Category Archives: Actions


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Intern Labor Rights is looking for intern stories this summer! As a movement that is gaining wider recognition over the years, we know that visibility is a key component towards building greater awareness and coalition-building around our stories. We believe it is crucial for educational institutions, employers, policymakers, and fellow labor organizers to understand the depths and complexity of the intern labor experience.
In particular, we are seeking stories that explore:

  • Lack of Access to Internship
    Have you been seeking (an) internship(s) but finding it difficult to secure because of lack of compensation and/or basic job security by the employer?
  • Unpaid or Underpaid Internship
    Have you taken on an underpaid/unpaid internship but are struggling with multiple jobs, other sources of financial support, and/or an unsupported work environment? Are you working long hours and tasks for little to no pay?
  • Paid Internship, Unfair Working Conditions
    Are you in a paid internship, but experiencing a difficult work environment, such as little to no supervisory support, worker protection, and/or put to precarious tasks or job roles?
  • Intern Organizing
    Are you currently engaged in and/or attempting to organize within your organization and/or educational institution to raise awareness about internships in your area?
  • Additional Internship Stories
    Did you sign up for an internship thinking you would be getting an educational or learning experience, but didn’t get it? Were you told you would be presented with (a) job offer(s) post-internship, but didn’t receive anything?
    ….and many other stories!

What is your internship story? If you’re in the NYC area, we encourage you to contact us so can start filming our own stories and narratives! E-mail us at
DEADLINE to contact us: July 15th, 2015
PLEASE NOTE: If you would like for your story to be filmed but do not wish to be shown fully on camera, please let us know. We would like to facilitate a safe process for story collection.

Unpaid Workers Unite! Biggest Rally Against Wage Theft Yet, Next Wednesday, October 15, 9am, NYC.

New York State Department of Labor, 75 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013, Map
When: Wednesday, October 15, 9am

Join Intern Labor Rights at the as we stand side-by-side with workers from the Indus Valley restaurants, the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, the Chinese Staff & Workers Association, the Flushing Workers Center, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and the Coalition for a Real Minimum-Wage Increase to tell Governor Andrew Cuomo: Enforce the Labor Law!

This will be the last rally before the November 4th election and the biggest one of all so if you’ve been unable to attend the previous monthly rallies, this is the one to make.

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!

The New York State Department of Labor’s own guidelines on unpaid internships at For-Profit Businesses state that the vast majority of these interns are workers who have been misclassified as trainees. The guidelines 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!

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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.

May Day 2014 workshop reportback

What does a just internship look like? Deconstructing the intern economy at Free University, May day 2014

On May Day 2014 we offered an hour-long workshop that explored what a just internship might look like. Attendees shared their personal experiences with internships, ranging from current interns required to complete an internship requirement to college professors facilitating internship opportunities for students. Members of ILR also gave a brief overview of the current law regarding interns in the workplace. Workshop participants then did a mapping exercise that first looked at the world as we know it, followed by the world as we demand it, and finally – what is to be done to get internships to a better point. Some of the ideas that came up can be viewed in the images below.

If you are interested in facilitating a discussion about the intern economy and how to make it open and just to all, get in touch with us at We are happy to assist you!




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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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.

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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Announcing the success of the student-led unpaid internship campaign at NYU

Intern Labor Rights is pleased to share this announcement from the leaders of the recent student-led unpaid internship campaign at New York University, highlighting their accomplishment in compelling NYU to assume greater responsibility for the internships they advertise to their students.

NYU Student Campaign Press Release

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The past year has proved to be a milestone for intern rights, with significant accomplishments in the fight to have interns recognized as employees, with rights to both pay and workplace protections. Substantial decisions in courts, local governments and corporations around the country have brought unfair internships to the fore, prompting many employers to change their practices for the better. Multiple media conglomerates have changed their hiring policies—from terminating their exploitative internship programs to paying their interns. Significant information was released that began to fill in the data gap of unpaid work across the nation. Unpaid and underpaid interns are filing lawsuits against their employees for illegal wage theft. Students are starting to taking matters into their own hands, from demanding that their universities stop posting illegal internships on their job boards to writing substantial theses on the detrimental effect of unpaid internships and free labor.

Intern Labor Rights has compiled a year end report to serve as a resource guide. It includes a summary of important developments at the legislative and institutional levels; a detailed timeline that documents lawsuits, actions and corresponding public response; links to pivotal articles, panel discussions and interviews; an overview of the related struggles across the nation; and our vision and goals for 2014.



Will Work For Free: Breaking Down the Intern Economy | PANEL DISCUSSION

October 29, 2013 at 7pm | Housing Works Bookstore Café, 126 Crosby Street, New York (map)

In summer 2013, a federal court ruled for the first time that unpaid interns were employees who were due back pay. The ruling came down amidst a rising tide of lawsuits regarding internships, and alongside an expanding international movement against un/underpaid, precarious labor performed under the guise of internships.

With the status quo of internships interrupted, what are the implications for the non-profit, arts, and government sectors — which often rely on unpaid labor to make the most of dwindling donations and public funding? What is the relation of volunteering to unpaid internships? What is the appropriate role of universities, which often act as gatekeepers for internships by  offering access to their student bodies and providing academic credit without clear standards? Have internships served to stifle diversity by limiting opportunities only to those who can afford to work for free? What have been the effects of this practice on the labor market for young adults?

Intern Labor Rights organized a panel discussion the examined the future of  internships as it’s forced to find new footing upon less than certain ground.