All-out war on unpaid internships

Even White House interns are seeking a wage as the current economy makes on-the-job experience a costly privilege.

By Jason Notte Aug 21, 2013 7:59AM
The White House in Washington, D.C.If you're spending this summer toiling in obscurity as an unpaid intern, don't worry: Your payday is coming soon enough.

The unpaid internship is under an all-out assault from labor advocates and former interns who note that not only is it a means of subverting the minimum wage, but it's a tactic that allows only the privileged access to certain institutions and industries.

That argument has gone all the way to the top, CNNMoney reports, now that the Fair Pay Campaign lobbying group has called upon President Barack Obama to pay White House interns. The hope is that the administration will set an example for both private companies and government agencies while helping interns who face massive student loans, minimum-wage job prospects and, potentially, a few more years living at home.

President Obama has spent the summer stumping for a minimum wage increase, but White House internships are unpaid, housing isn't provided and interns should expect to work "at least Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.," according to the White House website. Critics say that sends a conflicted message at best.

"We have a minimum wage law in this country, and just because you call someone an intern doesn't mean you get out of it," said Mikey Franklin, head of the Fair Pay Campaign.

Last week, Facebook (FB) chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In organization backed off an ad it posted for an unpaid internship position. The job posting alone garnered more than 300 comments and even spurred a petition that called for the nonprofit group to pay.

In June, a federal court ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures (FOXA) violated wage laws by not paying interns who worked on "The Black Swan." The same month, 189 interns who once worked for Charlie Rose and his production company were given about $1,100 in back wages after they brought a lawsuit against the newsman for not paying them.

A minimum-wage battle between Wal-Mart (WMT) and left-leaning magazine The Nation got more pitched this month when the giant retailer chided the publication for using unpaid interns. Although The Nation now pays its dozen or so interns, Wal-Mart notes the publication still pays them minimum wage and may have to cut their numbers.

This past February, an intern filed a $50 million lawsuit against Elite Model Management for violating wage laws, and former interns from Hearst Magazine, Atlantic Records, the website Gawker and Warner Music Group have filed similar suits

The message is simple: In this economy, a small paycheck beats none, and experience isn't worth much if it can't pay down your debts.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 21, 2013 9:27AM
I have seen too many unpaid interns used as slave labor - with a promise of a job that never occurs
Aug 21, 2013 12:05PM
If Walmart doesn't pay someone for an hour of work, they can receive a fine of up to $10,000.00.  But an intern can "work" for weeks, months, or even years and this is ok ?  Why ?
Aug 21, 2013 12:17PM

Interns are a way to not pay employees, plain and simple.

Aug 21, 2013 9:40AM
Why can't ALL political jobs be unpaid?  None of them do any actual work.  From Obama down to the Mayors and councilmen/women.  Some broke officials might go a long way toward bringing jobs back to the US.  How can they raise minimum wage and force businesses to pick up the cost of Obamacare.  Maybe the plan is to put everyone out of business completely and Nationalize everything.  
Aug 21, 2013 9:16AM
More often than not, interns (particularly unpaid ones) end up with a negative experience.  Since they are not paid, nobody really cares about them so they are given meaningless chores, or nothing at all to do.  It is a waste of their time, and they get a bad impression of the labor market.  This probably is not true with high-visibility internships (White House, Facebook, etc), but common in other settings.  Pay them so that they learn the correlation between work and money.
Aug 21, 2013 1:29PM
i had 3 different internships, all unpaid.  while going to school for the field. i was REQUIRED  to do the internship hours and had to literally pay to go to the internship because it was considered a class. 40 unpaid hours at least for each of the 3 places

my performance was graded and it was unpaid. i made money for these companies, never got compensation and 2 of the companies never have any intention of hiring anyone because they know new interns are forced to work inorder to complete a scholastic program

Aug 21, 2013 12:14PM
They should at least earn a stipend for living, food and transportation, if not wages.

Aug 21, 2013 2:36PM
I can think of one White House intern who became famous during the Clinton years. In fact I think you can say see helped Bill Clinton get ahead.
Aug 21, 2013 4:38PM

My husband is in Pharmacy school and forced to do a 3 week unpaid internship (which we pay several thousands of dollars for, as it is to be paid to his school for credits). In additional to having to pay tuition, losing out on three weeks of summer payment from being an employed pharmacy technician, his school only allows internships within that state. He is an out of state student, so he had to pay for housing as well. It is a financial burden for unpaid scholarships in many aspects. Not only do they not get paid, many interns are PAYING for this "opportunity"

Aug 25, 2013 8:22AM
While doing an internship at a private rehabilitation center, i was asked to  work in the business office to maintain the company's website, as web building was one of my skills.  This had nothing to do with my major in psychology.  What they were asking me to do for free, would ordinarily cost about $75 and  hour.  It's called slave labor.
Aug 25, 2013 12:41PM
Interns of all kinds should get paid. We even demand at least minimum wages for baby sitting, fast food restaurants etc. why not at least minimum for interns and if over a certain amount of hours some benefits! It's just a way that companies can get people to work for nothing, in other words "slave labor". This is not just about political jobs, it's about all jobs for all interns.
Aug 25, 2013 10:37PM
Aug 21, 2013 12:50PM
Aug 21, 2013 5:03PM

There are professions, which REQUIRE internships,  where the phrase "training free of charge" does not apply.  For example, the registered dietitian. 

Your path, most typically, begins in an accredited 4-year Diadactic Program in Diatetics resulting in an undergraduate degree.  Now, for those who feel they've obtained adequate knowledge in their program to compete with the other thousands of students who are applying for the few hundred spots in the available UNPAID internship spots across the country they can, in the spring of their senior year, apply for an internship.  Here's the kicker - YOU HAVE TO PAY "TUITION" FOR THESE INTERNSHIP SPOTS.  This means you pay (sometimes in excess of $50,0000) for the "privilege" of working your **** off for anywhere from 6 months to over a year for hospitals, cafeterias, dialysis centers, WIC, etc... during the day and spending ALL of your free time writing papers, doing research and completing projects making it impossible to work to earn money to "pay as you go" for the internship.  Keep in mind, most of the internships are not local, so you have to pay for relocating yourself, food, rent, utilities, gifts for preceptors and instructors, project supplies, etc... 

If they pass the national registration exam (which they have to pay to take) they are guaranteed a career of low paying positions while they struggle to pay back student loans, internship debt and support themselves.  For those living off of mommy and daddy's dime, it's not a problem but, for those that were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths and feel the field of nutrition/dietetics is their calling/passion, be prepared for 10+ years of student loan and credit card debt. Oh, and they have the added bonus of having to pay for the numerous continuing education credits required to stay registered with the academy.  No wonder nutrition is known as the "rich, white girl's profession."  Disgusting.

Aug 21, 2013 3:33PM
I know at one point PA had a law that you couldn't earn college credit AND money on an internship.  I don't know if that still holds true.  My internship was long ago and unpaid. Ironically, it happened to be in a state legislator's office who needed writing/PR support.. Because it was such a small staff it was a fabulous experience and I got to do things I wouldn't have done if I was in a large, prestigious company.  The wake up call happened when I got my first "real" job and found out I had zero say in anything.
Aug 25, 2013 9:35PM
Unpaid internships have been used for centuries by people in power to exploit those that have little or no power. It is an archaic system from the middle ages that needs to stop immediately.
Aug 25, 2013 8:05PM
On the minimum wage part of the discussion I believe we should do as Australia does, have a tiered wage. Most of those arguing against an increase suggest minimum wage is a training wage. If so Australia permits wages of $5 an hour for under 16, $6 for 16-18, $7 for 18-21 and a minimum wage over $15 for adults. While I think $15 is too high I think $10 or $12 is fine as a minimum. The numbers I list are off the top of my head so not exact BTW. My reasoning on the tiered wage is that fast food places would again have an incentive to use teens despite more work scheduling the limited hours they can work rather than just hiring an immigrant and the higher pay for adults would probably encourage employers to hire more legal Americans leaving the illegals to work the jobs we wont as was done in the past. Just my 2c.
Sep 6, 2013 4:44PM
I have been an unpaid intern for a large media company for 4.5 years doing heavy manual labour, often pushing 14 hours a day. We arrange our own transportation, food, and other amenities. I've always found this to be unethical, but now I'm wondering whether this is in fact illegal. Particularly because there are employees at this company that do the exact same job but are paid. I have worked very hard for this company and have seen very little gratitude in return; I feel it's time to demand a change.
Aug 21, 2013 6:09PM
Interns are interns. They are not workers. They learn about the job. If they use them as employees. They should be paid. Of course as interns they have to do some work. Or else they would not need them. At my hospital they have interns who work. They do the jobs of the cardio people. They are overseeing the interns. The cardio people are not laid off. They are training the next generation.
Aug 21, 2013 8:58PM

The pot calling the kettle black.LOL...I knew somebody would publicly call out Obama and crew on their double standard agenda. And it's CNN! LOL Dang, this article leads one to believe that maybe the dems are starting to get a clue?? I sure hope this is a sign that the dems/libs are waking up from all the Kool Aid they've been drinking. Oh' and Wal-Mart! You go Wally world, call them all out. lol  

I do think interns deserve at least min. wage while they are training for a position/job.

i.e. If you are a young 15 year old with permit to work, say, "Mickey D's" you are paid min. wage while learning. If they didn't pay at least the min. the restaurant chain would be fined to the max and slung through the mud and boycotted because of "slave labor".  I wonder if the Obama and crew  interns at least get Obama care,food stamps, and a phone? hummmm



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