It played at a summer near you: “The Unpaid Intern Strikes Back”

As steady readers of this blog know, issues concerning the legal rights and economic exploitation of interns have been bubbling up for several years. However, this past summer marked the true coming out party for the the legal and social movement against unpaid internships.

Here, in quick bullet point fashion, is a summary of what occurred:

  • It started in June, when a New York federal district court ruled in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures that lead plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alex Footman, who worked as unpaid interns on the production of the movie “Black Swan,” were entitled to back pay under federal and state minimum wage laws.
  • The Glatt decision triggered a wave of mainstream national media coverage that, in turn, spurred public discussions about the intern economy and whether unpaid internships should be permitted under the law.
  • In the immediate aftermath of Glatt came a marked increase in filings of legal claims for unpaid wages by former interns.
  • ProPublica, the non-profit investigative journalism organization, created a project to examine the intern economy in America and conducted a well-publicized and successful crowd sourced fundraising campaign for a paid project intern.
  • When a senior official with the Lean In Foundation, a charitable organization launched by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg to support the careers of women, advertised for an unpaid editorial intern in August 2013, the result was a loud public backlash. Within 48 hours, the Foundation announced that it would create a paid internship program.
  • Interns at the Nation Institute in New York, publisher of the political magazine The Nation, submitted a letter to the editor to the magazine, calling upon it to pay its full-time summer interns a living wage, rather than the $150 weekly stipend it currently paid. The Institute’s director responded by saying that it will raise the internship stipend and raise money for travel and housing grants.
  • As Intern Labor Rights continued its key role as a face-to-face and social media organizing presence in New York, the movement expanded beyond its New York base to Washington, D.C., another common site of unpaid internships. The Fair Pay Campaign went public with a call for the White House to pay its interns, citing the Oval Office’s hypocrisy in calling for a higher minimum wage while failing to pay even the current one to interns for their work.

In sum, it was a breakthrough summer, during which the intern rights movement took a huge step forward.

This was not, however, a development that came out of nowhere. Rather, it was the result of several years of advocacy and public education, much of which occurred under the radar screen.

If you’d like to read more about this recent history, including the intern rights movement and developing legal issues surrounding unpaid internships, I’ve just posted an updated draft (freely downloadable) of my forthcoming law review article, “The Emerging Legal and Social Movement Against Unpaid Internships” (forthcoming, Northeastern University Law Review), which covers events through October 2013. Much of this blog post is drawn from that article.

2 responses

  1. My daughter (a junior in college) recently accepted an unpaid internship and is re-evaluating her decision based on the criteria provided through recent legal decisions.

    Thanks so much for your efforts and the link to your paper.

  2. Pingback: Pilant's Business Ethics Blog | David Yamada Talks Interns

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