paid, with an expectation you'll be on the regular pay track after two years. And the graduate pay isn't that shabby, either. Our lowest pay rates are around the national average income.)
posted by rodgerd at 6:18 PM on July 6, 2011


He's paid, of course.

To do highly meaningful journalism-related tasks like organising messy garage corners, it seems.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:24 PM on July 6, 2011


If interning without pay is bullshit, then by all means, don't do it. But it seems plainly clear that for many people in various industries, they are indeed worthwhile, and a valuable stepping stone into the their chosen industry.

If I could have afforded to be a plucky editorial intern during my undergraduate career, you would have bet I would have. But none of the publishing internships were paid, and I desperately needed to work during college. The friends I knew who took these positions were either very wealthy already or mired themselves in debt to do so. It's virtually impossible to get an entry-level job without one of these internships, which means that the industry, as a rule, tends to be wealthy (and, frankly, white). These interns take entry-level work away from those who could use the jobs--see also the ethical problems with voluntourism, and the way it takes jobs away from native populations--and devalue what people should be paid for it in corporate eyes. If corporations can get away with paying people nothing, of course they will; what do they care if workforces are homogenized racially or socioeconomically?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:37 PM on July 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


I wouldn't care about the increased reliance on interns in some fields except that it functions as a barrier to people whose families aren't as wealthy. And that's the shittiest, most worthless sort of barrier to put up, as compared to something that screened for merit or focus or just plain drive and motivation. I think the apprenticeship aspect is critically important, and a lot of fields that don't have that could benefit from it. But the minute it is unpaid (or worse, costs money because of college costs), that's not right.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 PM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


It seems to me that "Industry X would shut down if they had to pay their interns"
bears a striking similarity to "if you make the rich pay taxes they won't create jobs."
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:51 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


What if you believe in the for-profit's bottom line?

Last time this topic came up, nobody was really able to make a coherent argument why someone should not be able to do as they see fit with their own effort.


It is widely held that your right to swing your fist ends where someone else's nose begins. This falls into the same category. Giving for profit corporations free labor harms someone else's ability to make a living by enriching someone else - the owner of the for profit. Devaluing labor is not just an issue for the individual deciding to give labor away. It's an issue that has ramifications for the entire society.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:04 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is entirely untrue in my industry - which is to say scientific research. If our interns left exactly as their 8 hours were up, we would consider them undedicated not only to their position at my company, but to science. This is true for full-time employees as well.

I was actually accused of being unmotivated and "asked to leave" such an internship once.

This was kind of the truth. But part of the problem was that I was working in a lab that was large enough that the PI never actually got into the lab, and I was assigned to a grad student who didn't seem to want to have anything to do with me. Because, as people have said, when someone doesn't have much training you can't expect them to be productive without some kind of guidance.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:23 PM on July 6, 2011


2N2222, lots of people have outlined the problems, including a lack of diversity hiring (bad for business, and the polity), and an artefact of entrenching elitism. The phrase, "race to the bottom", leaps to mind.


This is entirely untrue in my industry - which is to say scientific research. If our interns left exactly as their 8 hours were up, we would consider them undedicated not only to their position at my company, but to science..

That sounds like the kind of employer capitalist bullshit every industry lays claim to. "Your job is so much bigger than you are! If you care, you'll work more despite our profits!" Dedication does not equal committment or output, just ask all the Japanese workers in the office on Saturdays or staying until the boss leaves.

Eff that noise. Employers making people work unpaid hours means that I consider those employers dedicated to humanity, work-life balance, and often labour laws.
posted by smoke at 7:24 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also, the whole "science is so damn awesome that you should be willing to sacrifice everything for it" meme needs to die.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:27 PM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


But...

Oh, fine. Lucy, get off the lab bench and put your clothes back on. Apparently you're free to go. No, I'll pack up the bunsen burner pentagram.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:30 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can't these unpaid interns just live off of their trust funds?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:32 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unpaid internships are just subsidies that rich people use to make sure their kids stay rich, and no one else gets in.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:33 PM on July 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


I started emailing those Craigslist posters who were asking for "young, attractive" women to do things like work at car washes, hawk products in stores, etc. Most of them wouldn't respond to my emails noting that age and gender requirements were illegal.

Not quite that simple. First, the company in question has to be of a certain size (from 15-20 employees depending on which type of discrimination) in order for these discrimination laws to apply to it at all.

Second, an age limit may be specified, regardless of the size of the company, if "age has been proven to be a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)," according to the EEOC. The employer in question could very well successfully argue that youth and attractiveness is required to successfully represent their products or services to the public.

And third, although there is a mechanism for reporting alleged violations to the EEOC, it's up to you to prove everything you're claiming. In the case of the craigslist ads, you'd have a really hard time as you have no evidence except an ad that you can't even prove was authorized by the company. To report it in the first place, you'd have to find out how many people are employed by the company and what the name, address, and telephone number of their official contact is.

I found all this stuff out when I tried to report a series of craigslist help wanted ads seeking young, Asian massage therapists. It seems that since the spa in question only employed 6 or 8 people, they are legally allowed to discriminate freely with regard to the race and gender of their employees. Pretty sick, if you ask me, and I was very disappointed to learn that the equal opportunity laws don't apply to the MAJORITY of places I might be employed in my industry (massage therapy).
posted by parrot_person at 7:42 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a little perplexing, but the end of that road is pretty clear. Except nobody will be called slaves; they're all going to be called "unpaid interns."

I just posted this in another thread, but it's also relevant here:

"[Marx] took the (wholly orthodox) notion that 'In a competitive market, the price of a commodity is equal to its marginal cost of production' combined that with the (also wholly orthodox) idea of 'labor as commodity', and drew the unpleasant conclusion that 'in a competitive market, the price of labor will be equal to the cost of bare subsistence for the laborer'."
posted by weston at 7:48 PM on July 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is why the Future Jobs Fund was such a brilliant idea it has helped a lot of people I know who work in the arts. It allowed underfunded organisations or small businesses to take on interns with little risk to them and pay them at a basic rate with training explicitly part of the contract. Most people I know who were part of this scheme (or the similar ones that preceded it) got a well paid job or at least an extended contract at the end of it, clearly proving that (at least in these cases) it had been mutually beneficial to the industry and the interns.

It's a shame the new government (who raised money for their party by auctioning internships) axed it as soon as they got through the door.
posted by pmcp at 7:50 PM on July 6, 2011


madcap - My personal opinion is that we shouldn't expect interns to be all that productive. It's part of our job as scientists (or responsible members of any profession, really) to train up the next generation. It's part of the life cycle. If you want your juniors to be reliable, you have to be willing to put the time in to teach them.

That said, it's work, not school. If you assign an intern a project, it's not something you have in the back of the book. It's probably something you could do much more quickly if you didn't have to explain the background and techniques (not to mention come up with a project). And it is difficult to find meaningful work for someone to do when you can't trust them to give you the results in a timely or accurate fashion.

I've been a good intern and a bad intern. I've been a good mentor (I think/hope!) and a bad mentor. I've had a good intern (two, actually!) and a bad intern. All of those situations were combinations of the workplace, the mentor, and the intern. I don't think the the bad or the good experiences rested solely on any one person's shoulders. And no matter which role I played, I learned something.
posted by maryr at 7:56 PM on July 6, 2011


I forgot to mention, that what it has been replaced with is mandatory-voluntary work - an oxymoron if ever I heard it.
posted by pmcp at 7:57 PM on July 6, 2011


All that said - I can't imagine an unpaid intern being of any use to me unless they were super motivated. I don't know how PR and other industries do it, unless it is by giving interns utterly meaningless tasks.

...Like fetching coffee. Oh. I see.
posted by maryr at 7:58 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sponsored many unpaid interns over then years for whom no budget existed that could have paid them. For a solid half of them, this internship made their careers. They absolutely would not have gotten the first paid job they did-- with my firm or elsewhere --without it, and given the state of the job market in the past 4 years in New York, would probably even now be in a far worse place.
posted by MattD at 8:15 PM on July 6, 2011


maryr: I agree that one shouldn't expect interns to be all that productive, and that there is a certain amount of paying it forward going on -- someone trained us, and we need to train the people after us. And I also agree that these things can vary. I actually had two internships in this particular field (the summer after my freshman and sophomore years of college). The post-freshman one went well; the post-sophomore one, poorly enough that I switched fields. And I am probably extrapolating too much from a sample of size two.

And I'm not saying that having an intern is easy. Don't get me wrong. I'm saying that if someone can't be bothered to come up with something for them to do -- because doing so is a nontrivial task -- then maybe it's not the right time for them to have an intern.

(Note: I am using the word "intern" here generically; the two internships I describe were UROPs. The whole dynamic of how internships work when they're not at labs within the university that you're a student at during the academic year is different, I'm sure, although I can't speak to how exactly.)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:16 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are unpaid internships exploitative? Yes. Slavery? No.

If you don't want to work an unpaid intership, then don't. Problem solved.

If you're choosing to work an unpaid internship instead of, say, unskilled labor for mininum wage or no compensated work at all, you are the one making that decision. No one is forcing you to do so. It may be a bad decision, but it's yours.

You are not owed or entitled to anything other than the compensation upon which you and your employer have agreed.
posted by John Farrier at 8:20 PM on July 6, 2011


Because, muddgirl, it is a way to give back to our industry association and its programs, because I genuinely like helping these young women (and it's always women) figure out if this really IS a feasible career path for them (it is an industry with NO "official" academic path to entry, most skills are learned by trial and error and by figuring out how to rig up the correct classes to take in order to learn what you really need to know).

They get academic credit, they get to see how this business really works behind the scenes while they're still comfortably in college instead of flailing around and working a million crappy jobs while they figure it out the hard way the way we all did because this industry didn't even exist in this format 5 years ago...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:21 PM on July 6, 2011


You are not owed or entitled to anything other than the compensation upon which you and your employer have agreed.

Not always true.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 8:34 PM on July 6, 2011


You are not owed or entitled to anything other than the compensation upon which you and your employer have agreed.

Businesses are not entitled to violate labor laws even when they allege an agreement with the employee. No one is forcing businesses to break the law by making illegal agreements.
posted by grouse at 8:41 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Businesses are not entitled to violate labor laws even when they allege an agreement with the employee. No one is forcing businesses to break the law by making illegal agreements.

Permit me to clarify. I was speaking from an ethical, not legal point of view.
posted by John Farrier at 8:49 PM on July 6, 2011


I do not believe there is anything ethical about corporations choosing to engage in illegal labor practices.
posted by grouse at 8:58 PM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Kids were fighting every term to get a spot, it can't be that exploitative."

Not to be too snarky, but the Lithuanians in The Jungle were fighting every morning to get a job in the stockyards. That people are willing to fight with each other over scarce jobs doesn't mean that the jobs aren't exploitative — that's kind of one of the hallmarks of exploitative.

It's a reason why a lot of problems like this need structural fixes.
posted by klangklangston at 8:58 PM on July 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


In the early 1980's many Americans bought into the Reagan myth that labor is always fungible and should always be priced as low as possible. Workers are merely workers, and not potential long-term assets for any company.

30 years later, here we are. Here's yr future.
posted by bardic at 8:59 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stop funging me.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:03 PM on July 6, 2011


I sponsored many unpaid interns over then years for whom no budget existed that could have paid them. For a solid half of them, this internship made their careers. They absolutely would not have gotten the first paid job they did

Would you say this was because either:

(a) during the course of the internship they learned and practiced valuable skills

(b) their association with your organization constituted a kind of credential (where prospective employers decided that if you took someone in as an intern, you must have seen some value in them)

If it's these -- in particular (a) -- I'd say you're certainly keeping the conventional and respectable internship bargain. There are still arguments against it, but they're by no means absolute; I've worked for no wage/salary before for various reasons including these before, and I'd do it again in the right context.

If you took in people who already had substantial relevant skills in their field (the article uses the example of a posting that calls for someone who already has “an excellent working knowledge” of the Adobe Suite, for example) and let them work for free for a while in order to gain vague “all important working experience”, then we're into the problem territory under discussion.

Which seems to be this: that as the labor market gets more competitive for labor, many employers are increasingly using internships as generic free labor -- sometimes even *skilled* labor -- and aren't taking the time to oversee progress in skills. On top of that, they may not even have much to offer in terms of bestowing a caché of employability. Yet the internship is still sold as if it has this kind of value.

Pieces like this one fill an essential role as a reality check (and encouragement to perform reality checks) at the real value proposition of an internship. Some have real value. Others don't.
posted by weston at 9:40 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yah, I was a little flippant perhaps. I'm well schooled in the fuckedupedness of the capitalist mode of production. I guess I was making the weak case that in some situations, it's only exploitation if you consider money the only form of value.

I don't deny that too many internships are unrewarding in all respects. Of course, if you're there every day doing data entry for 8 hours and learning shit all for no pay, that's all kinds of levels of exploitation. But I still dig the concept of apprenticeship, and I think that structured properly, it can be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
posted by Freyja at 9:43 PM on July 6, 2011


Unpaid internships are bullshit, most of the time. I had an unpaid internship in politics that I received college credit for along with a modest stipend and it was well worth it. I was fortunate enough to get paid very well for the second internship I just finished up - but it was with a union so that's why I made good money.

Basically, unpaid internships are a last resort when it comes to job hunting. They are good for first experiences and getting your feet wet and with the right situation - a good contact, a company that wants to take you on full time, or just valuable resume experience is definitely worth it.
posted by schlu at 10:26 PM on July 6, 2011


"My view: no one should be allowed to work free for any company or organization."

My view - don't tell me what I am or am not allowed to do.
posted by unigolyn at 11:34 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


"If you took in people who already had substantial relevant skills in their field (the article uses the example of a posting that calls for someone who already has “an excellent working knowledge” of the Adobe Suite, for example) and let them work for free for a while in order to gain vague “all important working experience”, then we're into the problem territory under discussion."

That's nonsense. I work in prepress, and run into people with "an excellent working knowledge of the Adobe Suite" all the time, and they're completely incapable of producing print-ready PDFs, because they don't understand how printing works. An internship would do them all a world of good.
posted by unigolyn at 11:37 PM on July 6, 2011


It's funny, as I'm coming at this from the other end.

We have a small company, Choice of Games, and I wanted to recruit an intern to help with some of the copyediting work. We receive a lot of unsolicited submissions for publication, and these need to be reviewed. I thought, hey, let's get an intern, let them do some of the grunt work, and then we can give higher-level criticism, rather than burning out while marking typos.

This seemed totally reasonable to me, as this is how the media-fashion-publicity world of NYC works.

Mr. Lawyer looks at the advertisement for the position, and after searching the DoL website, nixes the plan because of the 6 rules listed above.

So, in defense of small companies in marginal industries, sometimes the IOC (idiot-in-charge) just doesn't know these things.
posted by jasonstevanhill at 11:59 PM on July 6, 2011


That's nonsense.

Was that a casual rhetorical flourish meant as a general preface to an objection, or are you literally asserting that what I said is actually nonsensical?

I work in prepress, and run into people with "an excellent working knowledge of the Adobe Suite" all the time, and they're completely incapable of producing print-ready PDFs, because they don't understand how printing works. An internship would do them all a world of good.

You seem to be arguing that if someone's skillset isn't absolutely *complete* with respect to their duties, they should reasonably expect that they will have to labor unpaid while they round it out thusly.

Personally, I'd say that "an excellent working knowledge of the Adobe Suite", such a person is already skilled labor, whether or not they know how print works. Whether that means they could still stand to learn something and/or if they're the best candidate for a given job is another story... but as for your specific example, it seems likely to me that if someone can genuinely lay claim to an excellent working knowledge of Adobe Suite and even knows what color spaces *are*, someone else who does know how print works could teach them to produce print-ready output in a week of part-time training. That's not the kind of situation internships are generally good for.
posted by weston at 12:26 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


unigolyn, I admire your well-developed sense of "I do what I want", but do you understand that your hypothetical willingness to work for free devalues everyone else's work? Do you understand that it makes it effectively impossible for anyone but the wealthy to enter certain fields, such as publishing or film and television?

As a more extreme example, do you think that, say, for example, agricultural conglomerates should be able to ship starving people over to their farms to work harvesting crops for nothing but a subsistence-level amount of food, a sleeping mat, a toilet, and a roof? I'm sure that someone who has no other choice would agree to that, even happily, but does that make it moral? Should it be legal?
posted by cilantro at 4:27 AM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Unpaid internships are just subsidies that rich people use to make sure their kids stay rich, and no one else gets in.

What the fuck, talk about pure seething jealously. I despise the concept of unpaid internships too, but I still took one when I was in college because I didn't know any better and desperately needed something on my resume. I could afford it because I came from a supportive family who is far from "rich" but still wanted me to have opportunities. I'm sure there is a percentage of people on metafilter who have done this too but they aren't talking about it because some of you have to turn everything into an epic black and white class battle of good and evil.

My parents did not help me so I would get "rich" and "make sure no one else gets in". They did it because they wanted their children to have opportunities and could afford it. If I had things my way, everyone would have the opportunities I did or companies would pay their damn interns, but that's just not how it is right now.
posted by windbox at 4:41 AM on July 7, 2011


cilantro wrote:

unigolyn, I admire your well-developed sense of "I do what I want", but do you understand that your hypothetical willingness to work for free devalues everyone else's work? Do you understand that it makes it effectively impossible for anyone but the wealthy to enter certain fields, such as publishing or film and television?

That's not his problem. He's an individual, free to make choices for his own life. He can take an unpaid internship, or not. Just like you.

Those of you who propose to ban unpaid internships (or enforce current laws to that effect), consider what you're advocating: using force to prevent people from making their own decisions about who to work for and under what conditions.
posted by John Farrier at 5:18 AM on July 7, 2011


This is entirely untrue in my industry - which is to say scientific research. If our interns left exactly as their 8 hours were up, we would consider them undedicated not only to their position at my company, but to science. This is true for full-time employees as well.

Well, then, Management has determined exactly what you think your time is worth, and you have gone along with it.

Now, my situation is different -- I am paid on salary -- essentially paid for the job. So I spend a lot of my evening and weekend time grading papers, working on committee projects, etc. If a student can't get work done in their time allotted and it must be done, I stay late or work from home or whatever to get it done. Because that's my job, and I am paid for it.

If you interns are paid by the project, great, that is what they signed up for. If they are paid hourly and encouraged to "fudge" those hours for the sake of the project, departmental goals, or "community culture," geeze, you are pretty much perpetuating a cycle of economic damage that benefits neither you nor your students.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:28 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those of you who propose to ban unpaid internships (or enforce current laws to that effect), consider what you're advocating: using force to prevent people from making their own decisions about who to work for and under what conditions.

Are you sure you aren't a 19th C capitalist? This line of thinking also argues against any sort of wage controls, benefits, worker safety, etc. "Hey, he wants to work 16 hour days in untreated sewage until he dies of cholera! I mean, he's taking the $2/day pay, right? Whoa re you to say he can't make that choice?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:31 AM on July 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


As an English/Arts kid I assumed most work at the start would be unpaid.

And at the end, Lovecraft in Brooklyn. And at the end.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


My parents did not help me so I would get "rich" and "make sure no one else gets in". They did it because they wanted their children to have opportunities and could afford it. If I had things my way, everyone would have the opportunities I did or companies would pay their damn interns, but that's just not how it is right now.

Sorry, right, no one gets rich today. We're mostly talking about having the ability to get an entry-level white collar job.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:42 AM on July 7, 2011


Windbox, maybe it was a bit intense, but there’s not necessarily any seething jealousy in Blue_Beetle’s statement. Your parent’s willingness to sacrifice to support you – and their ability to make that sacrifice – could be considered a form of wealth for you. Many, many people’s parents couldn’t or wouldn’t do that. It would have been a financial impossibility for my family to pay my living expenses so that I could work for free. Even if that weren’t true, as depression-era folks raising me, their granddaughter, in a world they didn’t really understand, my nan and grandad would have found the idea of unpaid work frivolous and would have insisted that I find a real job. Absolute end of story.

And then there are people who were raised in foster care, or abject poverty. People who fall in love with a career path later in life after they already have a family to support. All of these people are entirely left out of the internship system, which is reserved for the upper-middle-class, the wealthy, and those (like you) lucky enough to have working or middle class parents who are willing to make huge sacrifices to support them. That group is not as big, or as diverse, as it should be.

I don’t fault you for taking the opportunity that was offered you. I would have done the same. I would not, however, have shrugged my shoulders and said “that’s just how it is”. I would (and do) speak out against the abuse of unpaid internships, and if I saw it happening, I would be the first to blow the whistle. Having benefitted from a corrupt system, the least you can do is try to make it better.
posted by cilantro at 6:44 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


GenjiandProust wrote:

Are you sure you aren't a 19th C capitalist? This line of thinking also argues against any sort of wage controls, benefits, worker safety, etc. "Hey, he wants to work 16 hour days in untreated sewage until he dies of cholera! I mean, he's taking the $2/day pay, right? Whoa re you to say he can't make that choice?"

Remember that the 19th Century factory worker chose to work under those conditions which were bad compared to today because they were superior to those that he could find on the farm. The sweatshop was an improvement over the norm.

No one was forcing him to work, as you say, 16 hours a day in untreated sewage. He looked at his alternatives and decided that factory life would be better.

Some people take unpaid internships for the same reason. They think that it will advantageous to them to do so. Those who disagree are free to do otherwise.
posted by John Farrier at 7:07 AM on July 7, 2011


Remember that the 19th Century factory worker chose to work under those conditions which were bad compared to today because they were superior to those that he could find on the farm. The sweatshop was an improvement over the norm.

Right, and then the government stepped in and enacted labor laws because it saw that workers were being exploited.

It's really not difficult--corporations will take advantage of workers if they can, and there will usually be people either desperate or wealthy enough to offer themselves up for exploitation, but governments and citizens have an obligation to ensure that these machines are running in a way that does not harm its people. That includes the eight-year-old working in a button factory in the nineteenth century and the poor kid from Paterson today who can't find work in his chosen field because the jobs are all taken by people financially comfortable enough not to get paid for them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


bitter-girl.com - as long as your interns are not doing productive work which you are gaining profit from, I (and the DoL) have no problem with unpaid internships which serve as mentoring opportunities.

But that's not what we're talking about here. If interns are doing the work of an employee, they should be paid. Period.
posted by muddgirl at 7:28 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I work with a lot of student workers, and i have to tell almost all of them to stop working at the end of their shifts. They are paid hourly, and they should work for the hours they are paid.

Okay, this is a tangent, but wait a second -- if they're paid hourly, then might the reason they're working past the end of their shifts be because they're trying to get that extra hour of pay?

I'm also paid hourly, and sometimes work a little bit after the end of my shift -- but I get paid for that extra time, and that's why I sometimes stay a little later. How do you know those student workers aren't trying to do the same?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 AM on July 7, 2011


And yes, running to the post office and getting coffee is productive work.
posted by muddgirl at 7:33 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remember that the 19th Century factory worker chose to work under those conditions which were bad compared to today because they were superior to those that he could find on the farm. The sweatshop was an improvement over the norm.

No one was forcing him to work, as you say, 16 hours a day in untreated sewage. He looked at his alternatives and decided that factory life would be better.


As often as not because there was no work on the farms. The cities offered at least the possibility of work (not absolutely true for every moment of the 19th C, but as a trend, mostly true). Of course, the alternative to working is starving, so desperate people took bad jobs, willing to trade a near-certainty of crippling injury, disease and death in the near future for starving to death now. And the capitalists, knowing they had a desperate population, exploited the hell out of them.

It's not like the benefits that we take for granted* (40 hour work weeks, health coverage, reasonably safe working conditions, lack of sexual harassment, controls over discriminatory hiring/firing) were given by business owners out of benevolence or even enlightened self interest; they were forced down businesses' throats by the government because the situation was intolerable.

Yeesh.

*Yeah, I know, those things are less and less available, but, man, the 19th C was especially horrible (and it's why anyone who longs for the "good old days" needs to be put to work in a 19th C factory for a while. It ought to cure their lunacy -- permanently).
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:52 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, this is a tangent, but wait a second -- if they're paid hourly, then might the reason they're working past the end of their shifts be because they're trying to get that extra hour of pay?

I'm also paid hourly, and sometimes work a little bit after the end of my shift -- but I get paid for that extra time, and that's why I sometimes stay a little later. How do you know those student workers aren't trying to do the same?


Because the university limits how much they can work in a week in university jobs (so that they actually have time to study, for one), and, generally, they are scheduled to the maximum hours they can work (it might vary semester by semester due to scheduling issues, but, usually, if a student can work 20 hours/week, they are generally scheduled for 20 hours). They also don't get paid for time outside their scheduled hours unless their supervisor OKs it (and changes the hours elsewhere to balance). We have a pretty tight student budget, and, if a student runs over anywhere it can lead to severe shortages of time later.

Also, that is usually not the context of the discussion -- it's not "Hey, I need more money this week, can I stay late and do some extra work," it's more like "I feel bad that I haven't finished this work; I will clock out and do it on my own time." Which is when I need to remind them that their work has value, which they should appreciate. If we have given them a task they can't finish within a scheduled time, that is our problem, not theirs (assuming they aren't slacking, which are students generally don't do, and is kind of a different issue).
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2011


And yes, running to the post office and getting coffee is productive work.

And, as much to the point, not remotely educational.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:00 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, as much to the point, not remotely educational.

And if the coffee place delivered, they'd probably charge for it. (Even if they didn't, the delivery person would be getting paid.)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:04 AM on July 7, 2011


Those of you who propose to ban unpaid internships (or enforce current laws to that effect), consider what you're advocating: using force to prevent people from making their own decisions about who to work for and under what conditions.

That's nonsense. No force is applied to prevent employees from making their own decisions. The law applies only to the employer. An employer who is generally a corporation, and thereby a creature of the law, who owes its entire existence to the law, and is bound to follow the laws, not only the laws that give it a profitable advantage.
posted by grouse at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Remember that the 19th Century factory worker chose to work under those conditions which were bad compared to today because they were superior to those that he could find on the farm. The sweatshop was an improvement over the norm.

No one was forcing him to work, as you say, 16 hours a day in untreated sewage. He looked at his alternatives and decided that factory life would be better.

Some people take unpaid internships for the same reason. They think that it will advantageous to them to do so. Those who disagree are free to do otherwise.
"

Wow, you read The Jungle as an uplifting Horatio Alger story, didn't you?

Labor conditions are a collective action problem, hence government intervention is necessary, because people will always choose to be exploited rather than starve to death. But it's immoral to ask them to, and hurts all of society.

It's also a viewpoint informed by a lot of class privilege and a blindness to history — I have a feeling you'd also be anti-union, and support taking away rights to organize for better conditions. It's naive libertarian bullshit, and something so profoundly lacking in empathy that I'm amazed you'd write it out in public.
posted by klangklangston at 8:12 AM on July 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Gotcha, Genji. Sorry about that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also a viewpoint informed by a lot of class privilege and a blindness to history — I have a feeling you'd also be anti-union, and support taking away rights to organize for better conditions. It's naive libertarian bullshit, and something so profoundly lacking in empathy that I'm amazed you'd write it out in public.

To be fair, conservative pundits have been screaming these points so loudly for the last three decades, that a lot of people have become completely tone-deaf on the issue. Not an excuse, but an explanation. Now, why anyone who isn't a boss would listen to that and not say "holy crap, this person is insane and my enemy," I am not rightly sure. I think it has something to do with misapplied patriotism and religion, but, hey.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2011


Having completely my undergrad studies with 3 paid co-ops under my belt, I am once again grateful for the good luck of timing and geography of my birth that meant that I didn't have to engage in slave labour for the slim hope of earning "connections". I fear my country is headed towards more unpaid internships as government programs to paid co-op students working for non-profits have not been renewed, and acceptance of this variety of slave labour appears to be growing. Not good.
posted by Kurichina at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2011


but there’s not necessarily any seething jealousy in Blue_Beetle’s statement. Your parent’s willingness to sacrifice to support you – and their ability to make that sacrifice – could be considered a form of wealth for you. Many, many people’s parents couldn’t or wouldn’t do that.

Yeah dude, I am completely aware that people who grew up not being able to afford unpaid internships, I'm not some trust fund ignoramus with my head in the clouds just because my parents could front me some money for 2 months. And I'm not advocating for more unpaid internships - I think it sucks that they exist, that they're bad for the workforce and society in general, and should not be legal. I made very clear in my last post that ideally either everyone would share my opportunity, or companies would pay their damn employees - I'm not sure if you missed that.

But I took an unpaid internship in college, my parents supported me while I did it, and drama-queen undergrad-sounding statements like Blue_Beetles - that these internships are for rich people "to ensure no one else gets in" - is downright idiotic and disproportionate to what actually happens with most kids. My parents aren't "rich". They work and they want a better life for their children just like their own parents did. They don't want to ensure that "no one gets in". Neither did my friends or their parents.

Blue_Beetle sounds like he's jealous because he appears to be taking it out on the people who took the internships ("can't these unpaid interns just live off their trust funds"), instead of the people/companies who are refusing to pay their interns.
posted by windbox at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2011


That's not his problem. He's an individual, free to make choices for his own life. He can take an unpaid internship, or not. Just like you.

As I said upthread, I've worked without a wage before for various reasons, and I think I'd come down against a blanket ban on that, but I can't accept a "not his/my problem" approach to the problem. Personal freedom is a valuable thing to consider, but it has to be paired with thinking about how individual actions affect others if you care about ethics at all.

It sounds to me like the current rules straddle the dichotomy fairly well. They allow for unpaid internships in cases where the educational benefit is specific and can be demonstrated, they make it clear interns aren't meant to be substitutes for paid employees.
posted by weston at 9:49 AM on July 7, 2011


The rules seem reasonable; I think a lot of the complaints here are basically that these rules are not enforced.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:13 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Blue_Beetle sounds like he's jealous because he appears to be taking it out on the people who took the internships ("can't these unpaid interns just live off their trust funds"), instead of the people/companies who are refusing to pay their interns.

lol, I think people are reading a lot into my previous statement. I was attempting to summarize what I had previously read in the thread. Let me be clear, I think that blanket statements about classes (eg: rich v poor) are lazy strawmen that distract from the real issues. I apologize for not adding a large flashing "HAMBURGER" after my statement. Full disclosure: I've never had the opportunity or desire to be involved in any sort of non-paid intern-ship, and do not know anyone that has (outside of MeFi).

Regardless, here's what I think:

1. People should be able to volunteer their time without pay. But they shouldn't be misled or forced by industry pressure into accepting an intern-ship, especially when it doesn't fit the legally defined meaning of the word.
2. Any sort of volunteer or unpaid work favours those of independent means. When that becomes systemic, we marginalize and exclude those of lesser financial means. As a society, I think we can agree that marginalizing the poor is not good. Eliminating the poor through fair compensation helps everyone.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:24 AM on July 7, 2011


It might be worth it:
1) If the job takes place in an industry you really want to be a part of in order to get work experience or job-training
2) You can use it for college credits
3) You can get influential contacts in that field who can maybe get you a job or at least provide a good reference
posted by Renoroc at 11:06 PM on July 6


Congratulations! You have been assimilated.
posted by Decani at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


grouse wrote:

That's nonsense. No force is applied to prevent employees from making their own decisions. The law applies only to the employer. An employer who is generally a corporation, and thereby a creature of the law, who owes its entire existence to the law, and is bound to follow the laws, not only the laws that give it a profitable advantage.

If an employer refuses to comply with this law interfering with the agreements that it's made with consenting adults, it'll be fined. And if it refuses to pay the fine, the state will send men with guns to arrest individual people. If those individuals resist, the men from the state will use those guns.

That's force.
posted by John Farrier at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2011


If your problem is with the concept of a State enforcing any rules at all on its citizens, then it seems like whether or not there are restrictions on unpaid interns is a very, very, VERY tiny issue to rail against.
posted by muddgirl at 12:09 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


klangklangston wrote:

It's also a viewpoint informed by a lot of class privilege and a blindness to history — I have a feeling you'd also be anti-union, and support taking away rights to organize for better conditions. It's naive libertarian bullshit, and something so profoundly lacking in empathy that I'm amazed you'd write it out in public.

And GenjiandProust responded:

To be fair, conservative pundits have been screaming these points so loudly for the last three decades, that a lot of people have become completely tone-deaf on the issue. Not an excuse, but an explanation. Now, why anyone who isn't a boss would listen to that and not say "holy crap, this person is insane and my enemy," I am not rightly sure. I think it has something to do with misapplied patriotism and religion, but, hey.

Those eeeeevil libertarians! They want to take over the government...and then leave you alone!

I reject the initiation of force in order to enact social change. I'm opposed interfering in the relationships between consenting adults.

But I'm the bad guy.

This conversation is a good reminder that those who want to ban unpaid internships and those who want to ban sodomy only disagree on which practices that they'd like to see attacked with government force.
posted by John Farrier at 12:17 PM on July 7, 2011


Yes, you are exactly correct. Protecting individual workers from a coercive commercial system is exactly like protecting gay people from the evil fires of hell.

Except, you know, one of those things exists.
posted by muddgirl at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Those eeeeevil libertarians! They want to take over the government...and then leave you alone!"

… to the predations of the marketplace!

Who likes clean water? Who likes clean air? Who knows what a tragedy of the commons is?

"I reject the initiation of force in order to enact social change. I'm opposed interfering in the relationships between consenting adults."

Well, no, you don't. You're fine with the use of force to protect property — that inherently has social change implications. If I don't want to pay to protect your compound from looters, or pay for military expenditures to protect the country, you're fine with the use of force to enact that.

"This conversation is a good reminder that those who want to ban unpaid internships and those who want to ban sodomy only disagree on which practices that they'd like to see attacked with government force."

Likewise murder!

Oh, wait, did you mean that as a serious point, and not just a glibly reductive view of government built on a simplistic ideology that basically leads to social collapse every time it's implemented? Because, no, the only difference isn't aesthetics.

Lead on, Galt!
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I'm the Bad Guy.

Eh, I wouldn't say bad so much as really really wrong. The 19th and early 20th Centuries showed very clearly why Business needs to be regulated; all of history shows us how collective action is generally more effective than individual action. I like taxes; I am not always pleased on how they are spent, but I like roads, schools, fire services, and so on which, history shows us, are delivered poorly by business.

I don't want the government to leave me alone; if they do, the Bosses and their Thugs sure as hell won't. As history shows.

As for your offensive false equivalency? What muddgirl said.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:51 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I mean honestly, do people look back on the industrialization of the US and think, "Man, those were good times. If only those workers hadn't done something stupid like organize and fight their asses off and lobby their local, state, and federal governments to get some decent worker's protections in place, and to convince businesses that worker's protections were in their best interest. THEN we'd be living in a prosperous and equitable society! (Who cares if once in awhile a factory burns down and everyone inside is trapped? It's the invisible hand!)"

Or do they just erase the workers and dream that the history of the last 200 years was a big federal boot stomping on the faces of both employers and employees?
posted by muddgirl at 1:13 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


If an employer refuses to comply with this law interfering with the agreements that it's made with consenting adults, it'll be fined. And if it refuses to pay the fine, the state will send men with guns to arrest individual people. If those individuals resist, the men from the state will use those guns.

That's force.


Ah, you're a Libertarian. Thank you for signaling that I needn't waste any more of my time until you grow up and learn to actually think.
posted by weston at 1:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone argues that the woolen mills and robber barons of the 19th century is something we should return to. Am I mistaken? Would anyone hear like to argue that?

If not, please take a deep breath and remember that we are discussion college students fetching coffee, whether that gives them a worthwhile experience (either in reality or on their resumes), and what the consequences of their unpaid work is on society. Among other things.

I'm not trying to steer the conversation so much as I am pointing at the giant GRAR 18 wheeler that we seem to be driving awfully close to. Can we disagree without name calling and finger pointing please?

Or feel free to tell me to go fuck myself. That would be equally helpful to the interesting conversation that this thread is rapidly departing from.
posted by maryr at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2011


(here, I know some basic grammar, honest.)
posted by maryr at 3:28 PM on July 7, 2011


But I think there IS a direct connection between the labor movement of the 19th century and the fact that businesses get free labor by having unpaid interns fetch coffee.

Exploitation of labor is exploitation of labor, whether it occurs at a shirt factory or a fashion magazine. If you want someone to fetch your coffee and deliver you drycleaning, hire (and pay!) a personal assistant. If you want someone to design a website for you, hire an employee.
posted by muddgirl at 3:34 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


And more explicitely, John Farrier's arguments about the government taking away employee choice made this connection crystal clear.
posted by muddgirl at 3:47 PM on July 7, 2011


I don't think anyone argues that the woolen mills and robber barons of the 19th century is something we should return to. Am I mistaken? Would anyone hear like to argue that?

The last third of this thread has been going over that very ground. Beginning, as muddgirl notes, with the existence of a system that thrives on free labor in the name of "education." I mean, why would you ever hire someone to do something if you had a way to induce them to do it for free? It's a bit like they way publishing companies used to love hiring women with liberal arts BAs in the 50s and 60s. They would get someone who could type for a fraction of what they would pay a professional secretary, and they knew that the BAs had few job options. You get to screw two people for the price of one....

Same deal with interns. Under the proper supervision, experiential learning/internships/professional experience can be a great deal for a student, the institution, and the employer. But it is very open to abuse.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:49 PM on July 7, 2011


Exploitation of labor is exploitation of labor, whether it occurs at a shirt factory or a fashion magazine.

Too true. That reminds me of Mr. Matsushita.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:52 PM on July 7, 2011


John Farrier, your perspective seems to be based on the presumption that all people are presented with a fair smorgasbord of choices, as they may be if there was a perfect market out there. There isn't, however. Companies basically are colluding to lower expectations to where it's essentially required, for a lot of young people and practically all of them in certain industries, to work for free. Where is the choice there?

If the labor laws were perfectly enforced, then it is entirely likely that some unpaid internships would vanish altogether, and that certainly would have some impact on the choices available.

But the remaining unpaid internships would become paid. And that would make them a feasible choice for people who currently literally cannot afford to work for free.

Even using "choice" as the measuring stick here, I don't believe unpaid internships have the impact you're indicating they do. It's more complicated than an individual going, "I choose to take this unpaid internship -- whoops, it's gone; damn employment laws!"
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 4:00 PM on July 7, 2011


I was inspired to send an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Labor about a business I know that often has internship positions with a job description that appears to fall outside the guideline.

This was the response:
Regarding paid internships, the U.S. Department of Labor regulations address employment relationships between employers and employees. Unpaid internships and volunteer work are not considered employment relationships since they are usually at- will and not compensated. However, if the volunteer or intern will be paid for their hours worked, the best office to assist you is the Wage and Hour Division.

The office to best answer your question is the Seattle WA - WHD - District Office. You may contact this office at (206) 398-8039 or please visit their website at www.wagehour.dol.gov for additional information. When calling listen carefully to all of the options in order to make the appropriate selection and make note of the dates and times you attempted to call the office. If you are unable to reach a representative or have not received a return call within 2 business days, please contact us in order to forward your information to your local office. Please be advised that you may be put in a hold queue status until a WHD representative can take your call if you decide to contact this office.
I decided to call them. After listening to a very slow recorded message about what the local office does, I was invited to leave a voicemail message of my own, which I was told would be returned in the order in which it was received. I gave a brief summary of the advertisement and asked whether it fulfilled the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA. I'll keep you posted.
posted by grouse at 10:00 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


They called me back the same time and left an uninformative voice mail asking me to call them back on another number, and I haven't had time during working hours to do so.

I wonder if the FAA's expectation that its airport safety inspectors will work without pay is legal.
posted by grouse at 11:16 AM on August 3, 2011


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