Saturday, October 26, 2013

Condé Nast Makes an Announcement, and Another Unpaid Internship Program Bites the Dust

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that publisher Condé Nast will be eliminating its internship program.

Condé Nast is being sued by two former interns who claim the publisher violated wage and hour law when it failed to pay the interns less than minimum wage. The interns are hoping the suit will qualify for class action status.  

Reading the press coverage and reader comments, it quickly becomes apparent that there are three kinds of people in this world:

  • Those who believe government has no business regulating commerce for any reason whatsoever
  • Those who’ve personally benefited from unpaid internships and look back on their experiences with fondness, while (sometimes) wondering out loud how any intern could be so ungrateful as to want money in exchange for such a great gig
  • Those who view unpaid internships as exploitation

Well, I’m definitely closer to those last folks than not. As I’ve written in the past, I’m not down with free labor, unless it’s given to benefit a charitable endeavor.  

“Hours paid for hours worked,” that’s the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) mantra. Everything else is an exemption. And to qualify for that exemption, employers need to meet certain standards. Fox Searchlight failed to meet that standard, and it looks like Condé Nast also may have failed.  

And yet, many in the public are mad at the interns, calling them “entitled,” and “greedy,” and “unwilling to pay their dues,” and all that junk. But it seems to me that any employer who wants labor in exchange for air is the party with the entitlement problem.  

Then there are those who characterize the interns as lawyer pawns.  

Hell yeah, if you’re an unpaid/underpaid intern, suing your sponsor/employer has become downright fashionable. 

Since the aforementioned Fox Searchlight case, Warner Music Group, Atlantic Recording, Gawker Media, Fox Entertainment Group, NBC Universal, Viacom, Sony, Universal Music Group, Bad Boy Entertainment, and Donna Karan have all been sued.  

But I’ll say it again. If these internship programs were providing the training the law required, these plaintiff/interns wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.  

I don’t get it.  

Just because an employment practice has become common doesn’t mean it’s right. These employers had their fun, now it’s time to pony up.

Pay for your labor. Invest in training for entry-level staff. Get your own damn coffee.

I can’t agree with those who say that working at these companies is a huge privilege that many would gladly pay to receive.  

Instead, I’m convinced that many students accept unpaid internships because they’re advised by people in power they must, or they won’t get ahead.  

So let’s see. To get a “good” job, first these kids are told they have to get a college degree (the cost of which has increased more than a 1000% in the last 30 years). Then they’re told they must work for free to gain “experience.”

Come on. When will it end? With the cost of living skyrocketing as it has, I don’t think this generation (or their parents) can bear it much longer. And, when it comes to many of these unpaid internships, it’s immoral and illegal.  

You can disagree with the law, I suppose, and hope that it changes one day. But in the meantime, I support the interns. By challenging these companies, they’re taking a huge risk, even if they are lawyered up.

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