Counterparties: Unpaid internship
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Good news for Americaâs unpaid army of latte-fetchers and lunch-order-takers! A Federal district judge in Manhattan has ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated state and federal labor laws by using unpaid production interns on â500 Days of Summerâ and âBlack Swanâ.
The ruling in the âBlack Swanâ case could have a big impact for the estimated 1 million American college students who work in unpaid internships. Ross Perlin, author of the 2011âs âIntern Nationâ, says the decision could end decades of whatâs effectively âwage theftâ:
At their peak following the 2008 crash, unpaid internships were increasingly crowding out paid ones and replacing regular positions altogether, in the process turning the entry-level job into an endangered species. It was âa capitalistâs dream,â as sociologist Andrew Ross put it: free white collar labor made to seem almost entirely normal.
Dylan Matthews — a former intern himself — writes that the ruling has the effect of turning a 2010 Department of Labor fact sheet into established law: the judge in the Black Swan case said Searchlightâs internships violated all six of that documentâs criteria on what an internship should be. Rebecca Greenfield — whose LinkedIn profile suggest that, yes, sheâs been an intern — talked with both of the plaintiffs. Both were well-off enough to afford to perform free labor: one got money from his mother to live in New York and work for free; the other lived off his savings from a previous job at AIG.
That unpaid internships favor the wealthy isnât a new argument, but recent legal scrutiny hasnât gotten rid of the practice. ProPublica is running an investigation into the intern economy — thereâs even a Kickstarter campaign to help them hire an intern to cover interns. The organizationâs research intern has held six internships, both paid and unpaid, and writes that sheâs struggled financially since finishing grad school in 2011. She does, however, say that sheâs both learning and getting paid at ProPublica.
Matt Yglesias, who earned valuable intern-ish experience getting coffee at Rolling Stone, worries that enforcing minimum wage labor laws for internships will just push people into expensive grad schools. âErecting extremely sharp walls between âeducation,â âtraining,â and âworkââ doesn’t make a ton of sense,â he writes. (Though itâs much easier to put scare quotes on âworkâ when you have it.) In the end,Yglesias nods approvingly at arrangements like Germanyâs vocational training programs, where students do, in fact, get paid.
This wonât be the last intern lawsuit. Former Hearst interns filed their own suit last month. Yesterday, two former magazine interns at noted intern factory Conde Nast got in on the act. One former intern at W, CondĂ©âs high-end fashion book, described her 10-hour days as being like âThe Devil Wears Pradaâ, but worse. That could describe every internship ever. — Ryan McCarthy, who is not an intern, either paid or unpaid, but is a former intern, and, after a few beers, will probably tell you heâs probably still bitter about the whole thing.
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