As some of you know, I’ve been concerned about the widespread practice of unpaid internships for some time.
These positions often exclude those who do not have the financial means to work without pay, thus creating class-based barriers to professions where the practice is very common, such as entertainment, media, the arts, and political advocacy. In addition, my own extensive legal research, published several years ago in a Connecticut Law Review article, led me to conclude that many unpaid internships in the private sector run afoul of minimum wage laws.
Meeting at the Cozy
I’m delighted that this topic finally is getting attention, and last weekend I had the pleasure of being part of an informal lunch meeting with two individuals who are making it happen: Eric Glatt, co-lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures seeking wages for unpaid interns working on the production of “Black Swan”; and Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Very Little in the Brave New Economy (2011).
Joined by journalist and Columbia Journalism School student Tiffany Ap, we met at the Cozy Soup ‘n’ Burger (Broadway & Astor Place — and my favorite New York City diner!) to talk about unpaid internships and how they relate to broader issues of work and economic justice.
Internships have occupied a gray area in education and employment relations, standing somewhere between the status of student and that of employee. In reality, however, most interns provide tangible value to their employer, and both ethics and law point to the imperative of paying them for their labor. Thanks in part to folks like Eric and Ross, we’ll be hearing more about this topic in the months and years to come.