Monthly Archives: June 2014

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.

Sincerely,
Intern Labor Rights

You can get the PDF here.

See you on Sunday!

Peter Walsh, Allie Mcc liked this post

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!