Unpaid Internships: It’s Time for Fair Wages
With wageworkers protesting for increases and states reassessing the hourly wage requirement, Commentator Nardos Mesmer asks, why aren’t interns included in this war for fair wages?
As an undergraduate at The City University of New York – Brooklyn College, I interned in the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. It was unpaid, but a phenomenal opportunity.
The experience and references led to several others. I was offered an editorial internship at Hearst Media. I immediately fell in love with the magazine industry. What I didn’t love: The internship was full time, and the only compensation was class credit. That meant I had to pay tuition in exchange for the internship. I did it, hoping it would transition into a job.
After graduating from CUNY – Brooklyn, I secured a position as an editorial assistant. The catch? Byline credit only – no wages. Recognizing that the editorial industry was in poor shape and my college degree was not producing opportunities for paid work, I decided to apply to the Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism to make myself more marketable.
Now, in my final weeks of my master’s degree, I attended the career expo, where over 100 media companies were represented. I was invited to interview for an internship at one of the radio companies. I soon learned the two day a week position would be UNPAID. Again?
We are living in a time when Mayor de Blasio is rallying for a minimum wage increase to $13 hour.
So, unskilled workers are guaranteed a minimum wage. But it’s not illegal to ask a person with a master’s degree, and professional experience, to work without pay?
The Department of Labor holds that unpaid internships are not a violation of labor laws because it is for benefit the intern, not the employer. Really?
In 2013, a judge found that two interns at Fox –Searchlight qualified as employees and were entitled to minimum wage payments. At Hearst, a former unpaid intern initiated a class action lawsuit for unpaid wages. At Conde Nast two interns sued for being paid under the mandated minimum wage, and now the publisher won’t hire interns at all.
Recently, a judge ruled that unpaid interns were not protected under New York State and city human rights law and therefore couldn’t sue for sexual harassment. De Blasio signed a law protecting unpaid interns under a civil rights code. Now, it seems unpaid interns have the right of a paid employee, without employee wages.
These lawsuits are not just arguments about financial reform but a cultural change in way interns are compensated in a workplace. It’s high-time journalism interns banded together and protested for fair wages. Or at least, write about it!
Nardos Mesmer is still counting on eventually landing a paid internship.