Over the past couple of years, hundreds of unpaid interns have filed lawsuits against their employer for not being paid after they have completed many hours of labor and performing tasks that are not part of their job description.
For years, politicians, unions and labor organizations have lambasted the private sector for taking advantage of new college graduates or those attempting to get a foot in the door. (This video here by Jan Helfeld interviewing former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a great example of the discussion and perhaps hypocrisy occurring).
The Fair Pay Campaign, a grassroots lobby to begin Labor Day, is now calling on President Obama to pay its large number of unpaid interns. In order to set an example for the private sector, Mikey Franklin, the leader of Fair Pay’s initiative, argues that the White House must pay its interns because they’re treated like an employee.
According to the White House website, interns are expected to work at least Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., they are not given living quarters and they are not paid. This comes as the president is calling to increase the minimum wage to $9. “We don’t believe the White House can, in good faith, go after minimum wage and at the same time have unpaid staff,” Franklin told CNN.
In addition, Franklin notes that unless you are a person from the upper middle class, it’s impossible to work for free, especially with a rising cost of living and soaring student loan debt and rates.
What should be noted, though, is that internship has been the fabric for college students and graduates who want the experience but can’t receive remuneration because they do not have the necessary experience to gain employment. Another element that should be explained is that if both the intern and employer come to a voluntary agreement to not pay or be paid then is it anyone’s business?
In the past year, several lawsuits have been filed against Fox Searchlight Pictures, Elite Model Management, Hearst Magazine, Atlantic Records, Gawker and Warner Music Group for violations of wage laws.
It is possible now that the unintended consequences of legislating internships and forcing companies to pay is that these entities will just refrain from hiring interns and then these individuals will not get the experience or contacts they desire.