Stephen Colbert on Unfair Internships (again)

February 29, 2012
Money quote:
“You don’t have to be a college student anymore. An employer can just call you an ‘intern’ and then not pay you!”
“We had these in the South 150 years ago: cotton internships.”
(Wish I could embed the video, but my provider does not allow it.)

Spotted: another weak defense of unfair internships

February 19, 2012

Every now and then, some people bravely stick out their neck to defend unfair internships. The latest is Dreama Lee, from InternProfits, a website apparently dedicated to their promotion, if their welcome video is to be believed (“overworked people and unemployed youngsters; I see a win-win!”). She wrote an open letter to the New York Times, in response to their debate about unpaid internships.

The first third is an irrelevant attack on Ross Perlin’s credentials. Ross is not making an argument of authority, so I don’t see how attacking the fact that he may not be a “faculty member of an institution of higher education” among other things is of relevance.

Then, the author makes a straw man argument (we’ve seen this before): “So the solution, according to Perlin, is to end all internships.” I am not aware of anyone fighting against unfair internships that has ever made such a proposal. Yet, this is the one the author sets up to attack and discredit.

On the fact that some interns are reading Intern Nation, she thinks that the impact will be to “make the future intern feel like their internship is a waste of time and create more of an “entitlement” mentality before the Gen Y’er even steps foot into the employer’s office, further encouraging a stereotype that many Gen X and Boomers absolutely abhor.” She’s convinced that older people thinking that younger people feel “entitled” is a new thing, invented by baby boomers and Generation Y. Actually, it’s such an old and common thing that there’s a word for it: ageism. So yes older people think so and no, it’s not the fault of young people. Apparently, it’s human nature and Gen Y will likely complain about the Zs, even if they also accept to work for free.

But the crux of her argument is that internships also have advantages. That’s a funny way to put it. Who said they don’t? Seriously? This argument is not a defense of internship. Just because a phenomenon or behavior has upsides does not justify it. Speeding is great: it’ll take you there faster and it’s exciting! Why outlaw speeding! Who cares if it’s dangerous! Heck, think of how good slavery was to the economy of the South. It was thriving! Even for the slaves: a guaranteed job, housing, food and even a husband or wife sometimes. Really, with all these advantages, why were people complaining? Think of most illegal, unfair and outrageous behaviours and you’ll find anupside somewhere (robbers do gain stuff after all!). As silly as it sounds, this is how Dreama Lee is justifying exploitation of young graduates who have to accept serial unpaid jobs because they have no negotiation power.

At the end of it all, despite the snark above or the self-righteousness of the open letter, there is not so much difference between the positions of pro and anti-unfair internships. Even the author praises programs that pay interns and is keen that they interns should be learning something, much like we have nothing against real apprenticeships and support good opportunities to learn in a work environment. And I agree with her that the New York Times was not able to find one credible person to defend unpaid internships.


Excepting Areas Related to Compensation

January 14, 2009

It’s really not that difficult to understand why the mainstream media talks so little about unfair internships.

All aspects of the official Employee Handbook also apply to interns at the [New York] Sun, excepting areas related to compensation.

Would the Employee Handbook (capitalized, wow) prevent an intern at the New York Sun to write an article about unfair internships?


To the highest bidder

March 30, 2008

Taking an unfair internship is paying to work considering all the work-related expenses that put you in the red. But, as this blog has mentioned before, some literally pay to get an internship. The New York Times reported in January that CharityBuzz is auctioning internships – and they go for several thousands of dollars. It’s so upsetting that they use charity as an excuse. It’s like taking human shields.

I had never heard of such auctioning, but apparently, “the idea isn’t new: elite private schools have also found fund-raising potential in putting internships on the auction block along with a cruise for two.”

At least, the paper acknowledges that there’s something wrong there.

If the idea of paying to work seems counterintuitive, it is. And critics point to the exclusion of the less affluent and the absence of merit as a yardstick. Even bloggers grumble.

Even bloggers? Who doesn’t?

(by way of The Editorialiste)


Unpaid Interns Slaves to the System

March 4, 2008

It may not exactly be mainstream media, but “the largest fully independent daily campus newspaper in the nation” had an editorial this week titled “Unpaid interns slaves to the system” (The Badger Herald, Ryan Greenfield, March 3, 2008) and it brought up several issues with unpaid internships, like fairness:

Only those students with a form of external support such as parents or student loans can afford to take on an unpaid internship, especially one in another city with very high costs of living.

There is a good moral case to be made for equal opportunity, even though getting paid for one’s work should be a sufficient reason to justify fair internships. Here’s another important point about internships: if getting one is important to differentiate oneself, what happens when they become widespread?

You have to have had internships on your résumé to be able to get one.

The author brings up an interesting statistics, however without reference:

A 1998 survey also found that internship quality is correlated with whether it pays or not. It makes sense: Why should I put my heart into work I’m not even being paid for?

Unfortunately, the editorial falls in the trap of complaining about mind-numbing work given to interns — which applies only to a portion of internships and don’t address the actual problem of working in an actual job for free, against common sense and the law. Still, it deserves praise for bringing up the issue.


Immigrants are exploited too

March 1, 2008

What’s wrong with this article about immigrants being offered so-called internships? Yes, it reads like advertisement to a point where one wonders if the paper has been paid for it. But more substantially, it doesn’t define what’s an internship. The most obvious reason is that they are not internships: they are just un(der)paid jobs.

Interns are paid by the host organization, although they are not paid a full salary with benefits, because it’s considered a work experience.

How can one justify this argument? Isn’t every job, including CEO of the largest corporation, a “work experience”? At the beginning of a career, aren’t we all learning the ropes, building a CV? Why is it used to forgo the paycheck of some vulnerable workers who have little bargaining power?

Looks like immigrants are now potential allies of recent graduates in the fight against exploitation of new entrants on the job market.