The End of Unpaid Internships?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

It has become an American white collar tradition. While most young people work menial jobs in restaurants and shops, those who can afford to work without pay pursue internships in coveted fields like publishing, media, and government. The hope, of course, is to get one’s foot in the door, and maybe learn a little bit along the way.

But after months of working as an unpaid accounting intern on the film “Black Swan,” Eric Glatt came to believe something was terribly wrong with the system. And so he and fellow intern Alexander Footman sued Fox Searchlight, the production company behind the film. In a landmark decision that came down late Tuesday afternoon, a federal judge ruled in their favor.

Note: The Takeaway reached out to Fox Searchlight for a statement regarding this case, but did not receive one by the point of broadcast.


Eric Glatt

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [10]

I don't have a problem with unpaid/low paid internships. The arrangement (ideally) provides value to both parties. What I have a problem with is that it is a luxury only for privileged young people who have an alternative means of support behind them. This, to me, is the true injustice.

Jun. 14 2013 11:37 AM
Arthur Bell from Brooklyn

This is a HUGE issue and needs further exploration on your show. I am a college professor and I see my seniors unable to do their work because of 40-60 hour internships. We cut them a ton of slack as a result of the "experience" they are gaining. So - here you have people paying for a year of college (you have to be matriculating to get most internships) but they get nothing out of the year AND they then provide free labor. They get screwed twice and they are happy to do it. Yes - "interns" will go back to making coffee and photocopies. Good. They will see how things work and meet people. They will work less and get more out of school. Employers will have to go back to paying people to do entry level work and that will help with unemployment in the young.

Jun. 13 2013 03:47 PM
Martha Ross from Brooklyn

I think unpaid internships facilitate the growing problem of income disparity in our country. Wealthy students, who are often supported by their parents, can take these jobs without thinking twice whereas low-income, and even middle-income students, might not even have the option. This creates gateways for wealthy students into the job force that low income students continue to fight for.

Jun. 13 2013 03:42 PM
J from Brooklyn

I have a summer intern this year and had to jump through many dept of labor hoops to do so -- happily. I have no desire to exploit free labor.

That said, my intern is from a family that can afford to help support her during this time. Given the value placed on internships in academia and the workforce, it's a shame that those with little financial means find it difficult to access or participate in programs like mine.

Jun. 13 2013 03:23 PM
KaLynn A from Eugene, Oregon

I am a current law student, and I am persuaded by the argument that without unpaid internships there would be less opportunities to gain experience. This argument is especially applicable to law students looking to gain experience with public interest firms, environmental law organizations , and positions with startup companies who can't afford to pay interns. On the other side of the coin - school and living are expensive. The internships I applied for were heavily influenced on if the position was paid or if it was part-time so that I could find a part-time paid job.I passed over many exciting learning opportunities that I just couldn't afford to apply for because they were not paid. Without being paid this summer I would've had to take out more loans on top of the $100,000 of law school debt. The other alternative was to take a non-legal job which would have a very negative impact on my ability to find a job post-graduation. Unpaid internships should stay, but those organizations that can afford it should consider financially supporting their intens. It will allow those who don't come from wealth the opportunity apply for a more diverse pool of opportunities & gain the experience they need.

Jun. 13 2013 02:07 PM
Teka from Portland, OR

I see the distinction between paid internship and unpaid internship in the level of skill the intern brings. As a graduate of an MFA program, I'm not interning to learn the basic skills of costume production. I know the basics, and want to expand my knowledge. My current internship recognizes this, and pays me to learn their tricks of the trade. However, many of the college freshman I saw go through our program would have needed almost constant handholding, and would have been (bluntly) more of a drain on a costume shop than a help. If the company is getting extra quality work hours out of a person (within reason for a learning process) the worker should be paid.

Jun. 13 2013 01:47 PM
karrie from Portland, Oregon

While a student at the University of California in 1982 I did a summer internship at Dean Witter. All I did was cold calling to set up seminars which my "mentor" was pushing at the time. I learned nothing and just provided free labor. What a waste.

Jun. 13 2013 01:10 PM
Samra Bufkins from Texas

I teach public relations and social media at a university. Most of my students do multiple internships, many unpaid. The ones for college credit do not follow the DOL guidelines for unpaid internships--in other words, they are not educational, they are doing work, for free, that benefits the company. In many cases these kids work for PR and Ad agencies and fill out time sheets for their client work. I'm sure the clients are being billed for their time, but these kids aren't being paid for it. Students put up with this because they can't even get a job interview--much less a job--without an internship. Here are the DOL guidelines under the FLSA.

Jun. 13 2013 12:26 PM
Chase from Austin, TX

I am currently interning with the City of Austin. While I wish I were being paid for my work, I understand that municipalities often have tight budgets that don't allow for many paid internships. My fear is that if employers are forced to pay for all interns, they will simply stop offering as many internships. I decided to take an unpaid internship because I value the experience over the $8-10 per hour.

Jun. 13 2013 12:12 PM
Tom G from Detroit

For my degree, I was required to pay for my 2 years of "field placement" which is another name for internship. So I not only performed the same tasks as an entry level employee, my school was paid for the 3 hours per year that my adviser stopped by to chat about the experience. I enjoy my profession (clinical social worker), but troubled by this standard practice in this field.

Jun. 13 2013 10:20 AM

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