Monthly Archives: March 2014

Intern Labor Rights Response to NY City Council Amendment to Protect Interns from Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

On March 17, 2014, the New York City Council’s Committee on Civil Rights held a hearing to discuss and invite public comment on bill Intro 173-A, introduced by Council Member James Vacca and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, which aims to extend to unpaid interns workplace protections against sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law. Activists from Intern Labor Rights (ILR) along with other advocates, interns and lawyers were present at the hearing and gave individual statements regarding the proposed legislation, urging the Council to use broader language than in the original draft. Yesterday, March 26, the Council passed the bill, without using the broader language suggested by ILR and those sharing our concerns, which would have covered thousands more interns, volunteers, and others working without financial compensation in New York City. We urge Mayor de Blasio not to sign this bill into law, but rather to send it back to the Council for strengthening.

While Intern Labor Rights applauds the New York City Council for their efforts to address the precarious and unprotected position of interns in the workplace, we feel strongly that this law will not solve the issues it purports to address, specifically:

  • The new law would not extend protections to interns who do not fit the narrow definition of an “intern” that the Council included in this bill, something done nowhere else under the law. By defining interns in a manner that employers themselves do not adhere to, thousands of New York City interns will see no new protections through this bill. Once an internship arrangement fails one of the definitional terms (e.g., it is not temporary, not for the benefit of the intern, not supplementing training or education, not enhancing employability, not under close supervision), an intern might not be covered.
  • Over 30 class action, state and federal lawsuits have been filed over work done by New York City interns claiming that their employers failed to adhere the very same kinds of conditions that the Council’s bill would require claimants to prove did not exist before these new protections would apply. With this bill, a harassed intern would be forced to make a tough choice: either prove they are covered by this new protection (by effectively demonstrating that they are not an employee, thus foregoing any potential wage and hour claims), or prove first that they are an employee due wages and then subsequently prove they were harassed in violation of their already-existing rights as an employee. This would be a complex, costly, time-consuming path to justice; furthermore, it already exists as a theoretical protection but has never even been attempted, let alone successfully litigated.

In short, this places far too heavy a burden on unpaid interns who find themselves harassed or otherwise discriminated against at their workplaces. In such vulnerable circumstances a victim’s rights should be clear, not confusing. We therefore propose that Mayor de Blasio veto this bill and instead urge the Council to pass a new bill with the following language:

  • Section 1.  Section 8-102 of chapter one of title eight of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended by adding new subdivisions 28 and 29 to read as follows:
  • 28. For purposes of section 8-107, and section 8-107.1 of this title, an individual participating in an internship or training program, or working as a volunteer is considered to be a “person” as defined in subdivision 1 of this section.
  • 29. For purposes of section 8-107, and section 8-107.1 of this title, the definition of “person” as defined in subdivision 1 of this section includes individuals who work without financial compensation.

Being protected from sexual harassment and discrimination is a human right, and should be written into law in a manner that applies to everyone. We urge Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to push further in their efforts to protect interns in the workplace.

(click for PDF version)

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Next Meeting is Sunday, March 30, 5:30pm

What a week! On Tuesday the NY Times announced it will begin paying interns, on Wednesday Tribeca Film followed suit, and the NY City Council passed a bill extending workplace protections to unpaid interns (though we have a lot to say about the language of the law…stay tuned)!

These are all encouraging signs that the movement to recognize interns as employees is expanding, and that our message is beginning to resonate. But there is still a lot of work to be done, so why not join us and see how you can help?

We meet next 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 casual and we are always happy to welcome new folks.  Stop by to share your experiences and learn more about how you can get involved!

See you Sunday!


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Next meeting – Sunday, March 23, 5:30pm

Excited to hear about the City Council meeting this past Monday discussing extending workplace protections (including sexual harassment and discrimination) to interns? Are you trying to make sense of the intern economy? Or are you simply tired of for-profit and non-profits businesses and organizations relying so heavily on unpaid labor, and want to do something about it?

Join us 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) to discuss these issues and learn how you can enact change.

Our meetings are informal and we are thrilled to welcome new people at any time.  Come share your experiences and learn more about how you can get involved!

For questions, please email us at

See you Sunday!



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Discretionary pay for “superstar intern”!

Shecky’s – a media company that organizes events geared towards women – runs an internship program for “superstar interns” for all their superstar departments that make up their business, including marketing, events, business development, sales, design, editorial, and the list goes on!  An anonymous tipster who responded to their ad on for a “Paid Editorial Internship” went through the hiring process and alerted us to the vagueness of their compensation policy (reminder: Shecky’s is a for-profit business, thus the law requires that they pay!):

I went through the entire hiring process with them unaware that the internship was paid below minimum wage, and even asked them whether it was (to which they replied in a somewhat indirect manner), until I found myself on the first day of the internship with the attached “contract” staring me in the face. Needless to say, I refused to sign it and walked out.

I probably would not have bothered to report this if it stopped there, but I should also note that the only pay is discretionary from $500-$1250 for the entire period of the internship, so they can simply decide to pay you nothing for any reason. When I asked one of the supervisors how they decide what the pay is, he replied, “If you spend five hours taking a ‘break’… if you smoke crack in the office… we ain’t paying you.”
Shecky’s seems to have quite the reputation of not paying up, so the mention of “discretionary pay” in their hiring process should sound major alarms for anyone looking to work with them or even attending their events. It is up to all of us to tell them what we think of their labor practices!
Do you have an experience you would like to share? Email us at We promise to keep your identity anonymous in our report of your story.

We meet next Sunday, March 9th at 5:30pm

Did you give up tolerating illegal unpaid labor practices for Lent?

Join us 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).

The meetings are informal and we welcome new people to join the discussion at any time.  Come share your experiences and learn more about how you can get involved!

For questions, please email us at

See you Sunday!


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Columbia no longer gives credit for internships

On the heels of NYU’s new internship policies, Columbia University’s undergraduate colleges have ceased to provide credit for internships. This is a major step forward: the university is no longer encouraging and legitimizing a practice that locks those who cannot afford to work for free from essential experience in their field. As education costs skyrocket and educational debt loads soar, it is especially irresponsible to expect any student to work for free.

As reported in the Columbia Lion and Columbia Spectator, the Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis emailed all students to inform them of the change.

Columbia College, together with The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Columbia School of General Studies, will no longer provide registration credit (R credit) on academic transcripts to note that a student has participated in an internship. There is no doubt that internships can be valuable experiences for students seeking an introduction to a range of careers and professional cultures. However, we expect companies to appropriately compensate students for work performed during internships. Our new policy is one adopted by many of our peer institutions and also is in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and NY State’s Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders.Click here for additional information regarding unpaid internships.

The university now also quotes the US Department of Labor’s Six-Point Trainee Test (Fact Sheet #71) on its Employers Policy page.

The policy change has drawn attention to the problem of internships on campus, where student groups have already hosted panels raising awareness of the broader consequences of unpaid internships.

While this is a step forward, all colleges should take a similar position denying credit for unvetted, possibly exploitative internships. Furthermore, Columbia University as a whole, including its many graduate institutions, should adopt a similar policy. In particular, Columbia’s Center for Career Education and LionSHARE job posting website should cease posting unpaid internships.

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