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.

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