Good Riddance To Unpaid Internships!


filmreelEarlier this week, William Pauley, a federal judge in Manhattan, ruled that “Fox Searchlight [had] violated minimum-wage laws by not paying two production interns for their work on the film ‘Black Swan'”. Finally.

I have never understood the concept of the unpaid internship. Back when I was in college I was offered one — at a National Park, no less. When I discovered that I would be doing what other folks did for money, I turned it down flat. I was certainly qualified for a paying job — the folks who were being paid to work there did not have any more education than I did. Sure, they had more training and experience — training that had been provided to them by this employer; experience that they had garnered by WORKING there, you know, for MONEY. So, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” to that nonsense.

Participating in this little adventure in slave labor likely would not have led to future employment — at least not there, as there was no money in the budget to offer me a job anyway. When I asked why they were calling it an “internship” versus simply asking me if I wanted to “volunteer”, they said that they could call it an internship because I was going to gain valuable work experience. I pointed out that I would gain the same valuable work experience by volunteering in the same capacity or, better yet, by continuing to work (and be paid) at my current job. They told me that if it made me feel better, I could think of myself as a volunteer. It didn’t make me feel better.

Historically, unpaid internships have been most prevalent in the fields of art and entertainment — television, film, music, museums, publishing houses, and the fashion world, to name a few. People — usually young people — looking to “break into” these industries are often willing to sell themselves short, by working for free. They exchange their labor for the (often empty) promise of future employment.

I’ve known any number of folks who have been hoodwinked into thinking that after six months of long hours spent fetching coffee and making copies, that they’ll be offered a glamorous job in their chosen field. I’ve NEVER — not even once — heard of it happening. Why should it? These companies just fill your vacancy with the next poor slob that’s willing to work for free. They may like you. They may even write you a nice reference. But, at the end of the day, why would they EVER pay you? — a person who was willing to work for nothing?

Companies participate in this folly because they can get away with it. It’s not that they can’t afford to pay at least minimum wage to a person in an entry-level job. A couple of hundred dollars a week is a drop in the bucket — given the amount of money that the people at the top make (millions!), it’s a drop that they can well afford.

It’s an unsavory practice, at best; criminal, at worst. I, for one, am happy that FINALLY someone like Judge William Pauley came to his senses and cracked down on, in this case, the film industry. Hopefully other judges will follow suit.

To be polite, interns everywhere should send him a “Thank You” note.

Click here for the full story.

photo credit: film reel (morguefile.com)

20 thoughts on “Good Riddance To Unpaid Internships!

  1. Foreign Islander says:

    I’m starting my internship next week and after reading this, I am hoping that I don’t get that feeling that I deserve to be paid, because my work ethic will get worst. I wanted the internship to get experience more than anything.

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  2. Don’t forget the legal system for abusing the ‘internship’ thing. they’re some of the worst offenders.

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    • javaj240 says:

      I have zero knowledge of the legal system operating with unpaid internships — clerkships here in th US normally are attached to some type of remuneration — I can’t speak for your neck of the woods.

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  3. If there is no chance to get a job with the company and the work is menial – i.e. does not give you truely meaningful experience, then I agree with you, it is a waste.

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  4. zerotosixtyinoneyear says:

    It’s about time this issue is addressed legally! As an MFA student, I found an internship at a small publishing company. I was flabbergasted to find out that my program would pay me for this work. Guess I was lucky. Most interns are taken advantage of and misused. I hope these decisions will open everyone’s eyes.

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  5. As a college instructor, I think unpaid internships for course credit are terrific ways to get experience during a college career. Unpaid internships that are not for credit are just abusive.

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    • javaj240 says:

      Unpaid internships for course credit are almost worse, to my way of thinking — not only are you NOT being paid, you are PAYING someone to work for them. And, really, how “targeted” are these internships? Are they really overseen by anyone at the college — to insure that the student is getting his/her money’s worth? I suppose if there is mentorship involved, if measurable goals are clearly set, if both the student and the company are supervised — an unpaid internship of this nature may be beneficial to both parties. If your students seem happy with their internships, feel as if they learned something tangible and marketable, then, perhaps, your institute of higher education is doing this properly — I just don’t know that this is the case across the board.

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  6. Rick says:

    The History field does the same thing. Museums and historic sites are bad about this.

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  7. BOTH of my children have been REQUIRED to work at an unpaid internship as a condition of graduating both High School and College. All of their ‘jobs’ were skilled and one was dangerous (she had to clean cages at a zoo). They worked a 40 hour week for 8 weeks and didn’t even get a Thank You. This is INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE and should be neither required or tolerated.

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