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End of unpaid internships?

Discussion in 'Tilted Philosophy, Politics, and Economics' started by genuinemommy, Jun 13, 2013.

  1. genuinemommy

    genuinemommy Moderator Staff Member

    The recent ruling about the unpaid labor force behind the movie Black Swan may change how all internships work in the US.
    Black Swan Event: The Beginning of the End of Unpaid Internships | TIME.com

    How will this impact the film industry?
    How might this change university education?
    Have you ever done an unpaid internship?

    I haven't had an internship, but my husband has. Internships were a substantial component of his MBA program - an essential part of learning professionalism and corporate culture. He also got valuable local contacts and references outside of academia that eventually led to gainful employment. Without his internships, his education would have been shortchanged. Though his were paid, it amounted to far less than minimum wage. I wonder how much it would impact the business world if they were required to pay at least minimum wage for this white collar work. I do think they would be more competitive.
  2. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    They may have once been useful...but so many have abused the concept that it is now unfair.

    At least minimum wage would be fair, the challenge is getting mgmt to agree to a budget.
  3. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    No exceptions?

    This kind of thing will be devastating to small businesses, especially those in the cultural industry, where they simply can't afford to pay for staffing beyond a bare-bones level. Speaking from experience in the literary publishing industry, unpaid internships is how publishers get important tasks done and interns get important experience so they can get a job in the industry. In many cases, the unpaid internship acts as training (something small publishers struggle to afford).

    In the business community I'm familiar with, we're not talking about fat cat business executives and greedy shareholders exploiting young workers just looking to make their way in the world. No, this is a mutually beneficial setup where publishers (many that would not even exist if it weren't for public grants) have an easier time keeping operations running and new workers gain important skills. It's a low-risk venture; it's a temporary situation. It's what has helped small-press publishing in Canada* keep on trucking.

    *You Americans may not realize the sheer magnitude of the cultural imports from America to a much smaller market and its impact on domestic cultural development and marketability. It's a tough business, and many who would learn the details would consider us in the industry positively insane. I recall a workshop I attended that was run by a business consultant who came from other, much larger, industries to the publishing industry. He recounts how he was absolutely floored upon discovering how the sales to bookstores worked for publishers: "You guys are essentially selling on consignment! Wow!" Yes, you're telling this to businesses of less than 10 employees who, at least twice a year, are often broadsided by returns of products in excess of 50%. Anyway, I digress.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2013
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Lordeden

    Lordeden Part of the Problem

    Redneckhell, NC
    I work with the local community college to have students train here (at my computer shop) for the Co-Op program. They are unpaid interns but I don't treat them like slave labor. They are not there to do a job I would pay someone to do because if I had to pay someone, there wouldn't be anyone there. I can't afford to pay someone right now but I love teaching students. I show them the ropes in SMB and home networking along with basic computer repair. After a few weeks they can do real work and I use them like bench techs. By the time they are worth paying, they leave (which is good because I can't pay them like larger businesses can). They get experience, training, and a reference; I get some free labor for a little while.

    I don't treat them like dirt or expect them to do anything crazy as an unpaid worker. I work around their schedule and don't expect them to give up their lives for this (unpaid) job. Most of the time they sit around the shop watching tv, bullshitting with me, playing with the dogs, surfing the web or studying for classes. This program has made me realize I love to teach when I get to do it by my rules and in a conformable environment.

    Do I think other businesses take advantage of unpaid workers? Yes, but not everyone is an asshole business owner. I think internships are a great way to get your foot in the door of the profession of your choice. A lot of times the company will offer you a job if you make yourself invaluable. I know when I need a paid worker in the shop, I will be giving an co-op student of mine a call before a complete stranger.
    • Like Like x 2
  5. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    Like many non-profit public interest groups, we rely on both paid and unpaid interns through formal internship programs of many universities in DC.

    The unpaid interns receive academic credit (from 1-3 credits, depending on the university, the nature of the internship, hours worked, etc). I dont think this decision will impact the unpaid interns, given that they receive this non-monetary compensation.

    We try to make the internships substantive to the extent possible and not just gopher jobs and, from exit interviews, the interns value the learning and networking opportunity as much as we value the "cheap" temporary labor.
  6. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    My understanding is that this ruling limits the interpretation of the legislation that allows unpaid internships.

    I think that unpaid internships are bullshit. Though I recognize their usefulness, I think they help stack the deck against people who lack the socioeconomic means to work for no pay. If the primary means by which your industry trains entry level employees is via unpaid work, then if you can't afford to work for nothing you're at a huge disadvantage relative to people who can afford to work for nothing.
    • Like Like x 2
  7. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    I agree with this to some extent, but as I understand the case in question, this was not an active college student so the FLSA criteria would not apply. But those criteria probably need clarification.
    U.S. Department of Labor - Wage and Hour Division (WHD) - Fact Sheet

    I couldnt disagree more.

    For entry level positions that require a college degree, a well defined internship program benefits college students of any socioeconomic class by providing experience, networking opportunities and general exposure to real working environments. It levels the playing field so that students from public university that might generally serve a minority population (like Univ of District of Columbia) could compete with students from high priced private universities (like Georgetown Univ) in getting pre-graduation experience.
  8. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    How can unpaid internships level the playing field when only relatively well off students can take advantage of them?

    "Let them get experience and connections via unpaid internships" is a modern "Let them eat cake". I've had two internships, one as an undergrad and one as a grad student. Both of them paid me more per hour than I had been making before I went to school. Had these not been paying positions, I would have been unable to take advantage of them. Because one can't buy food or pay rent with "networking opportunities" or "general exposure to real working environments".

    These internships were both independent of any school program; I didn't get college credit for them. The idea that a student should pay a college for credits, and that in order to get those credits that student must then go work for free for some organization outside of the school is fucking gross.
  9. snowy

    snowy so kawaii Staff Member

    That's what student teachers in this country do all the time. I pay to work. How do I pay to work? Student loans. Why student loans? Because a Master's in Teaching is an intense program that requires a lot of time, and I don't have time to work enough to pay for all of my credits (at $345/credit hour) without them. There are very few assistantships in what is essentially a cash cow of a program for universities. So then I end up with a pile of debt for a career that requires a Master's degree but doesn't pay me what my Master's degree is worth.

    The way we train teachers in this country is awful. I think we tend to avoid looking at the issue of student teachers, which are a significant unpaid workforce throughout schools in the United States. Even in this debate about unpaid internships, student teaching does not come up. We ignore the system we have because trying to change it would cost a lot, even though the system we have is not cost effective, nor is it what's best for teachers or students.
    • Like Like x 2
  10. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    The way we fund education in this country is awful and it's only getting worse.
    • Like Like x 2
  11. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    Going back to your initial premise, if anything, college is what "stacks the deck against people who lack socioeconomic means..." Particularly given, that most entry level professional possessions require a college degree.

    Getting academic credit(s) for working one semester in a field that relates to one's major in the form of an unpaid internship is as valuable, if not more valuable, than sitting in a classroom....and has nothing to do with socioeconomic means.
  12. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    The way college is paid for in the US totally stacks the deck against low income people. Still, that doesn't mean that unpaid internships don't also stack the deck.

    I can't even fathom how you can think that the ability to work for free has nothing to do with socioeconomic means. You know there are people who have to work full time while they go to college, right? How available do you think these people are to put in time at an unpaid internship on top of working their normal job and attending the classes they they are taking in conjunction with the unpaid internship?
  13. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    I understand what you're saying but I also understand that an internship, paid or unpaid, offers that college student from a lower socioeconomic background exposure to a professional workplace.

    How does it level the playing field? Our entry level positions require bachelor degree, with some related work experience preferred. From my previous example, a UDC student from a lower socioeconomic background with an unpaid internship and thus related work experience on his resume would have a competitive advantage on paper over a rich GU student with no internship and no related experience.

    I also dont agree with the characterization of "working for free." I would suggest it is working for non-monetary compensation in the form of academic credit that contributes to a more competitive resume.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2013
  14. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    I'm not arguing that work experience doesn't confer an advantage to a person who has it over a person who doesn't, so I'm not sure why you're trying to convince me that work experience does confer an advantage to a person who has it over a person who doesn't.

    What I am saying is that an unpaid internship is a luxury that people of limited economic means are less likely to be able to utilize. The fact that you haven't disagreed with me on this to me means that you don't disagree.

    I'm not interested in semantic gymnastics with respect to the phrase "working for free". Try paying rent with "non-monetary compensation in the form of academic credit that contributes to a more competitive resume" and let me know how that works out for you.
  15. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    I dont agree that unpaid internships are a luxury but rather a means to gain experience in a professional workplace while in college.

    And I dont agree with the generalizations about students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds "trying to pay rent" or not having the time or financial capacity to consider an unpaid internship and sit in a professional work environment and receive credit rather than in a classroom. Many receive some form of student aid.

    I agree that unpaid internships are not for everyone.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2013
  16. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    I think an argument about "leveling the playing field" is difficult to maintain when comparing certain professions and industries. It's easier when you compare companies within the same profession or industry.

    What I mean to say is it's likely easier for a finance company, an ad agency, a tech company, or a law firm to pay interns than it is for a culture company such as a literary publisher, a literary magazine, a theatre company, or an indie film company. It's even more so the case for non-profit charitable organizations. If you're a post-secondary student or a recent grad, and you want to work in these cultural sectors, you may be unable to find a paid internship position, or a position that pays more than a $1,000 stipend or something. They may be more flexible though. In my case, I had a six-month part-time internship (that was cut short at the midpoint, as I was hired full-time by the publisher, I might add). That allowed me to hold a part-time paying job (a bookstore) while earning valuable experience that eventually allowed me to practically double my income (and move from an hourly wage to a salary with benefits).

    Others in the publishing industry in which I work would be hard-pressed to find a paying position. Most can't afford it. This means that if they were forced to pay a wage for interns, the simply wouldn't use interns. They'd find another way to get the labour they'd need.

    That's the difference: Unpaid internship positions won't necessarily become paid internships upon legislation; they may simply disappear.

    (Sorry. I was rushed to make this post. I hope it makes sense.)
  17. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    You're acting like these are two mutually exclusive things. Why?

    As someone who was from a lower socioeconomic situation who literally could not afford to take an unpaid internship, I will respectfully disagree with you. I also received student aid. You don't need to look too hard to find evidence that my situation wasn't unique. When was the last time you went to college as a poor person?

    But you won't explicitly cop to the fact that one of the reasons that they are not for everyone is because not everyone can afford to work for free. Why?


    I totally agree with you. It's a shitty situation for all involved. A free marketeer might argue that industries that can't pay for the work required to sustain themselves don't deserve to exist. I think art is important and that it should be heavily subsidized, but I think that the subsidization shouldn't come from kids in shitty financial situations.
    • Like Like x 2
  18. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    Again, I dont see unpaid internships as a luxury or "gross" but rather as programs offered by universities to enhance the learning experience that may not be of interest or accessibility to all students....much like many university programs.

    Please dont play the "poor" card. I had a part-time on-campus job for all four years and also found time to volunteer in my congressman's district office (much like an unpaid internship).

    And I still dont agree with your generalizations regarding socioeconomic classes. There are choices and options.

    Why cant you acknowledge that internships for academic credit rather than money do not impose a financial hardship or are exclusionary based on income?
    --- merged: Jun 15, 2013 at 6:16 PM ---
    I think this takes us back to the FLSA criteria for unpaid internships and perhaps the need to redefine those criteria so that large for-profit companies are not abusing the system.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 22, 2013
  19. Bodkin van Horn

    Bodkin van Horn One of the Four Horsewomyn of the Fempocalypse

    I appreciate your finely honed skills in answering questions without actually answering questions, but you're still acting as though you don't know what the word 'luxury' means.

    So? You didn't answer my question. You also didn't address the reality of fact that a lot of people can't afford to work for free while working for a living while attending classes full time.

    Is this where you blame poor people for their inability to take advantage of not being poor because they chose to be poor? Nice.

    Because I'm not living in a fantasy world. Snowy and I have both given real world examples of situations where unpaid internships have or would have imposed financial hardships. All you can say is that you "don't agree with my generalizations" (while apparently ignoring the fact that you're replacing my generalizations with your own).
  20. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    Please dont put words in my mouth.

    We simply disagree on the value of unpaid internships, particularly when they offer academic credit rather than money.

    Here are real world experiences....from American University and Georgetown Univ where unpaid internships offer academic credit for working as few as 10 hours/week

    Academic Credit Guidelines

    Community-Based Learning (CBL) Courses « Center for Social Justice

    Will it require sacrifice to find 10 hours/week? Sure and it requires choices.