Working Notes: Progress on challenging unpaid internships

During the past year, we have witnessed major breakthroughs for the growing intern rights movement. Here are three items reflective of that progress:

1. NYU career services offices revise internship listings

A campaign initiated by undergraduate Christina Isnardi to press New York University’s career services offices to monitor internship listings posted by employers for possible violations of minimum wage laws has resulted in major changes, as reported by Kara Brandeisky for ProPublica:

The NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development now requires employers indicate that unpaid internships meet Labor Department guidelines [1] before posting them on CareerNet, the school’s online jobs site. The Wasserman Center’s website also offers students [2] a link to the Labor Department’s website ­­­and a guide to help students identify potentially fraudulent job postings. Additionally, the site provides a comprehensive directory of internship coordinators [3] across NYU departments.

…NYU junior Christina Isnardi began pressuring the career center last year with a petition [4] demanding that the center “remove postings of illegal, exploitative unpaid internships.” The political science and film production double major says she was inspired to start the campaign after working a string of exploitative internships – and watching her friends get shut out of unpaid opportunities they couldn’t afford.

Hat’s off to Christina and others for superb in-house advocacy resulting in an approach that may serve as a model for other universities. And kudos to NYU for listening to their messages.

2. Intern Labor Rights issues 2013 report

If you have any doubts that 2013 was a breakthrough year for the intern rights movement, then you must read this excellent report by Intern Labor Rights, documenting the many positive developments, initiatives, and media stories:

The past year has proved to be a milestone for intern rights, with significant accomplishments in the fight to have interns recognized as employees, with rights to both pay and workplace protections. Substantial decisions in courts, local governments and corporations around the country have brought unfair internships to the fore, prompting many employers to change their practices for the better. Multiple media conglomerates have changed their hiring policies—from terminating their exploitative internship programs to paying their interns. Significant information was released that began to fill in the data gap of unpaid work across the nation. Unpaid and underpaid interns are filing lawsuits against their employees for illegal wage theft. Students are starting to taking matters into their own hands, from demanding that their universities stop posting illegal internships on their job boards to writing substantial theses on the detrimental effect of unpaid internships and free labor.

3. WBUR spotlights unpaid internships

Recently I discussed “The Rise and Fall of the Unpaid Intern” on “Radio Boston,” a daily news program on WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station:

The college internship is a time-honored way to try to get a foot in the door to the professional world and build a career. But the unpaid internship has been taking a hit recently, with a raft of lawsuits against companies such as Fox Searchlight Pictures and publishing house Conde Nast.

It’s about a 15-minute interview segment featuring me and an administrator from Northeastern University.

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