Tired of unpaid internships? Go for a “non-stipendiary fellowship” next!

Let’s say you’re a college or graduate student, and you’ve developed a been there, done that ‘tude toward unpaid internships. Now you’re looking to move up from that designation.

Well, there’s yet another plastic ring to grab for, and it will enable you to show upward mobility on your resume without giving up the warm fuzzy feeling of not being paid for your work. It’s called the “non-stipendiary fellowship.”

A new non-job category

I was clued into the term “non-stipendiary fellowship” by members of the Intern Labor Rights page on Facebook. I didn’t know that this was becoming another way to create work opportunities without income, especially in the arts and humanities.

If you’d like an example, here’s a recent job position posting from the Bard Graduate Center:

The Bard Graduate Center invites applications for up to four non-stipendiary research fellowships lasting from 3 to 9 months. Since its founding in 1993, the Bard Graduate Center has aimed to become the leading institute for study of the cultural history of the material world through its MA and PhD programs, scholarly exhibitions, and publications, seminars, and symposia. . . . We provide office space, and rental accommodation maybe available at Bard Hall. Visiting scholars are expected to participate in the public intellectual life of the BGC, and to give one more talks on their current work. The Research Fellow may take up residence at any point after 15 August 2013.

Unpaid internships on steroids

Please excuse the snarky tone of this post, but I am incredulous that organizations have the gall to use the term “non-stipendiary fellowship.” Like unpaid internships, it’s wage-free work, only with a fancier title and a longer expected duration. This trend adds to the mounting evidence of worker exploitation in our creative and intellectual sectors.

Are “non-stipendiary jobs” next? Stay tuned.


Hat tip to Elizabeth Daley of the Intern Labor Rights Facebook group for the Bard position posting.

“At some point, we need to have a serious conversation about $5 t-shirts”

The title of this piece quotes a Facebook post by Jennifer Doe, a widely respected labor organizer here in Boston.

Jennifer is referring, of course, to the latest workplace safety horror in Bangladesh: Last week, an eight-story building housing garment factories collapsed, with the death toll approaching 380 and very likely to rise. (Go here for extensive coverage by The Guardian.)

Last November, some 120 people died in a fire at another Bangladeshi garment factory. It bore an eerie similarity to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City, where 146 workers perished.

The $5 t-shirt, the $30 DVD player, and so on

The Bangladeshi workers were making clothes for U.S. brands. As we go about our business today, many of us could be wearing the results of their toil.

Which is exactly Jennifer’s point. Lots of consumer goods that we buy in shiny department, big box, and electronics stores carry low price tags in large part because they were made by workers in impoverished countries who earn subsistence wages while facing harsh, sometimes life-threatening working conditions.

Thrift vs. blood savings

I fully understand the value that many Americans put on thrift. Especially during these difficult times, inexpensive clothing, electronics, and other goods are especially appealing to anyone on a tight budget.

My mom grew up during the Great Depression. Throughout their lives, she and her sisters dutifully clipped coupons and waited for sales to buy things they needed. While concededly I have not wholly internalized their level of thrift, I get it: Hunting for a bargain is a good thing.

But we need to face the question of the human costs of these bargains. Most of us have purchased goods made by low-paid workers in other countries. In the case of products made in countries like Bangladesh, however, we’re talking about downright blood savings. These folks are dying so we can buy inexpensive stuff.

The path to labor globalization

The terrible situation in Bangladesh is hardly an isolated phenomenon.

The globalization of manufacturing involves the constant search for the cheapest, most exploitable labor possible. The rough pathway started with manufacturing jobs secured by union collective bargaining agreements in the north, followed by the flight of those jobs to anti-union southern states. When those wages got “too high,” manufacturers fled to other countries where workers were willing earn a tiny fraction of what even the lowest-paid Americans expected to receive.

More recently, as manufacturing workers in places like India have engaged in labor organizing, these companies are packing up again for new places to mistreat the rank-and-file, such as Bangladesh. However, now that Bangladeshi workers are protesting these recent disasters, I’m sure these companies will start looking elsewhere.

They may be running out of South Asian countries, but sub-Saharan Africa has yet to be fully exploited in this way. Wouldn’t it be obscenely ironic if American-led multinationals targeted the continent that supplied future slaves to the U.S. for their next round of exploitation? It’s not an implausible scenario.

Intellectual Activism

For some time, I’ve been developing my ideas on a topic I call “intellectual activism,” which I define as using scholarly research to inform and shape social change initiatives. Two weeks ago, I hopped on a train to New York to give a lunchtime talk on intellectual activism to faculty members of the City University of New York Law School (CUNY), located in Long Island City, Queens. CUNY Law is one of the nation’s leading incubators of future public interest lawyers, so this was a great opportunity to discuss the topic with a receptive group of colleagues.

I examined how law professors can use our legal scholarship as the foundations for engaging in legislative advocacy, impact litigation, and public education through social media. I used my work concerning workplace bullying and unpaid internships as personal examples, but the discussion went well beyond that, as others in the room shared their experiences and interests.

Theory, research, and practice all come together in this model. Effective intellectual activism requires sharp thinking and research, honest and dispassionate analysis, and common sense grounded in experience and observation. Ideally this blend leads to us to prescriptive responses that are, as I like to say it, responsibly bold.

For a copy of my paper, “Law Professors as Intellectual Activists,” go here.

From bullying, to mobbing, to ouster: The story of Ann Curry

Ann Curry (photo: Wikipedia)

Ann Curry (photo: Wikipedia)

Certain work settings seem especially susceptible to vicious and petty workplace behaviors. The electronic media is one of them. If you’re looking for an example, the much publicized 2012 ouster of Ann Curry as co-host of NBC’s “Today” morning talk show offers lots of food for thought.

In a detailed piece for the New York Times Magazine, Brian Stelter plumbs the depths of the behaviors and organizational culture that helped to bring her down:

…Curry felt that the boys’ club atmosphere behind the scenes at “Today” undermined her from the start, and she told friends that her final months were a form of professional torture. The growing indifference of Matt Lauer, her co-host, had hurt the most, but there was also just a general meanness on set. At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes. Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross-talk with a local station. (Bell denies both incidents.) Then several boxes of Curry’s belongings ended up in a coat closet, as if she had already been booted off the premises. One staff person recalled that “a lot of time in the control room was spent making fun of Ann’s outfit choices or just generally messing with her.” On one memorable spring morning, Curry wore a bright yellow dress that spawned snarky comparisons to Big Bird. The staff person said that others in the control room, which included 14 men and 3 women, according to my head count one morning, Photoshopped a picture of Big Bird next to Curry and asked co-workers to vote on “Who wore it best?”

Then-executive producer Jim Bell appears to be the original catalyst for much of this. He labeled his effort to push out Curry as “Operation Bambi.”

Maureen Duffy on Curry and mobbing

Therapist and consultant Maureen Duffy, co-author with Len Sperry of the excellent Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions (2012), sees the Curry situation as a workplace mobbing. In an insightful blog piece, she carefully parses the Stelter article and draws the inevitable conclusion that Curry was mobbed out of her job:

Whatever your personal opinions of Curry and her work, she was clearly mobbed out of her Today show job. Workplace mobbing is a process of humiliation and degradation of a targeted worker with the purpose of removing that worker from the workplace or at least from a particular unit of it. It is a dark side of organizational life, involves co-workers ganging up on the target, and includes management’s involvement through active participation in the mobbing or through failure to stop it once it becomes known to them.

Maureen cites these indicators of workplace mobbing that led to Curry’s downfall:

  • “Precipitating event or situation”
  • “Targeting of a worker for elimination and involvement of management or administration”
  • “Unethical communication about the target and series of negative acts”
  • “Isolation and exclusion of the target, more ganging up, and resulting escalation of mobbing”
  • “Elimination from the workplace”

“Bullying” vs. “puppet master” bullying vs. “mobbing”

Some readers may be curious about the use of labels “bullying” and “mobbing” to describe targeted workplace mistreatment. They are variations on a horrible theme, as I see it. Sometimes smaller-scale bullying can expand to mobbing, which may have been the case with Curry. For that reason, among others, I regard workplace mobbing as a form or subset of workplace bullying, but others passionately draw sharper lines between them.

In a blog piece last year, I attempted to distinguish between (1) standard-brand workplace bullying; (2) what I call “puppet master” bullying; and (3) genuine mobbing. Here’s how I characterized “puppet-master” bullying:

In these situations, a chief aggressor’s power and influence over a group of subordinates may be sufficient to enlist their participation in mistreating a target, creating what looks and feels like a mob.

However, what may originate as a form of bullying can transform into broader-scale mobbing:

…(G)enuine workplace mobbing occurs when the malicious energy is shared among the many, who proceed to go after the few. …(R)egardless of its origins, this is now a mob, with individuals owning that animus in ways that fuel each other’s antipathy toward the target.

What appeared to start as an effort by producer Bell to bully Curry out of her co-host slot morphed into a toxic stew that went well beyond his machinations. Definitions and distinctions aside, the combination of Brian Stelter’s reporting and Maureen Duffy’s assessment has persuaded me that Ann Curry was the target of a full-blown mobbing by the time she left her job.


For more

Workplace mobbing situations often require careful study to understand. While even “typical” bullying scenarios can be difficult to unpack, mobbing involves multiple actors and sometimes rapidly shifting emotions and energies among them. In addition to the Duffy & Sperry book referenced above, please consider:

  • The superb body of work of University of Waterloo sociologist Kenneth Westhues remains a starting place for me in grasping these dynamics. Ken writes mostly about mobbing in the academic workplace, but his work applies to virtually all occupational contexts. I describe his writings in this blog post about bullying and mobbing in academe.
  • An earlier work on workplace mobbing, and still valuable, is Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz & Gail Pursell Elliott, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (2002).

Working Notes: Upcoming speaking appearances, Summer 2013

I’m looking at a busy summer speaking schedule, mostly on the topic of workplace bullying. Although the travel can be wearying at times, I’m grateful for opportunities to share ideas and information with others. Here goes:

Labor and Employment Relations Association, Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO (June 5-9, 2013) — LERA is a non-partisan, multidisciplinary association for practitioners and scholars in labor & employment relations. I’ll be presenting two talks: (1) “Intellectual Activism: How Scholarship Can Inform Employment Law and Policy (and Vice Versa)”; and (2) “As Workplace Bullying Enters the Mainstream of American Employment Relations, Will Law and Public Policy Follow?”

National Employment Lawyers Association, Annual Convention, Denver, CO (June 26-29, 2013) — NELA is a national bar association for attorneys who specialize in representing workers, and many of the leading plaintiffs’ employment lawyers are active members. On June 28 I’ll be on a panel titled “Preventing Workplace Bullying & Harassment.”

International Academy of Law and Mental Health, Biennial Congress, Amsterdam, Netherlands (July 14-19, 2013) — This is a huge international gathering, with dozens of programs daily. I’ll be speaking on two panels, with talks titled “Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Intellectual Activism” and “Can Therapeutic Jurisprudence Inspire and Inform a Healthier Culture of Legal Scholarship?”

Association of Labor Relations Agencies, Annual Conference, Washington, D.C. (July 21-24, 2013) — I’ll be giving a speech on workplace bullying and labor relations. This invitation is evidence of the growing impact of the workplace anti-bullying movement: ALRA members are employment relations “neutrals” from government labor relations agencies across North America, and this will provide us with great visibility among an important group.

Terrorism: Small businesses, wage earners pay a high price

Greater Boston is in lockdown mode at mid-afternoon of this otherwise lovely spring Friday, with law enforcement authorities pursuing the suspects from Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings. For some of us, it means a try-to-work-at-home day as we attempt to do something constructive while following news updates.

Of course, this is an unsettling day for just about everyone around here. But for so many small businesses, wage earners, and service providers like cabbies, it also is a costly day of lost income, even if the reasons for the shutdown are entirely justifiable.

I don’t know what political messages the perpetrators intended to send by their horrible actions, but among those paying a significant price are businesses and individuals who can least afford to do so. Big companies that can absorb a loss, and higher salary earners who will get their full paychecks regardless, will be okay, while many others will find it even more difficult to balance their books and to make ends meet.

Boston, the day after: Back to normal, but not really

A choir was singing "Danny Boy"

On the Boston Common, an early evening peace vigil (Photo: DY)

Had you been transported to Boston’s busy Downtown Crossing area at lunchtime today, it may not have been evident that just the day before, at least three people died and over a hundred were injured (many severely) by two bombs that were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, a few short subway stops away.

You would’ve seen the usual scurrying about, with some folks carrying bags from quick shopping trips, and others lining up at one of the food carts for a bite to eat.

Indeed, on the surface, much of Boston looked pretty normal today, the major exceptions being that part of town regarded as a crime scene and thus closed off to the general public, as well as increased security in the public transportation system. Otherwise, most offices, schools, and stores were open for business.

Just another working day, yes?

Hardly. You can’t see what’s going through everyone’s minds, but mark my words, very few people were not in some way distracted, anxious, preoccupied, upset, angry, or grieving. I don’t think a lot of work got done today.

At this point, we don’t know who planted these bombs or why, so it’s too early to process what this all means. But Boston has been changed forever. In America, places such as Oklahoma City and New York have had to endure this on an even larger scale, and cities around the world have faced recurring acts of terrorism. Yesterday, this often insular, tribal city was forced to mature and identify with cities around the world in a terribly painful way.

But very early this evening, I found myself embracing a piece of the parochialism that at times I have struggled with so mightily. Walking through the Boston Common, I could see what appeared to be a peace vigil ahead of me and made out the sounds of a choir. I confess that my cynicism took over, as I expected to hear some 60s peace movement song, which for me would’ve rendered the gathering a bit of a cliche.

No, the choir was singing “Danny Boy,” and it sounded beautiful.

Working Notes: Moyers on wealth inequality, EHS on workplace bullying, adjunct profs organize, and more

Several interesting items worthy of attention:

Moyers on American wealth inequality

Bill Moyers presents an excellent video essay on America’s out-of-control wealth inequality. Click above to watch, or go here for a preview:

The unprecedented level of economic inequality in America is undeniable. In an extended essay, Bill shares examples of the striking extremes of wealth and poverty across the country, including a video report on California’s Silicon Valley. There, Facebook, Google, and Apple are minting millionaires, while the area’s homeless — who’ve grown 20 percent in the last two years — are living in tent cities at their virtual doorsteps.

“A petty, narcissistic, pridefully ignorant politics has come to dominate and paralyze our government,” says Bill, “while millions of people keep falling through the gaping hole that has turned us into the United States of Inequality.”

EHS on Workplace Bullying

Laura Walter, in a lengthy, substantive piece for EHS Today (a periodical for environmental, health, and safety professionals), writes about the effects of workplace bullying. Here’s her lede:

A few years ago, Maria had never even heard the term “workplace bullying.” But by the time she shared with EHS Today the path her professional life has taken in recent years, she used words like “traumatized,” “powerless,”  “hostility,”  “retaliation,”  “mafia” and “war zone.” All this from a self-described happy, optimistic person who loved her job as a nurse and who never expected to become the target of bullying at work.

Dr. Gary Namie and the work of the Workplace Bullying Institute are featured prominently in this article.

Adjunct Professors Organizing

SEIU, America’s largest service workers union, is organizing part-time faculty in colleges and universities. Overall, adjunct professors comprise one of the most exploited groups in higher education, receiving paltry salaries and minimal, if any, benefits in return for heavy-duty teaching responsibilities. Peter Schmidt reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A national labor union that has made strides in organizing adjunct instructors in Washington, D.C., and its Maryland suburbs is starting a similar regional campaign in Boston and is planning one in Los Angeles, too.

Service Employees International Union developed its “metropolitan” organizing strategy out of a belief that, by unionizing adjuncts at enough colleges in a large, urban labor market, it can put other colleges in that area under competitive pressure to improve their own adjunct instructors’ pay and working conditions.

As the article points out, Boston is among the cities selected for organizing efforts. On Saturday, Massachusetts Adjunct Action held a symposium at the Kennedy Library, drawing participants from some 20 area schools. Go here for social media commentary on the event.

Unpaid Internships Across the Pond

Peter Walker reports for The Guardian that the British government will investigate 100 firms for potential violations of wage laws stemming from their use of unpaid interns:

The government has referred 100 companies for investigation by HM Revenue and Customs after a campaign group told ministers they might be breaking the law through their use of unpaid interns.

The firms, which have not been identified publicly but are understood to include a number of household names, were referred by Jo Swinson, the junior employment minister, after a meeting she had with Intern Aware, which campaigns against the abuse of the internship process.

I hope this will inspire unpaid intern activists and the U.S. Department of Labor toward similar initiatives!

Hat tip to “Interns ≠ Free Labor” Facebook group

Fidelity exec on U.S. retirement savings

Fidelity’s head of asset management told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that America faces a crisis in terms of retirement readiness. Beth Healy reports for the Boston Globe:

Fidelity Investments’ president of asset management, Ronald O’Hanley, issued a stern warning Wednesday before a gathering of the US Chamber of Commerce that Americans are not saving enough for retirement and are in danger of living their later years in poverty.

O’Hanley told attendees at the chamber’s capital markets summit that the country needs to “act now to avert the looming catastrophe America faces if we don’t get serious about addressing the inadequacy of our retirement savings system.”

Already, nearly four in 10 retiree households do not have enough income to cover their monthly expenses, according to the Boston mutual fund giant’s research. And well over half of Americans have less than $25,000 in total savings, not counting their homes or pension plans, O’Hanley said.

It’s a message we cannot repeat too often.

The Future of Social Security

Of course, if we’re talking about retirement readiness, then the health of the Social Security program must be considered as well. The topic is all over the news right now because the folks in Washington D.C. are taking hard looks at how to shore up the Social Security retirement and disability funds. On the always interesting Next Avenue site, Richard Eisenberg has a good overview piece that examines the possible policy options:

You’ve probably heard a lot lately about President Barack Obama’s Chained CPI (Consumer Price Index) budget proposal, which would cut future Social Security annual cost of living increases, as I’ll explain shortly. But I’d like to tell you about other ways Social Security may be changing to remain solvent — and the one strategy for claiming benefits you might want to take advantage of before it disappears.

Should lawyers who enable abusive employees be terminated?

The fallout continues from the situation involving former Rutgers men’s head basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired last week after videotape of his repeated abusive treatment of his players went public. The media reported that Rutgers general counsel John Wolf lost his job in the immediate aftermath of that firing. Wolf apparently had played a key role in advising Rutgers late last year that it could retain Rice by imposing a short suspension and a fine.

Demoted, not terminated

It turns out that Rutgers pulled a bit of a fast one. Wolf was not terminated from employment; rather, he was demoted to a lower position. The ongoing outcry to that decision and the seeming public deception on the part of Rutgers have led to his resignation. As reported by the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports):

A Rutgers University lawyer resigned Thursday amid growing anger that he was still employed by the school after approving a decision in December to suspend rather than fire basketball coach Mike Rice after becoming aware of a video showing the coach hitting, kicking and taunting players.

The university last week announced that John Wolf, who had been serving in an interim basis as the university’s top in-house lawyer, had resigned from his leadership position. School officials at first would not clarify what that meant, but then this week acknowledged that he was remaining at Rutgers as a lower-level lawyer.

A closer look

Was Wolf’s ouster merited? I have written before about how the worst employers seem to have the most thuggish lawyers representing them. It’s not clear to me that either characterization fits here, although Rutgers’s attempt to hide the true nature of Wolf’s employment status indicates that they still don’t get it.

I also wrote in my earlier post that had Rutgers been my client, they would’ve known clearly and unequivocally of my belief that termination was the most appropriate response to Rice’s abusive treatment of his players. It does not appear that lawyers advising Rutgers took such a firm stance.

Assuming that Wolf served at the pleasure of Rutgers (i.e., in a more or less at-will capacity), it would’ve been completely within the university’s discretion to demote or terminate him for providing less-than-wonderful legal advice.

The role of legal counsel

Putting on my lawyer hat, I recognize that attorneys are not university presidents or CEOs in terms of having ultimate decision making authority. We can only advise our clients; we cannot force them to do what we believe is the right thing.

That said, when lawyers serve as handmaidens for wrongful behaviors by a client and its managers, they may pay a price in the all-too-unlikely event the organization is required to account for its actions. As the Rutgers saga continues to unfold, perhaps we’ll learn more lessons about the roles their attorneys played in these very unfortunate events.

McDonald’s Big Mac ad hits a new low

From the Orange Line, Boston subway (photo by DY)

From the Orange Line, Boston subway (photo by DY)

McDonald’s is now pitching Big Macs by making fun of public service ads for people who may need mental health counseling.

Here’s the ad I saw while riding the Orange Line of the Boston subway on Sunday: It features a woman looking down with her head buried in her hand, with the text including (1) a large main caption “You’re Not Alone,” (2) a much smaller caption “Millions of people love the Big Mac,” and (3) an 800 phone number at the bottom. (Yes, I called it. It’s McD’s corporate phone number.)

I don’t think I’m being oversensitive or too “PC” about this. If you ride the subway regularly, you often see public service ads depicting a person in obvious distress, captioned with a few supportive words, and listing a phone number to reach a sympathetic ear. We’re living in difficult times. There are a lot of people who are struggling with their mental and emotional health. They may be highly stressed out, depressed, or even suicidal.

The ad writers and executives in McDonald’s high-priced marketing operation missed the boat badly on this one. I’m sorry, but the ad is just too close to the real thing to be funny.


April 10 update: McDonald’s has responded by saying this was part of an ad campaign that never got formal approval from corporate central, and they’ve ordered the ads pulled. Details here from Eric Randall at Boston Magazine, who has been following the story. (It sounds like McD’s will be be revisiting their protocols in working with advertisers because of this.)

At this point I’m a little bemused by how this story has turned mini-viral. Popular Boston blog Universal Hub and Time magazine’s Brad Tuttle also picked up the story, and I had to decline an interview with Boston’s Channel 5 News because I’m out of town.

I deliberately tried to write the post in a way that was pointed but non-inflammatory, so it’s quite interesting to see how something like this grows legs.


April 11 update: And the Boston Business Journal‘s Galen Moore pulled the story together, including more about the Arnold advertising firm apparently responsible for the snafu.


April 12 update: To my surprise, the story has gone viral, with coverage ranging from ABC News to the Daily Mail over in the U.K. In addition, the mental health community has been weighing in. Here’s the lede from Marie Szaniszlo’s piece in the Boston Herald:

Mental health advocates yesterday blasted a McDonald’s ad on the MBTA that appears at first to be a public service announcement targeting people suffering from depression.

“It’s really too bad because it trivializes the whole issue of depression,” said Julie Totten, executive director of Waltham-based Families for Depression Awareness, which has been running an ad of its own on the T for its Strides Against Stigma Walk on April 27 at Boston University. “We’re trying to say when you need help, it’s not a laughing matter. We don’t want people to feel stigmatized or made fun of.”

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