May 5, 2012
By Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times
Confronting the worst job market in decades, many college graduates who expected to land paid jobs are turning to unpaid internships to try to get a foot in an employer’s door.
While unpaid postcollege internships have long existed in the film and nonprofit worlds, they have recently spread to fashion houses, book and magazine publishers, marketing companies, public relations firms, art galleries, talent agencies — even to some law firms.
Melissa Reyes, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising last May, applied for a dozen jobs to no avail. She was thrilled, however, to land an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. “They talked about what an excellent, educational internship program this would be,” she said.
But Ms. Reyes soon soured on the experience. She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.” Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”
Although many internships provide valuable experience, some unpaid interns complain that they do menial work and learn little, raising questions about whether these positions violate federal rules governing such programs.
Yet interns say they often have no good alternatives. As Friday’s jobs report showed, job growth is weak, and the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 13.2 percent in April.
The Labor Department says that if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education, the interns must work under close supervision, their work cannot be used as a substitute for regular employees and their work cannot be of immediate benefit to the employer.
But in practice, there is little to stop employers from exploiting interns. The Labor Department rarely cracks down on offenders, saying that it has limited resources and that unpaid interns are loath to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing any future job search.
No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)
“A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns. “But now I’ve even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools.”*******
Eric Glatt, who at age 40 interned for the movie “Black Swan,” is one of the few interns with the courage to sue for wages over the work he did.
With an M.B.A. and a master’s in international management, Mr. Glatt wanted to get into film after a previous job overseeing training programs at the American International Group, the big insurance and financial services company. For “Black Swan,” he prepared documents for purchase orders and petty cash, traveled to the set to obtain signatures on documents and tracked employees’ personnel data.
“I knew that this was going to be a normal job and I wasn’t going to be paid for it,” he said. “But it started kicking around in my mind how unjust this was. It’s just become part of this unregulated labor market.”
Mr. Glatt filed suit, accusing Fox Searchlight Pictures of minimum wage violations. The company says it fully complies with the law and provides interns with a valuable, real-world work experience.
“The purpose of filing this case was to help end this practice,” said Mr. Glatt, who now plans to go to law school. “That was more important than my working on the next blockbuster.”
Ross Perlin, author of the 2011 book “Intern Nation,” said postcollege internships used to be confined to a few fields like film but have become far more common. “The people in charge in many industries were once interns and they’ve come of age, and to them unpaid internships are completely normal and they think of having interns in every way, shape and form,” he said.
Some interns say their experiences were quite helpful. Emily Miethner, a fine arts major at Hofstra, took an unpaid position at Gawker after graduating in 2010, doing research and social media for the news and gossip site. After two months, she moved to an unpaid internship at Flavorpill, an online cultural guide.*****
Xuedan Wang, known as Diana, did not have such a positive experience. Ms. Wang, who graduated from Ohio State in 2010, interned at Harper’s Bazaar, working 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. overseeing eight other unpaid interns who ran around Manhattan picking up items from various fashion houses and showrooms.
She sued the fashion magazine in February, accusing it of minimum wage violations.
“Harper’s Bazaar was my favorite magazine growing up. I was dazzled that I was going to be working there,” she said. “But it was real grunt work, lugging things around.”
Hearst Magazines, which owns Harper’s Bazaar, said its internship programs enhanced students’ educational experience and fully complied with the law.
Some people end up on an internship treadmill. Joyce Lee, who received a film degree from Wesleyan in 2010, moved to Los Angeles and did six unpaid internships, including one for Scott Rudin, a top Hollywood and Broadway producer.
Her duties included reading scripts and picking up the mail. To pay her rent, she worked at a coffee shop and handed out fliers for a taxi company.
“Scott Rudin is made of money,” she said. “I don’t think it would be so hard for him to pay five interns the minimum wage.”
A spokesman for Mr. Rudin said he could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Lee, who is now in New York making her own film and supporting herself by again working at a coffee shop, said interns deserved better.
“If I ever become a famous filmmaker,” she said, “I promise I will pay my interns.”
By Kayleen Schaefer Last fall, Diana Wang was named “head accessories intern” at Harper’s Bazaar.“I’d been dreaming of standing in their offices for fifteen years,” she says. “I was so ready to give everything I had. I couldn’t imagine that the dream of mine was becoming real.”
At 27, she was older than the average magazine intern. After graduating from Ohio State in 2010, Diana spent a year working for a pharmaceutical company in Columbus, Ohio, saving up so she could afford to live in New York as an unpaid intern — a gig she’d heard was a necessary first step to getting a job in fashion.
“This was going to be my only ticket to the industry,” she says. “I didn’t have unlimited resources. I was going to make the time worthwhile. I was going to be remembered by people.”
And she will be, but not because she’s on her way to becoming the next Melanie Ward, a stylist she revered. In February, Wang sued the Hearst Corporation, Harper’s Bazaar’s parent organization, for not paying for her work. The lawsuit, which accuses the company of violating federal and state labor laws, has since become a class-action one — including about 3,000 former Hearst interns — and may be decided as soon as early 2013.
By Ginia Bellafante
In February, Xuedan Wang, a 2010 graduate of Ohio University, received modest attention after she filed a lawsuit against the Hearst Corporation claiming that the company violated labor laws when it did not pay her for the work she had done as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar, one of its magazines, over four months last year. Speaking to New York magazine last week, on the occasion of Fashion Week, Ms. Wang, who goes by Diana, explained that she had spent more than half of her life dreaming of Bazaar and approximately 12 months working at a pharmaceutical company in Columbus in order to save enough money to realize her Manhattan vision.
Then she found herself spending as much as 55 hours a week at a job she likened to “working in shipping and receiving.” At the end of it all, she couldn’t secure a paying job. For someone with her particular aspirations, only the HVAC industry could have contained greater indignities.
Internships are a problem, as Ross Perlin wrote in his 2011 book, “Intern Nation,” and others have effectively argued, not only because they impede efforts to reduce unemployment, but also because they assist in perpetuating inequality, privileging the already-fortunate who can afford work without pay.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/nyregion/seeking-chic-edgy-brilliant-intern-to-thread-needles-free.html?_r=1
By Chad Bray
A federal judge has conditionally granted class-action status on behalf of a group of Hearst Corp. interns who allegedly weren't paid for their work at 19 of the company's magazines, including Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.
Xuedan Wang, a former intern at Harper's Bazaar from last August to December, sued Hearst earlier this year, alleging the company violated federal and state labor laws by misclassifying her and other workers as unpaid or underpaid interns, rather than employees. As a result, they were denied pay and other benefits, the lawsuit said.
In her lawsuit, Ms. Wang claims she regularly worked more than 40 hours a week for no pay as an intern and, sometimes, as many as 55 hours a week. She was a head accessories intern at Harper's Bazaar during that period, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in February in Manhattan federal court.
"For now the plaintiff need only establish that other employees 'may be similarly situated' to her," U.S. District Judge Harold Baer in Manhattan said in conditionally certifying a class of interns in an order issued Thursday.
The judge said Ms. Wang, at this point in the case, made sufficient arguments to certify a class. He said she provided affidavits showing that Hearst made a uniform determination that interns weren't employees, required all interns to submit college credit letters and used interns to perform entry-level work with little supervision.
Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304373804577523353691226294.html?KEYWORDS=hearst
By: Gennifer Delman
Ed: What do you want to happen as a result of this case?
Xuedan “Diana” Wang: I really hope that the lawsuit would regulate what the employer allows the intern to do task-wise and the hours interns work. There has been no oversight or regulation about those types of issues with internships. Every other kind of employment that I can think of has some laws or regulation in terms of what is okay in terms of hours, minimum wage. [That’s $7.25 an hour in New York, btw — Ed]
Ed: How will this case affect the magazine industry?
Wang’s Lawyer Elizabeth Wagoner: What I think it means for the magazine industry more broadly is simply that they do face class-action lawsuits over their internship programs. Hearst had tried to argue that since interns may do slightly different work across the magazines that they couldn’t proceed as a collective or class-action based on those differences. What this opinion means is that it doesn’t matter that they had slightly different responsibilities; the fact that they all worked in Hearst’s unpaid internship program are similarly situated and can then proceed as a group. I’m sure that other magazine publishers are looking at that decision as a way to avoid liability on a group-basis. Obviously they would prefer to only have to owe wages to a person at a time, rather than thousands of interns that have worked for them over the years. This means that, as a precedent, interns can proceed as a group.
Ed: Most companies require college credit but often that costs the intern hundreds or thousands of dollars. Did you get college credit for your internship? Did you have to pay for it?
DW: Well, I had arranged for a letter to be sent out by an advisor at my college where I went to for undergrad. I sent the letter that was drawn by my advisor to Bazaar, because they required proof that you were receiving academic credit. But in the end, I actually didn’t end up getting those credit hours because I couldn’t afford to pay for those hours, which would have cost me $2,650 and $700. I tried to use a payment plan to pay off those hours and I just couldn’t, so in the end I didn’t get those hours.
Ed: A lot of comments on Ed’s FB and Twitter page say that interns have to “pay their dues.” Do you disagree with that idea?
DW: I think that people don’t acknowledge the way things are because of the status quo: That to get anywhere you just have to pay your dues, keep your head down, and do the work. I do think there’s a lot of stipulation about the fact that interns should be grateful to be allowed to work at these prestigious places for free.
Ed: What gave you the big push to file the suit?
DW: I had been through a lot working there every day, and the things that I saw and experienced I didn’t feel good about. The way I was treated by my supervisor was just deplorable. He directly admitted to me that not only would he not recommend me for a job after the internship, but he would also have to tell the people who would contact him for a reference about me that I didn’t do a very good job and they shouldn’t hire me. He actually admitted to me that he did end up telling some of these places that I interviewed at not to hire me. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to tell people not to hire this person. The thing that hurt me the most was the fact that I had never worked so hard at a job in my life, and it’s ironic that it didn’t pay a dime to do a job that took so much out of me, physically and emotionally.
Ed: Do you believe that interns are replacing entry-level workers?
DW: Things are very different now if you’re a college student or intern. Once upon a time, companies used to invest in entry-level workers. They used to train them and spend money investing in employees and they don’t do that anymore. They’re just using interns more and more to do entry-level work. I think that people should stop and think about saying no to letting that practice continue. The thing is, the more unpaid interns there are, the less paid employees there are. That hurts everyone in the end. It’s basically voting with what you’re willing and not willing to do with your time.
Ed: You’re now also suing Fenton/Fallon a jewelry company where you had been a public relations intern.
DW: It’s absolutely true. I did work for Fenton/Fallon for a month and a half before my internship started Bazaar. Before then, I was a huge admirer of Dana Lorenz; she was one of my favorite jewelry designers. She [Lorenz] was able to rope in a mass of interns so that we were basically there from morning until evening making the jewelry. I was cutting wires; that’s all I did. In some ways it was a worse experience than Hearst, but it was different. Being an unpaid messenger and being an unpaid jewelry constructer — they’re kind of both utterly manual labor that is — both just pretty humiliating. That lawsuit… it’s not turning into anything the size of Hearst, but she has admitted her wrongdoing.
Read More: http://www.ed2010.com/2012/07/exclusive-ed-interview-diana-wang-intern-muckraker