Thursday, October 24, 2013

And They Never Saw a Latte Again

Some folks are buzzing about the fact that Conde Nast is ending its internship program after being sued for not paying its workers. This has led to some gloating from libertarian sorts, who are elated to inform us that when government forbids for-profit employees from working for free (or for pennies), sometimes the opportunity to work at starvation wages goes away!

Color me unconvinced. I'm truly unconvinced that nobody at Conde Nast will now be doing ... whatever it is that the interns did that allegedly kept them in the office 12 hours at day at $12 a day. The difference is now the person (a) won't be called an "intern" and (b) will get something approximating an entry-level worker's salary. This is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is kind of the point. Whatever wonderful experiences one gets by being one's own Devil Wears Prada extra is now available to people who actually need their jobs to pay money.


Nick said...

What about externs in Chambers or at not for profits? Easier to say those places provide an educational experience, but the same "slave labor" argument applies. And, notably, neither could afford to replace them if they left.

I get the non-exploitation bit, but it just seems to me that we don't have well-developed criteria for choosing when we deprive people of certain rights (e.g., internship, prostitution) in the name of empowerment.

David Schraub said...

Non-profits and public service positions are at least closer to civic-minded volunteer work than just "a job, except it doesn't pay." And at least judicial externships almost certainly do provide an educational experience to the extern that outweighs the benefit the judge receives from him or her.

PG said...

The Department of Labor has reasonably well developed criteria about the difference between being slave labor and getting an educational experience.

"The FLSA makes a special exception under certain circumstances for individuals who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency and for individuals who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for private non-profit food banks. WHD also recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation for religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations. Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible. WHD is
reviewing the need for additional guidance on internships in the public and non-profit sectors."

I suspect that smart colleges which know their students want access to unpaid internships will put the resources into actively supervising such internships at for-profits to make them legal. It would be a clever move and a way for a college to distinguish itself if it said its students have special access to publishing internships because the school is willing to do what's required (supervise, give college credit, etc.) to fit the experience within labor law.

What that will leave out, of course, are the internships frequently undertaken these days by grown people who are years out of college but desperate for a toehold and convinced that working for free will get them into the industry.