Intern worked to death?

September 28, 2006

Could an intern have been worked to death by an unnamed American firm in Korea? This is what the Korean Herald reported in its September 4, 2006 edition:

The Korean branch of a leading U.S. multinational company may face a lawsuit after an intern died from a heart attack while working late at the firm. The father of the intern, identified by his family name Moon, told The Korea Herald that he will file a lawsuit seeking damages.

Saying his son was fit and healthy, Moon said the heart attack was caused by overwork and stress from the competitive internship. “I’m preparing a lawsuit. The company has been very cold about the accident,” he said. The firm said it believes the young man’s death is not an industrial accident, saying he worked there for only 17 days.

The 28-year-old collapsed while sitting at his desk at 10:40 p.m. on July 19, police said. News of the incident did not become public until recently. The National Institute of Scientific Investigation, which conducted the autopsy, determined that the cause of death was “sudden cardiac attack.” “The sudden death … can be induced by putting stress on your body physically and mentally: mental agitation, overwork, labor, excessive drinking, overeating etc,” it wrote.

Moon’s father said, “He did not suffer any diseases. Neither did he smoke nor drink.”

He said that his son was under a lot of stress to be selected as a full-time employee at the company. The company recruits regular employees through an internship program and the competition is fierce. Moon, a graduate of the prestigious Yonsei University, was one of 20 people who landed the internship among 3,200 applicants.

“He left home at 6 p.m. and came back at night. He really wanted to get the job.”


The intern’s death has highlighted the competition in the nation’s tight job market. Even internships are very competitive as it is a stepping stone to landing a job. The competition rate for summer internships this year at Loreal Korea was 50; 1 while it was 135:1 at SK Communications, according to a survey by a job portal website

I don’t see why this hasn’t been mentioned in the US press. Are they unaware of it? I couldn’t find anything else about this in the news. Is it true at all?

That’s not helping at all

September 27, 2006

If you say you will help students, please do not explain them why they should accept exploitation because it’s such a great opportunity to prove a real staffer that you can make make photocopies.

But that’s pretty much the advice you’ll be given here. It’s sad.

(by way of Angry Intern)

The seedy underbelly of internships

September 26, 2006

Too much news coverage of internships treats the issue of unfair internships as an aside, a quick mention to say that “some” (including the government) think that unpaid internships are not such always a great opportunity after all.

But Brian Pierce in the Internships: an expose of coffee runs and unfair labor practices, June 14, 2006) takes the frontal approach:

But could it be that the world of internships has a seedy underbelly just waiting to be exposed to the light of day? The sort of thing 60 Minutes would take a grainy, hidden-camera view of, complete with tearful tell-all interviews with exploited interns and embarrassing confessions by employers?

The answer is yes, actually.

Right on. It is the position of that such practices are a scandal waiting to be exposed, and not just in the US. It is an exploitation of labor in a position of vulnerability.

Since 1947

September 24, 2006

I made some research today to find the source of the requirements of the Department of Labour for an internship to be considered as such and not a job.

It goes back to a Supreme Court case, Walling v. Portland Terminal, of 1947. The opinion was written by famous Justice Black. I’s an interesting read for those who want to see an example of quarrelling between Justice Black and Jackson, especially since they concur this time.

What’s also interesting is that the ruling actually favoured the employer by recognizing that the employees were receiving a training for their own benefit and not for that of the employer:

“Accepting the unchallenged findings here that the railroads receive no ‘immediate advantage’ from any work done by the trainees, we hold that they are not employees within the Act’s meaning.

How many employers today receive no immediate advantage from their interns’ work? It’s worth reading the whole section. It’s very clear:

For many years the respondent railroad has given a course of practical training to prospective yard brakemen. This training is a necessary requisite to entrusting them with the important work brakemen must do. An applicant for such jobs is never accepted until he has had this preliminary training, the average length of which is seven or eight days. If accepted for the training course, an applicant is turned over to a yard crew for instruction. Under this supervision, he first learns the routine activities by observation, and is then gradually permitted to do actual work under close scrutiny. His activities do [330 U.S. 148, 150] not displace any of the regular employees, who do most of the work themselves, and must stand immediately by to supervise whatever the trainees do. The applicant’s work does not expedite the company business, but may, and sometimes does, actually impede and retard it.

Time: The (Brave) New World of Internships

September 23, 2006

Internships are getting some attention from mainstream media this week: Time is publishing “The New World of Internships“. All is well in this world where internships are providing experience and better chances to be employed. Or perhaps not all.

Andrew Sum, a sociologist at Northeastern University who studies youth in the workforce, has a bleaker explanation: traditional jobs for youths are disappearing. As immigrants and oldsters crowd the market for jobs flipping burgers or packing groceries, teens are getting squeezed. In 1978, 61% of kids aged 16 to 19 worked; in 2005, it was 40%. Sum’s data does not include internships.

“This data does not include internships” means that jobs are placed by internships. Time itself defines internships as ”  part-time job of limited duration, paid minimally or unpaid, in which the interns learn while contributing to the organization.”, meaning that youth is forsaking a wage for internships. They are not accessing new opportunities: they are getting a raw deal. What would happen if internships didn’t exist? The workforce would renew itself anyway.

Time’s definition is all wrong in the first place. Either they don’t realize what internships are or they don’t know what they should be. In the first case, they should drop the “part-time” section along with “the interns learn” because interns learn no more than a new employee. Or they could say what an internship should be and drop “while contributing to the organization” because it misleads readers into thinking that internships are meant to be beneficial to employers.

Hourra for Anya Kamenetz who pointed at the absurdity of unpaid internships:

The subject of pay is a sore point with critics. “It’s ridiculous that kids will enter the work world bearing tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, and still be expected to work for free,” says Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt.

I would however nuance that the real reason to pay interns is not so much that they need the money than they simply bring money to the organizations they work for by contributing their time and competence. The article gives some examples of how a paid internship has benefited the intern and the employer.

It also quotes some who think internships are no good to get  into college:

Paid or unpaid, some high schoolers and their parents hope internships will pay off in the increasingly high-stakes scramble for spots at top colleges.

Forget it, say some. “They don’t help,” says Frank Walsh, college guidance counselor at the selective Regents School in New York City. “Colleges would much rather you did a college-level calculus course last summer than interned at an investment firm” — one reason Regents requires internships during spring of senior year, when the application ordeal is over.

Interns: FT thinks you’re rich

September 18, 2006

They must be kidding. The Financial Times’ leader took some of its precious time on September 2nd to address interns, inspired by the recent misadventures of Lucy Gao. The tone is light and they poke fun at interns. They must still be on this ironic streak when they imply interns earn so much:

Eventually you will wonder why the bank is paying you 1,000 Pounds a week to do nothing. The truth is that you are being taken for a test drive and they are watching to see how you handle it.

And since the FT assumes that interns are overpaid, they will be forgiven for making a plea that would be dubious in the context of an unfair internship: 

Finally, though, a plea to your employers. Your interns take you very seriously. They believe they are working for the best bank on the planet and they just want to be useful. So please give your interns something to do. Otherwise they are liable to think that life is one long party.

Summer intern already forgotten

September 17, 2006

The most hilarious part about “Summer intern already forgotten” from The Onion of September 8 is that the comments of the fake intern are very realistic. At least in this context, it’s easier to see the absurdity of it.