Monthly Archives: April 2014

What does a just internship look like? Deconstructing the intern economy


Thursday, May 1, 1:00 - 2:00 pm
Free University
Circle C, Madison Square, New York

What are the rights of interns? Why should we stand up for these rights? How does the intersection of higher education, professional development, and fair compensation connect with labor explotations, gender and race inequality? Join Intern Labor Rights in a collective exploration of what a “just” internship looks like through legal analyses, story-sharing, visioning and strategy-building.


The Free University of New York City is an experiment in radical community education and an attempt to create education as it ought to be, building on the historic tradition of movement freedom schools. First conceived as a form of educational strike in the run up to May Day, 2012, Free University has subsequently organized numerous days of free crowd-sourced education in parks, public spaces, museums, and subway stations in New York City. Together we will once again create a place where everyone interested in or affiliated with grassroots activism in NYC can come together, learn about each others’ initiatives, and share old wisdom and new developments in radical politics.



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No meeting this Sunday, April 27

We just wanted to give you all a heads up that we won’t be holding our regular weekly meeting this Sunday, April 27! We are going to be printing a whole new batch of Pay Your Interns t-shirts and tote bags just in time to spread the message this summer. You can be sure we will post a link to our brand new Etsy store where you can purchase these items next week so we can get them out to you!

We will resume our normal meeting schedule next week – Sunday, May 4, 5:30pm at Goethe Institute (5 East 3rd Street, New York). BUT there is another opportunity for you to meet us at Free University on May Day (this Thursday) – we will be holding a workshop on what a just internship looks like – stop by to share your experiences, get to know us, and discuss what is really a just internship. Look for us at Madison Square Park between 1-2pm.

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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio signs intern anti-discrimination bill into law

10173536_481095122017822_3069944854523659730_nOn Tuesday, April 15th, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Intro 173-A into law, legislation that is claimed to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. According to Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), the bill’s sponsor, “The legislation was intended to put unpaid interns on equal footing with the paid employees they work with.” While this was a promising step towards addressing intern labor concerns, the bill’s current language lacks the inclusivity its proponents are celebrating. Specifically, it defines an intern as “an individual who performs work for an employer on a temporary basis whose work: (a) provides training or supplements training given in an educational environment such that the employability of the individual performing the work may be enhanced; (b) provides experience for the benefit of the individual performing the work; and (c) is performed under the close supervision of existing staff.” A rising volume of lawsuits indicates that a number of existing internships likely may not meet these qualifications.


Given these shortfalls, members of Intern Labor Rights attended a public hearing at City Hall to voice concerns and proposals for amendments of the bill. They urged Mayor de Blasio to reconsider its provisions prior to approval, in an effort to extend protections to precarious workers who may otherwise be unaccounted for under the bill’s narrow definition of the term “intern”. Similar opposition and suggestions were offered by attorney Craig Gurian. “Would it really be OK for a hospital to tell a prospective volunteer, ‘Sorry, we only take whites,’” he argued. “Or to say, ‘Thanks for helping us out, but by the way, you’re going to be sexually harassed every Wednesday and Friday,’” he added.


Both Intern Labor Rights and Craig Gurian had previously attended the City Council Meeting in March 2014, encouraging the council to re-evaluate Intro 173-A before passage. Despite this, the City Council approved the bill on March 26. Mayor de Blasio followed suit and quickly voiced approval of the legislation immediately after public testimony.

Intern Labor Rights recognizes that this is undoubtedly a significant step towards achieving workplace protections for unpaid interns. Aside from Oregon and Washington, DC, New York City is the only other region to have legislation addressing intern discrimination. Furthermore, several council members in attendance did acknowledge the possibility that more would have to be done to ensure that all New Yorkers are protected from workplace discrimination, regardless of title and compensation.

Given that the bill is now law, Intern Labor Rights proposes the following steps moving forward:

The City should be proactive in holding employers accountable to the criteria of the Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #71. The new law currently covers unpaid interns who meet the first three of these six criteria. Those unpaid interns in the for-profit sector would be guaranteed the “bona fide training experience that supplements an education”, in addition to being covered by this law. Moreover, internships not meeting such criteria would have to be paid, thus making those interns “employees” covered by current labor laws.

The City Council should revise the language of the bill to cover all individuals in a workplace environment. There are many internships in the non-commercial sector that, despite being unable to meet the criteria of Fact Sheet #71, are still considered legal by many, as they qualify as legitimate volunteerism. Individuals in those situations will remain unprotected by the new law. Furthermore, this bill’s focus on (qualified) interns ignores those in a workplace who may not be interns at all, such as volunteers, unpaid assistants, and undocumented workers. While we think all work should be compensated fairly, we think the least the city could do is extend the protections of this law to those nontraditional workers by revising its language.

To read our official response to the council upon passage prior to the Mayor’s approval, please visit here.

To read our letter to Mayor de Blasio and sign our petition calling for an end to intern wage theft and discrimination, please visit here.


We meet next on Sunday, April 20, 2014, 5:30pm

It’s been another week of leaps forward in the struggle to get interns recognized as employees! Did you see the objections raised by members of Intern Labor Rights when NYC Mayor de Blasio signed into law an intern anti-discrimination protection bill (Why did we object? read up here)? If you missed it, view the press recaps here and here. Did you catch up on the Department of Labor’s statement on behalf of interns? And most importantly – did you sign our petition calling on Mayor de Blasio to put an end to wage theft and discrimination for *all* interns in NYC?

We have come so far, but there is still so much to be done! If you want to get to know us, get involved in our actions, or simply want to share your internship experience with a group of like-minded people, stop by one of our upcoming weekly meetings. The next one 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!

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Department of Labor steps up to the plate – files an Amicus Brief in support of interns

This week marked a significant moment in the national effort to classify interns as employees. The Department of Labor’s six-point test (issued in 2010)  has been referenced in the courts to determine if an intern should qualify as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This test was also used in a suit filed in February 2012 by Xuedan “Diana” Wang against Hearst Corp. In the lawsuit, Ms. Wang claims that as an unpaid intern at Harper’s Bazaar magazine, she frequently worked over 40 hours a week. U.S. District Judge Harold Baer denied a class certification for this lawsuit and rejected the interns’ bid for summary judgment on their status as “employees” under the FLSA and New York Labor Law. The interns appealed this denial and in November 2013, the Second Circuit gave them the go-ahead to pursue their appeal.

On April 8, 2014 the DOL filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals in support of the Hearst interns, stating that Judge Baer applied the wrong test to determine if the interns should be qualified as “employees” under labor law. This is the first instance where the DOL took a public stance since issuing the six-point test, and since the start of the wave of lawsuits brought forth by interns. The brief stated:

“Instead of utilizing the department’s long-standing, objective test, the district court adopted a more subjective ‘totality of the circumstances’ test that necessarily makes it more difficult for both employers and interns, as well as courts, to determine whether interns are employees entitled to the protections of the FLSA”

It goes on to encourage the Appeals Court to adopt the strict six-point test:

“[T]he Department’s test stands in stark contrast to a “totality of the circumstances” or “primary benefit” test, which would introduce subjectivity into the analysis and invite inconsistent results.”

The brief also directly references the current widespread practice on unpaid internship programs and its direct link to the inherent difficulties to entering the job market today:

“The Department’s test is also an important backstop to ensure that this very limited trainee exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage is not unduly expanded, particularly in difficult economic times when employers are eliminating paid staff positions and the promise of free labor is both tempting and available.”


“Nothing in the FLSA or in Portland Terminal suggests that for-profit employers should be permitted to circumvent their obligation to compensate individuals who are performing productive work by categorizing entry-level or temporary workers as interns or trainees. In fact, the Supreme Court made the opposite observation in Portland Terminal, stating that it is “[w]ithout doubt the [FLSA] covers trainees, beginners, apprentices, or learners if they are employed to work for an employer for compensation.” Portland Terminal, 330 U.S. at 151 (citing 29 U.S.C. 214(a)). Thus, the Department’s test excludes from the protections of the FLSA only those trainees or interns who are receiving bona fide training that is for their own benefit, and who receive the training under such close supervision that their efforts do not provide the employer with the productive work that it receives from its regular employees.”

You can read the brief at ProPublica, and find additional coverage here and here.

Our next meeting is Sunday, April 13th, 5:30pm

Have you been following the recent legislature proposed by NYC City Council, the Department of Labor intervening on behalf of Heart Interns,  or the latest  groups who are finally making an effort to pay their interns?

And have you signed and shared our petition to Mayor de Blasio demanding a fair wage for interns?

Come join us in another discussion exploring these rising initiatives to address the state of the intern economy!

We will meet again on Sunday, April 13th at 5:30pm 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).

Everyone is welcome to come to our meetings! Our meetings are informal and are structured by collective dialogue and action. We hope you can join us as the momentum picks up towards the intern rights revolution!

See you Sunday!



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Our next meeting is Sunday, April 6, 5:30pm

Did you fall for our April Fools hoax? Or maybe you saw the letter we sent to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio demanding a fair wage for interns?

Whether you’ve been admiring us from afar or have stopped by a meeting in the past – this is the time to join in on the intern rights revolution!

We will meet again on Sunday, April 6 at 5:30pm 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).

Any and all should feel comfortable to come by – our meetings are informal and we have new people joining in almost every week.  Stop in to learn more about how you can become a part of this exciting time in the fight for fair internships.

See you Sunday!


Intern Labor Rights’ Letter to Mayor De Blasio Regarding Internships in New York City

IMAG2251Today Intern Labor Rights is sending a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who can take immediate action to address issues of intern wage theft and harassment in New York City, and set a precedent for local governments nationwide. If you agree with our requests and would like to publicly co-sign with us, please see instructions below the text of this letter.

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

Every year thousands of young people show up at their jobs in New York City, committed to working hard and learning the skills necessary to advance careers in the city’s many vibrant industries. Yet many find themselves shut out of opportunity[1], exploited[2] and vulnerable to harassment[3]. They are unpaid interns—on the losing end of an exploitative practice.

It may come as a surprise to many who have had what they consider positive experiences working with unpaid interns to learn that the practice has become a cover for billions of dollars of wage theft annually[4]. A combination of forces have contributed to this phenomenon: a historically challenging job market for young adults[5]; the brazenness with which employers substitute paying jobs with internships in violation of federal and state labor law[6]; the under-enforcement of existing laws by under-resourced agencies[7]; the complicity of universities, whose policies fail to account for the effect of unpaid internships on the labor market and often facilitate violation of labor laws[8]; and even the unwitting endorsement of the practice by well-meaning policy makers and employers who themselves may comply with the law but fail to see how this unregulated term[9] has amounted to a blank check in the form of free labor. Many are surprised simply to learn that there is no requirement in law or practice that interns be college students. Indeed, in many industries it is likely that the vast majority of unpaid interns are not students at all, but rather ordinary workers accepting such unpaid positions as the “new normal” at the bottom of the career ladder.

Mr. Mayor, let’s make New York City the first city in the United States to eliminate unpaid internship wage theft and begin creating a school-to-work transition that reduces income inequality, improves prospects for a truly diverse and representative workforce, respects the dignity of work and the value of labor, and shows the rest of the country that both employers and employees benefit from a higher standard. To that end, we make the following calls to action:

  1. New York City’s offices and agencies, the companies it contracts, and the organizations engaging City and City-financed resources[10] should cease hiring unpaid interns or other unpaid workers. Everyone working for the City of New York, its contractors, and City-supported organizations should be paid at least a living wage.[11]
  2. New York City should take affirmative steps to improve compliance with current labor laws and to crack down on widespread violation of both the federal 6-point trainee test[12] and New York State’s stricter 11-point test[13]—the standards by which a bona fide trainee is deemed not an employee.[14]
  3. New York City should work with Albany to implement a higher legal standard, improving both opportunity and protections for thousands of New York City workers who are currently excluded from full participation in the economy. New York Labor Law should be amended to recognize interns as employees, effectively ending unpaid internships as the practice is currently conducted by requiring employers to pay wages to all interns. New York Human Rights Law should be amended to extend sexual harassment and other anti-discrimination protections to all interns, volunteers, and anybody at worksites otherwise not covered by their status as employees—notwithstanding the recent partial extension of such protections to some unpaid interns by New York City Council bill Intro 173-A, passed March 26.

We look forward to working with you now and in the future.


Intern Labor Rights

(click for PDF version)

We urge anyone, individuals or organizations who support us (and who practice fair internships!), to co-sign. You can add your name by signing our petition at this link (there is an option to sign anonymously if preferred).


1. Class of 2013: Paid Interns Outpace Unpaid Peers in Job Offers, Salaries, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGES AND EMPLOYERS (May 29, 2013), (May. 29, 2013) (“Results of NACE’s 2013 Student Survey show that 63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer. In comparison, only 37 percent of unpaid interns got an offer; that’s not much better than results for those with no internship—35.2 percent received at least one job offer.”).
2. Press Release, Intern Bridge 2012 National Internship Salary Survey Results to Be Released, PRWEB (Feb, 7, 2013), (“64.1% of students need to work second jobs when working an unpaid internship experience, and only 45% of students were able to work more than 30 hours per week in their internships, due in part to the fact that many of them had to work separate jobs just to keep them financially stable.”).
3. See Venessa Wong, Unpaid Intern Is Ruled Not an ‘Employee,’ Not Protected From Sexual Harassment, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK (Oct 8, 2013),
4. Ross Perlin, INTERN NATION 124 (1st ed. 2012). (“Using up-to-date, but still conservative figures (500,000 unpaid interns at the 2010 federal minimum wage), the money that organizations save through internship approaches $2 billion annually.”)
5. Jaison R. Abel, Richard Deitz & Yaqin Su, Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?, FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF NEW YORK, 2o, CURRENT ISSUES IN ECONOMICS AND FINANCE, (2014) at 1, available at (last visited Apr. 1, 2014) (“Our analysis reveals that, by historical standards, unemployment rates for recent college graduates have indeed been quite high since the onset of the Great Recession. Moreover, underemployment among recent graduates—a condition defined here as working in jobs that typically do not require a bachelor’s degree—is also on the rise, part of a trend that began with the 2001 recession.”).
6. See Stephen Suen & Kara Brandeisky, Tracking Intern Lawsuits, PROPUBLICA (June 25, 2013) (showing that as of Oct. 8, 2013, update, in New York City over twenty state and federal wage theft lawsuits have been filed by such unpaid workers, many as class actions).
7. Gordon Lafer, The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012. ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE, BRIEFING PAPER #364 (Oct. 31, 2013) at 29, available at (last visited Apr. 1, 2014) (“When the federal minimum-wage law was first established in 1941, there was one federal workplace inspector for every 11,000 workers. By 2008, the number of laws that inspectors are responsible for enforcing had grown dramatically, but the number of inspectors per worker was less than one-tenth what it had been in 1941, with 141,000 workers for every federal enforcement agent. With the current staff of federal workplace investigators, the average employer has just a 0.001 percent chance of being investigated in a given year. That is, an employer would have to operate for 1,000 years to have even a 1 percent chance of being audited by Department of Labor inspectors.”)
8. Good Steps Against Unpaid Internships, Editorial Board of the N.Y. TIMES, (Mar. 9, 2014) at A20, (“Those credits did not count toward a degree, and mostly functioned as a fig leaf for employers, who could pretend that the credit somehow justified not paying for a student’s work.”).
9. Perlin, supra note 4, at 23 (“[T]he very significance of the word intern lies in its ambiguity.”).
10. E.g., Productions participating in the Made in NY “Mark of Distinction” program in the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting; the classified ad jobs board run by the New York Foundation of the Arts, which receives funds from the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs; for-profit organizations using unpaid volunteers for events in City parks, such as the GoogaMooga food event in Prospect Park.
11. Unpaid interns should be included in any living wage executive orders. See Jill Colvin, De Blasio Moves to Expand Living Wage With Executive Order, NY OBSERVER (Feb. 10, 2014),
12. See Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. DEP’T OF LABOR, WAGE AND HOUR DIV. (Apr. 2010) available at
13. See Wage Requirements for Interns in For-Profit Businesses, N.Y. STATE DEP’T OF LABOR, available at (last visited Apr. 1, 2014).
14. E.g., establishing a hotline and web service to report working conditions or advertisements for positions that appear out of compliance with the law; conducting an awareness campaign among employers, employees, students and universities; creating a reporting requirement of intern-engaging employers so the City can begin collecting much-needed data.

For April Fools, Join the Movement Against Unpaid Internships with ILR!

APRIL FOOLS: We don’t think hiring an unpaid intern is actually the best route forward. But feel free to get in touch or come by our weekly meetings if you are interested in joining the all-volunteer group!

Towards the intern revolution!

Towards the intern revolution!

Maybe you saw Intern Labor Rights organizer Dedunu Suraweera’s inspiring story on PolicyMic. Maybe you decided you’d had enough after another summer of getting your supervisors coffee instead of actually learning about your field. Maybe you just can’t afford to work for free, and the message to you was always clear: Interns of the world, unite against unpaid internships!

Lucky for you, Intern Labor Rights is expanding, and if you’re interested in joining the growing intern movement, you should apply to be an Intern Avenger! This valuable experience will put you squarely in the center of the exciting movement to end unpaid internships and create a just intern economy: We’re hoping to find someone who can meet these standards:

  • Available 2-3 days a week, during normal working hours
    • Candidate should own a smartphone/otherwise be reasonably responsive to off-hours communication
  • Willing to do important movement work: social media, advocacy, coordinating meetings, handling set-up and break-down of events
  • A serious attitude towards organizing – we want love an activist who’re willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, so to speak
  • Fluency in Microsoft Office, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, Premier Pro, Keynote, Final Cut Pro, DreamWeaver, CSS/HTML, Java, Javascript, PHP, SQL, Ruby, Python, C++, SketchUP, AutoCAD, Revit, and SolidWorks is a big plus!
  • Most importantly, we want someone committed to the values of social justice and passionate about ending unpaid internships!
  • At least two years of relevant organizing experience and a bachelor’s degree are preferred

For students, academic credit is available if arranged with an educational institution beforehand. We want this to be a real learning experience!

If this sounds like the position for you, send an email to Rosa Parlin, hiring coordinator, with a résumé and brief cover letter detailing why you think you’d be a great Intern Avenger. Please include “Intern Position” in the title of the email!

Women, people of color, and people from low-income backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

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