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Businesses The Courts

Federal Judge Says Interns Should Be Paid 540

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the businesses-hate-it-so-it-must-be-right dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Student interns are typically relegated to menial tasks like fetching coffee and taking out the trash, the idea being that they get paid in experience instead of money. On Tuesday, Manhattan Federal District Court Judge William H. Pauley disagreed, ruling in favor of two interns who sued Fox Searchlight Pictures to be paid for their work on the 2010 film Black Swan. The interns did chores that otherwise would have been performed by paid employees. Pauley ruled, in accordance with criteria laid out by the U.S. Department of Labor, that unpaid internships should be educational in nature and specifically structured to the benefit of the intern, and reasoned that if interns are going to do grunt work like regular employees, then they should be paid like regular employees." The article seems to imply that this might be the beginning of the end for the rampant abuse of unpaid internships: "Judge Pauley rejected the argument made by many companies to adopt a 'primary benefit test' to determine whether an intern should be paid, specifically whether 'the internship’s benefits to the intern outweigh the benefits to the engaging entity.' Judge Pauley wrote that such a test would be too subjective and unpredictable."
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Federal Judge Says Interns Should Be Paid

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  • Ripple effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:33PM (#43986009)

    Unpaid internships are a huge crutch perpetuating class divisions here in the US. I wonder what will change now that rich kids no longer have the advantage of being able to say "I'll work for free."

  • Re:Genius judge (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gl4ss (559668) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:39PM (#43986107) Homepage Journal

    If you have to pay interns like regular employees, what's the point of hiring interns?

    .. ? if you "hired" interns, you would pay them.
    using interns for just manual labor nothing to do with the subject they're studying is just.. well, it's sort of cheating them and not just sort of, it's downright fraud against the school institutions as well who count them as course credit - of course those institutions are to be blamed for the abuse of the system as well since if they require "internship" for graduation but have no qualifiers on the actual work then they're pretty much just participating in free manual labor work experience without pay program. it's stupid for everyone involved except for those who sell their services to someone and pocket the cash(half of worlds magazine adverts are photoshopped and laid out by free interns - but the company still bills the client for their time and that's just nasty).

    if they got nothing for the interns to internship in they shouldn't be taking them in. but free labor and intern bitches yayyyy so they take them even if they have no intention of teaching them anything or putting them into any work in the field their internship is supposed to be in.

    there's of course all sorts of other reasons for putting the hammer on it, because otherwise soon you'll mcd will no longer have any employees - just permanent interns who get paid 1/10th of the minimum wage as "expenses" for their work.

  • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:42PM (#43986155)

    And who are you to decide that rather than the employer and the employee involved? You learn a lot just from being on a movie set, working in a hospital, or in a senator's office or in a science lab. These are experiences that are extremely hard to get and valuable and many people will gladly do them for free without any of your additional arbitrary conditions.

  • Re:Genius judge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sribe (304414) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:47PM (#43986239)

    I hope you get modded up, as your comment gets to the core of the issue very nicely. I just wanted to expand on this:

    Nowadays every imbecile thinks that an "intern" is a source of free labor.

    Yeah, I run a very small software dev business, and on a couple of occasions I have hired interns for the summer. Of course, as I hope everybody here knows, in our industry interns get paid, and pretty well...

    A couple of times, in conversations with friends outside the industry, when this subject came up, there was a total disconnect. They wondered how the heck somebody like me could find interns, and it turned out that their bafflement was because they assumed that by "intern" I meant "unpaid". I was so shocked by this ridiculous assumption that the first time I was literally speechless for a few seconds while I processed the concept: "this person thinks that there are young people who will develop software for a for-profit entity without being paid, wtf...". Then I slowly explained: "no, in this industry employers consider it customary to pay our employees..."

  • Re:Genius judge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:48PM (#43986251) Homepage
    I never understood how companies got away with this kind of stuff in the USA. I'm from Canada, and I've never heard of an unpaid intership happening here. If it does, I don't know why anybody would go for it. In university, we had a Co-op programme which required us to alternate between semesters of school and work. Took a little longer to finish your degree (but only a little bit more, we were either working or in school year round, and work only started after second year). After we graduated, we had 16 months of paid work experience. They didn't pay us as much as regular employees, but it wasn't minimum wage work either. And the co-op coordinators at the school ensured we were doing real work and not just fetching coffee and making photo copies.
  • Re:Fewer internships (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lightknight (213164) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @12:55PM (#43986373) Homepage

    Working there of their own free will, so that they can gain experience, so that they can get a leg up when it comes time for applying for an Entry-level / Junior job, which they will not get, since it's more cost-effective to use free interns than what is now an 'expensive' employee.

    See, a typical company has numerous regular employees, and takes on a handful of interns during the summer / other times. These positions used to be paid; they weren't paid well, compared to when the person actually graduated, but then, they weren't being paid much, and interns were closer to observer status than the backbone of the company. The only organizations who really ran with the unpaid internships were the peace / welfare / non-profit types, who would argue that they couldn't afford it, etc., etc., and people let them go with that because of morality.

    Anyway, between the dotcom crash, the housing market crash, and so on, the market is getting so bad, that the business types, who occasionally need a reminder from their fore-bearers why certain lines are not crossed, decided to cross another line. "The market is bad, so all internships will now be unpaid" -> every-time the market takes a dip, a business type will try and cut something; it's almost like a play, and shows that their business is not being run well enough to weather the darker times. Anyway, like all bad ideas, it catches on; soon college students are spending their parent's money to drive to and from unpaid internships, on the gamble that it will all work out in the long run if they put the effort in. Between the rising cost of gas, rising cost of tuition, and senior-level positions being marketed as entry-level positions, they're rolling in debt, and the entire edifice is collapsing on itself.

    But the real problem? The real problem, from a business perspective, is this. Suppose I have a company with 12 regular employees, and I pick up 3 paid interns. My rival has a company with 3 regular employees, and 12 unpaid interns. From a strictly fiscal aspect, he's probably going to be more cost-effective than I am. So I downsize all but 3 of my regular employees, and bring on 24 unpaid interns. He responds by firing all but one of his regular employees, and bringing on 36 unpaid interns. He's probably still winning, from a cost effective standpoint...but chances are, neither of our companies are producing much, the quality is going to be very variable, and the market is looking in horror at what has been created -> an incredibly unstable company, where the employees have little reason to be there, can leave in a heartbeat, and so on. The unpaid internship, like email spam and the old registrar's policy of 'trying a domain name for a month before paying for it,' has been abused; any company that cannot afford to pay for an internship (which rarely exceeds, what, the teens in terms of renumeration per hour?) is probably on shaky ground to begin with.

  • Re:Genius judge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Macman408 (1308925) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @02:05PM (#43987513)

    Internships are even flourishing in US industries where paid internships are the norm. I'm in Engineering, and I've never heard of anybody doing an unpaid internship. My alma mater's current statistics say interns in my field from the past year earned between $13 and $38 per hour, and $20/hour on average. (Full-time work after graduation pays $20-$53/hour, $35 on average.)

    Supply and demand factors a lot into this - good engineers are usually in demand, and there are many companies that will pay top dollar for both interns and full-time workers. In many industries, though, there is an excess supply of workers relative to jobs. This is how you end up with newspapers that have unpaid internships for journalism students - there are so many people that can do the job that they'll work for free. Similarly, you get people that are caught by the aura of the silver screen; they want to be big-time actors or movie producers, and they see that unpaid internship as their ticket in; but there are far too many of them for far too few jobs. (Especially if you count the labor pool that isn't lured to that particular industry, but is just generally qualified for that line of work - such as fetching lunch and coffee, answering phones, and assembling office furniture, as these interns did. Seems like an appropriate use for an MBA...)

    I think the judge's decision as summarized above makes sense - if they're doing real work, they deserve at least minimum wage. If you just want to run them through training classes and exercises, then by all means, they can do no work for no pay.

    The reason to hire paid interns is this: they get some money and experience. You get a worker that costs less, and a trial period to see if you like them. If they perform very well, you invite them back for another internship (if they're still in school) or a full-time job (if they're almost done), and bring their increased experience with them. If they perform poorly, then you know not to hire them again. This process is far easier for the employer than hiring somebody only to find out they stink, and then firing them. A sizable percentage of my employer's full-time workers started as interns; and a sizable percentage of interns are invited back for full-time positions.

  • Re:Genius judge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dj245 (732906) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @02:59PM (#43988225) Homepage

    "There are plenty of paid internships out there already"

    That's a pretty broad statement that ignores a number of facts, such as:
    .....
    3) Not every location has companies nearby willing to take on interns (think small cities and rural areas)
    4) Not every paid internship is flexible enough to be viable

    These are one of the biggest advantages of paid internships. The "real" job market doesn't have an XXXX in every podunk town. The "real" job market often is inflexible and not viable for certain careers in certain locations. My university had 2 co-ops as a graduation requirement. I didn't want to stay in Maine anyway, but it forced me to pack my stuff into my car, rent a room for 3 months on Craigslist, and work in a moderate-sized city. It forced me to live independently and handle my own affairs. It eliminated any fear I had about moving cross-country for a job. It reinforced in me the idea that getting a job often has nothing to do with your experience and everything to do with your connections. These are not drawbacks. This is the way the world works. It is invaluable experience.

  • Re:Genius judge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dj245 (732906) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @03:03PM (#43988269) Homepage

    Unpaid internships are used as a class barrier in many industries. It is simply too expensive for any "lower class plebs" to get into fashion or whatever, because they have to pay cost of living in some place like New York for years on no wage to get a foot in the door.

    That is a huge clue to me that the job market for that industry is crap and I shouldn't be bothering with it. In certain industries, there will be 10 people standing behind you willing to do your job for less money and while working longer hours. I have a friend who used to work for a car crash-testing company. The hours pushed 80 hours a week, every week, and the pay was crap. But the company never had to look hard to find someone to work for them. That is not a career. That is a human gristmill.

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