Governor Cuomo, Enforce the Labor Law!


On September 17, 2014 Intern Labor Rights joined workers at a rally calling for the New York State Department of Labor to enforce its own guidelines to protect workers from wage theft.

Join us at the next monthly protest! Details at

The following is a transcript of ILR’s public statement at the rally:

We are proud to stand side by side with all of you, including workers
from the Indus Valley restaurant,
from the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops,
from the Chinese Staff & Workers Association,
from the Flushing Workers Center,
from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice,
from the Coalition for a Real Minimum-Wage Increase,
and all the other groups and workers who have turned out today!

Each year in New York State tens of thousands of young people take on unpaid internships, hoping and believing that they will gain the training necessary to get jobs and begin their careers. The vast majority find themselves untrained and exploited. They are the victims of Wage Theft!

Governor Cuomo! Enforce the labor law!

I’m holding here in my hand a copy of the New York State Department of Labor’s own guidelines on unpaid internships at For-Profit Businesses.

What do the guidelines say?

They say that the vast majority of these interns are workers who have been misclassified as trainees.

What do the guidelines say?

They say that the New York State Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders and the federal Fair Labor Stands Act require all workers to be paid at least a minimum wage. Yet the Department of Labor does nothing to hold businesses accountable – and many of them are large, profitable multi-national corporations.

Governor Cuomo! Enforce the labor law!

Recently, a young woman sued the David Letterman Show for back wages she was owed for the time she worked unpaid on his television show. This week, she withdrew her lawsuit.

Is that because she wasn’t owed back wages? No! She earned and deserves those wages.

She withdrew because she was frightened and intimidated. People were attacking her online.

How is it that an individual worker can be allowed to be intimidated simply for asking for the wages she earned? It’s because the New York State Department of Labor doesn’t step up to enforce the law on workers’ behalf.

Governor Cuomo! Enforce the labor law! Investigate the David Letterman Show. Make Letterman pay the back wages of all his unpaid interns!

Last year here in Manhattan, Federal Judge William H. Pauley III of the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York, ruled on behalf of a group of unpaid interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan.” It was a big hit, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue yet some of the workers on the movie were not paid for their hard work.

I’m holding a copy of the judge’s ruling here in my hand. Here’s some of what Judge Pauley said: The plaintiffs “were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ‘employees’ covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.” Judge Pauley’s ruling is clear and concise. According to his ruling, most unpaid interns are owed at least the minimum wage.

That ruling was made over a year ago. Judge Pauley says it applies to the New York Labor Law.

Where is the New York State Department of Labor? Missing in Action!

Governor Cuomo! Enforce the labor law!

View more images from the rally here.

Wednesday September 17th at 9am! Help NMASS Hold the NYS DoL Accountable for Wage Theft!

Join us and our friends at NMASS (National Mobilization Against Sweatshops) again this Wednesday, September 17th at the NYS Department of Labor on 75 Varick St in Manhattan! The rally begins at 9AM.

Demand that the governor and the DoL enforce the labor laws and put a stop to widespread wage theft that cripples working people all over the state!

Join us for an Unpaid Internships Panel in Washington, DC on September 2nd

Photo via Architect of the Capitol

Photo via Architect of the Capitol

What does the challenge against unpaid intern labor mean for Washington, D.C.?

The unpaid intern labor market in Washington, D.C., is distinct. Unpaid interns here likely represent a greater share of the labor force than in any other American city. They are also disproportionally situated in not-for-profit organizations and government agencies, in keeping with the D.C. economy as a whole. Combined, these two characteristics have the effect of institutionalizing a practice that is fundamentally flawed.

While some here are aware of the internship lawsuits alleging wage theft in the for-profit sector, the common perception in D.C. seems to be that unpaid internships in the public or not-for-profit sectors are unproblematic, that “volunteering” in either is inherently both legally permissible and socially laudable. Eric Glatt, plaintiff in the landmark Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. case contends that labor law is not as forgiving as many assume, and that the negative effects of normalizing this form of wage theft—including perpetuating gender, race, and class inequities—are no less real in public service sectors than in the private sector. 

If you are in the DC area, please join Eric, and other allies of the intern labor rights movement, for a lively discussion from 6:00 – 8:00pm on September 2nd, 2014 as part of the Bread and Roses series at the Busboys and Poets on 5th & K.

Join us on Sunday, July 27, 5:30pm

New to Intern Labor Rights? Interested in the role of internships in the nonprofit sector? You’re invited to our next meeting!

Want to share your thoughts and experiences of the intern economy? Want to hear what we’ve been working on and what’s currently in the works? Maybe you came to our Happy Hour last week, or saw us join NMASS (National Mobilization Against Sweatshops) outside the New York State Department of Labor, calling for a greater crackdown on wage theft.

Whatever your interest, we hope to see you at the Goethe Institut’s Wyoming Building, 5 E3rd St (corner of Bowery and E 3rd St, not the main Goethe Institut building), at 5:30PM on Sunday, July 27.

We recently held a retreat to focus on the problematic role of unpaid internships in the mission-driven nonprofit sector. So if you have some thoughts and experiences specifically about that, please come and share!

Rally at NYS Department of Labor in Manhattan Tomorrow!



Rally for Increased Enforcement of Wage Theft Laws New York State Department of Labor, 75 Varick Street on Wednesday, July 16, 9AM.

Each summer in New York tens of thousands of young people take on unpaid internships that, by the New York State Department of Labor’s own guidelines, are required to be paid positions. Yet the Department of Labor does nothing to hold businesses – many of them large, profitable multi-national corporations – accountable.

Join Intern Labor Rights, NMASS (National Mobilization Against Sweatshops), Coalition for a Real Minimum-Wage Increase; and other groups as we rally in support of increased enforcement of the wage theft laws that protect all working people.

Let us know you’re coming by clicking here We’ll be there, wearing our “Pay Your Interns” t-shirts. And remember – raising the minimum wage means nothing if the law isn’t enforced.

Join Us For Intern Happy Hour on Thursday, July 17th!


It’s the middle of the summer. It’s hot. And your internship might be illegal.

Come let us know how it’s going. Connect with other interns, ask about how you can fight against illegal, exploitative internships, or just vent in a casual environment! Join us at Intern Happy Hour next Thursday, July 17th at 6:30 pm at Brad’s on Waverly Place near NYU.

Are you coming? Let us know on Facebook.

Join us on Sunday, June 29, 5:30PM

Current or former intern, or just interested in the internship economy? Come to our next meeting!

We’ll meet at the Goethe Institut Wyoming Building, 5 E3rd St (corner of Bowery and E 3rd St, not the main Goethe Institut building), at 5:30PM on Sunday 6/29.

This meeting will be focused on catching newcomers up on recent events, and figuring out what someone just getting involved now can do. Despite rulings in favor of unpaid interns and legislation granting them workplace protections, some employers still freely use internships to bypass minimum wage laws. Furthermore, recent legislation does not in fact extend workplace protections to all volunteer labor.

Intern Labor Rights recently sent a letter to Governor Cuomo in response to S5951A, a New York State bill to extend “the same civil rights protections as paid interns” to unpaid interns:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

We share New York State’s concern over the civil rights of unpaid interns, and we acknowledge that signing S5951A into law will provide unpaid interns with more legal protections against discrimination than they currently can rely on.

Yet we remain disappointed that this amendment to the NYS Human Rights Law is too narrowly construed to accomplish everything it should. By only protecting some unpaid interns—those who meet the bill’s unnecessary definition—it leaves tens of thousands of unpaid interns in New York State, quite possibly the majority, without those protections. In short, the bill does not acknowledge employers’ widespread noncompliance with state and federal labor laws regarding unpaid trainees, and effectively excludes interns in such circumstances from the state’s civil rights protections under this amendment.

Alas, all the legislature had to do was decline to define the term “unpaid intern,” instead leaving it up to real-world usage to determine who would be covered by this amendment.

So while we note that this is a step in the right direction, it is a smaller step than we believe the Assembly, Senate, and Governor understand. We urge New York State not to put this issue behind it after passing this amendment, but rather to work on expanding civil rights to ALL unpaid interns, trainees, fellows, volunteers, and other workplace personnel not already covered by the Human Rights Law. And we urge the State to open its eyes to the widespread wage theft and other labor law abuses being conducted under the guise of unpaid internships and to take bold, decisive action to crack down on this practice in future sessions of the government.

Intern Labor Rights

You can get the PDF here.

See you on Sunday!

MASS MoCA’s internship “opportunity”: 50+ hours/week at $2/hour

It isn’t a new practice – non-profit institutions recruiting free labor under the guise of providing a benefit for the “greater good” like education and contribution to the community. While there is no section of labor law that magically exempts non-profits from having to pay wages to a worker it dubs an “intern,” it is all too common to see non-profits take advantage of a common—if mistaken—perception that labor laws simply do not apply to them. Even “volunteer” work is not a blank-check for non-profit employers to do with what they want.  We need to make it clear that “opportunities” such as the one offered by the institution MASS MoCA are not created for the benefit of young art workers, but are rather a way for the organization to construct highly ambitious programs on the backs of others. The museum’s website is currently advertising a call for interns, offering $2/hour pay for more than full time work (50+ hours/week) with a commitment of four months and without the ability to take off more than three consecutive days. Interns are given housing, but no meal or travel stipend. From the detailed descriptions of the offered positions, it seems evident that they will, in reality, serve as temporary, full-time, experienced laborers in an institution that claims in its mission statement that it is “forcefully” committed to “work…hard to leverage the arts as a catalyst for community revitalization.” We feel the museum should ask itself – if the revitalization of a community happens on the backs of mostly unpaid workers, who does that ultimately benefit?

Some may argue that the museum may not be able to budget for better paid internships, but MASS MoCA’s tax records indicate that the museum director makes in excess of $200,000 a year. In the same manner that money is raised in order to pay this generous salary, funds could be raised and allocated to ensure that everyone working in this institution is fairly compensated, not just the executive branch.  Perhaps the worst part about MASS MoCA’s posting is that by offering sub-minimum wage pay and housing for exploitative work, they fit squarely into an art world built on the backs of unpaid and underpaid interns. The museum’s posting doesn’t look that unusual next to unpaid internships from countless other art institutions big and small—exploitative labor is the order of the day within art institutions, not an oddity or an exception. Until the entire industry comes under serious pressure to change from art workers, we can expect positions like these to keep coming up.

We have pasted the posting below in full, and highlighted select areas that we feel particularly go against the very purpose of an internship – to provide an environment where individuals entering the field are given the opportunity to learn new skills, rather than bring their already well-honed abilities for the use of the institution at little to no cost. If non-profits refuse to act on the social responsibility their 501(c)(3) status purports to require, we feel we should at the very least make their exploitative labor practices known. Join us. Continue reading

Week in review: big business catches up, Sunday meeting

A year after the federal district court ruling that interns for Black Swan should have been paid for their labor attracted major media attention (and spawned numerous other lawsuits), “pay your interns” has become the party line in articles directed towards corporate management.

Just in the last week, insurance agencies,

If you’re a for-profit company offering an unpaid internship, you’re subject to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

…magazines that have featured Richard Branson on their cover,

Extra help at no extra cost sounds like a dream scenario for any small-business owner – but unpaid interns can land a business in a lot of trouble…

…online publications targeted to small businesses,

The Fair Labor Standards Act usually considers internships with the private sector for profit businesses as “employment” and requires those workers to be paid at least the minimum wage as well as overtime pay.

corporate HR departments,

As internship season approaches, employers are rethinking their use of interns, particularly those who go unpaid.

…and “risk management” professionals,

As summer internship season approaches, businesses should make sure their unpaid intern programs do not become a liability. Businesses that do not adequately address these exposures could be liable for thousands of dollars in legal defense and possible settlement costs…

all agree: it’s simply not worth it for a for-profit business to take on unpaid help. It’s better practice to hire entry-level employees. This means opportunity for those who can’t afford to work for free.

The stock photo depictions of internships in such articles, sadly, are still pretty unenlightened.

business woman waiting for job interviewintern2Intern1

If you’re in New York this Sunday, 6/8, and are interested in the transformation of the general attitude towards internships over the last year, or are generally curious about what Intern Labor Rights is all about, you should come to our meeting!

As usual, we’ll be at the Goethe Institut’s Wyoming Building (this is not the main Goethe Institut building!) at 5 East 3rd Street, just off the corner of East 3rd and the Bowery, from 5:30PM to 7:00PM on Sunday June 8.  Our meetings are very informal, and we always welcome new people.

Hope to see you Sunday!

We Meet Next on Sunday, June 1

Summer’s finally here! It’s a great time to get out and get involved with Intern Labor Rights.

Our next meeting will take place this Sunday, 5:30-7pm, at the Goethe Institute (5 East 3rd Street, just off the corner of East 3rd and the Bowery – NOTE: This is not the main Goethe Institute building). Our meetings are very informal and we are always happy to welcome new people.

See you Sunday!