“Cheap labor”, a.k.a. the intern

March 12, 2009

The Onion once again nails it with a funny piece about internships:

In tough economic times, employers relish the term, “cheap labor,” a.k.a. the intern. Full of vigor and promise, the intern works hard for little or no money.

Oh wait, it’s not The Onion, it’s AdvertisingAge. Not funny.


Virtual internships – virtually real jobs

March 6, 2009

From an article in The Examiner about virtual internships:

When we interview for virtual internship positions, we are really looking for two things. First, interns need to be self-starters. Because they won’t be in our office each day, I need to know that they will be diligent with deadlines, make good use of their time and come back to me if they have the ability to take on additional projects,” said Woofter.

I wonder what makes these positions “internships”?

Unpaid internships: common but illegal

March 5, 2009

Another labor lawyer looks at unfair internships, another layer finds an illegal practice. Michael Tracy:

A common, but frequently unreported labor violation is the use of unpaid interns in violation of minimum wage and possibly overtime laws.  The scenario is fairly typical: a company offers an opportunity to ‘break into the business’ in exchange for the intern working for free.

He also provides his perspective on college credits in return for job experience:

Some companies try to get around the law by requiring that the internship be part of a college program.  However, there is no exception to the law allowed just because the “intern” may receive college credit.

He also has an interesting opinion on the lack of lawsuits:

The main reason that you do not see more lawsuits regarding unpaid internships is that the interns are very unlikely to sue.  In most cases, they fear being blacklisted, as they will undoubtedly need to use the internship as a reference to get any future work.

I would add that interns see their situation as a transition. By the time they file and win a lawsuit, they will have moved on to a proper job. They won’t benefit from their effort. But the law has provisions to address this problem, at least in California:

This is where California’s Private Attorney General Act comes in.  Because this law allows anyone at the company to sue for labor violations, even if they themselves are not affected by the violation, it is now possible for these companies to be brought into compliance with the law.  If you work for a company that uses unpaid interns and would like to put an end to this illegal practice, you should consider bringing a Private Attorney General cause of action.

So if you’re an employee that’s been displaced by an unpaid intern, you have the law on your side.

Happy to work for free

March 4, 2009

Here’s an illustration of why unfair internships thrive as potential employees are weakened. From The Daily Princetonian:

The recession is also boosting the applicant pool at FG Companies, a small boutique investment bank in New York that only offers unpaid internships, said Kai Chan GS ’04, an associate at the firm. “[The downturn] is great for guys like us, honestly, because we’re finding a lot of people who are saying, ‘Yeah, we’re happy to work for you for free,’ ” Chan said. “I noticed last year when we did interviews and said, ‘Just to be clear, this is an unpaid internship,’ some people were wavering,” Chan explained. “This year, when I explicitly start off the interview saying it’s an unpaid internship, they’re fine with that, and just say, ‘Let’s proceed.’ ”

This is the reason why unfair internships are illegal: because they are the consequence of the weak negotiation position of potential interns – exploitive, in other words. Those have no choice but to lower and lower their requirements to even gain experience. The good news is that there is a solution: collective action through legislation. And it already happened: unfair internships are illegal.

A fortune to work for nothing

March 3, 2009

The Brits are also baffled by the practice of auctioning jobs, cf. Tom Leonard in the Telegraph.

Slavery is illegal

March 3, 2009

The Examiner sets the bar the lowest when it comes to the legality of internships. How low?

HH: What characteristics of an unpaid internship make the internship illegal?

MM: An unpaid internship itself won’t be illegal unless the person has no choice but to participate—that’s slavery—or the labor or services themselves are illegal, like the sale of controlled substances without a license.

So, selling drugs and slavery make your internship illegal. Exploiters, beware !

The following clarifications from Marcia L. McCormick don’t really help, as she just says that interns are not employees nor contractors. What is the difference, we’re not told. Where it comes closest is “an internship is primarily designed to educate the intern” – and that’s a diluted version of what we read elsewhere that it should not benefit the employers.

This is also the first time that I come across an article with a legal bent that doesn’t mention the Fair Labor and Standards Act and its six criteria.

Madness and Shame

March 2, 2009

Internships-for-sale spark the outrage of Judith Timson in the Globe and Mail.

I’m no fan of unpaid internships. Not only do they penalize the less-affluent kids who can’t afford to work for free, but they are exploitive. Apparently some kids even consider taking out loans to cover the cost of working for free. This is madness. And shame on companies who encourage this to happen.

Madness and shame are words that should appear more often in articles about unfair internships.

Most said at first that buying an internship for their kid was troubling, to say the least. (I mean where does it end? Buying them a middle manager’s job at IBM when they’re 40?)

Exactly: where does it end? Isn’t the middle manager also learning something and getting a leg up for a senior management position?