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.”
Written by Eric Glatt, 11 Sep 2012, published in: CityWords
It's time we ditched the term "internship." The word's greatest value to employers resides in its vagueness.
Take, for example, the production of the film Black Swan, for which I worked as an accounting clerk and a post-production assistant, but for which I was not paid wages.
Why not? Because I, like scores of other workers on that film, was a relative newcomer to the industry. And being a newcomer to the film industry often means doing unpaid work, an illegal arrangement camouflaged behind the term "internship" — a term the movie industry embraces for its promise of alchemy, magically removing costs from budgets to the delight of producers and shareholders.
Unpaid internships originally evolved to provide a limited exemption from minimum wage and overtime requirements when worksite trainees receive vocational instruction. Such training must be truly and exclusively an educational experience that doesn't replace the work of paid employees.
Today, however, unpaid internships have metastasized into a labor market scourge.
Multiple factors have conspired to provide employers with this unprecedented pool of free labor: limited enforcement resources, a jobs crisis, inconsistent policies among credit-granting colleges, numerous compelling reasons for interns not to voice objections — plus the naïve faith that their universities and employers couldn't be sanctioning a practice outside the law.
Interns save employers an estimated $2 billion in annual unpaid wages according to Ross Perlin, author of the book Intern Nation.
This widespread, opportunistic misapplication of the term "internship" has irrevocably leeched it of any legitimate value.
I walked into my "internship" knowing I would be expected to do real work. My class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures wasn't driven by disappointment at being assigned less-than-glamorous tasks, but rather by my discovery that it simply isn't legal for an employer to accept the benefit of an intern's labor without paying for it, even when the intern agrees to work for no wage in hopes of getting a foothold in the industry.
To a college student or newly minted graduate, contributing behind the scenes in a beloved industry can undoubtedly be intriguing and exciting. But labor law isn't selectively applicable relative to how exciting an opportunity is.
Society maintains certain non-negotiable minimum requirements because otherwise employers will undermine the health of the overall labor market by pitting potential workers against each other in a competitive "race to the bottom" of the wage scale — a destination that has been reached when an unpaid intern's only compensation is the promise of a job reference.
My work on Black Swan gave me an unexpectedly vivid view of how nakedly this practice is used to control production costs and of how thoroughly it has seeped into the industry's DNA.
It even entered the subtext in the film's marketing, such as when director Darren Aronofsky explained to one interviewer that the film's "really tough" $13-million budget meant that "lots of compromises" had to be made. What he doesn't mention is that those compromises included violating labor laws with studio approval, following widespread industry practice.
It's time for all parties to stop using a term that just obscures the truth. If your film production needs entry-level workers, identify them and pay them as such. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, an amount that shouldn't break an honest budget.
But if you want to keep believing in the magic alchemy of the word "internship," let me give the last words to Nancy J. Leppink, the Labor Department's deputy wage and hour administrator, as quoted in The New York Times: "If you're a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren't going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law."
(Eric Glatt is a first-year law student at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. This piece was provided CityWatch by otherwords.org)
5:11 PM PDT 8/13/2012 by Eriq Gardner, Hollywood Reporter:
Lawyers want to expand the scope of a lawsuit originally brought by interns who had worked on "Black Swan."
A class-action lawsuit that takes issue with internships at Fox Entertainment is becoming a lot bigger.
Last fall, two interns who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight, claiming that the company's unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
The plaintiffs now are seeking the opportunity to file an amended lawsuit that will "broaden the scope of the case to include all interns who participated in Fox Entertainment Group's internship program."
According to a court filing made public Monday, an investigation in the case "shows that the same hiring, personnel and company policies that applied to Searchlight interns applied to all interns who participated in FEG's internship program."
The plaintiffs point to 20th Century Fox, among other FEG business units, saying that until July 2010, interns hired to work there were not paid, even though they were required to fill out I-9 forms, sign confidentiality agreements and were deemed "employees" covered under workers' compensation laws.
According to the legal documents, FEG changed its policy in July 2010 to require all interns to be paid about $8 per hour.
The plaintiffs in the case not only want to expand the scope of this pending lawsuit, they are seeking to separate two classes of interns -- those who were "corporate interns" at Fox and those who were "production interns" at Fox.* * *
Internships have been a legal hotspot in entertainment and media in the past year. As the number of unpaid internships has increased, so too has the number of disputes. Besides the current case, former interns have filed separate lawsuits against Hearst Corp. and the Charlie Rose show over alleged abuse of their internship programs.
The Fair Labor Standards Act typically has been interpreted to allow companies to have unpaid interns if there's an educational benefit involved, but the Labor Department has made it clear that interns can't replace regular employees.
According to the original lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work. … In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees.”
Fox had no comment.
In response to the original lawsuit, Fox had objected to the fact that the "interns were not even retained by Fox Searchlight and, in fact, were working for the production company that made Black Swan well before Fox Searchlight even acquired its rights in the film."
Now, however, the proposed class action might be going much larger to render that issue moot. The judge has ordered a hearing Aug. 24 to consider the proposed motion to amend the lawsuit.
Posted: 08/24/2012 4:39 pm Updated: 08/30/2012 9:02 pm
—By Joe Satran, Huffington Post:
Former "Black Swan" interns Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman won a small skirmish in their court battle with Fox Searchlight this morning when Judge William H. Pauley III allowed them to file a motion to amend their suit to expand the plaintiff class to include everyone who has worked as an unpaid intern at Fox Entertainment Group for the past several years.
Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney with Outten and Golden, the firm representing the plaintiffs, told The Huffington Post that Pauley set the deadline for the motion at Sept. 5, and that he said he would rule on it at a hearing on Oct. 9. She said Pauley encouraged Fox's legal team not to contest the motion.
Pauley also ruled today that Fox would have to give the plaintiffs an email the company sent to all former unpaid interns, which the plaintiffs say was designed to coerce them not to join the lawsuit.
The results of today's court conference have no inherent bearing on the central legal questions in the case -- namely, whether Fox violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by refusing to pay its interns. But the rulings increase the chances of hundreds or even thousands of past interns joining the suit and demanding back pay. As such, they support the mission that Glatt, 42, says was central to his decision to sue Fox Searchlight: doing away with unpaid internships altogether.
"I want to see the practice ended," Glatt told The Huffington Post. "I think unpaid internships are extremely detrimental to the labor market, and especially pernicious in creative industries."
Glatt said that he feels a big problem with unpaid internships is that they disrupt the labor market for entry-level workers by forcing people at the beginning of their careers to work for no pay and suppressing wages for people who have been on the job for several years.
John Williams, the founder of non-profit Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, which mentors underprivileged youth to prepare them for work in the film industry, said he thinks that the practice is skewing the entire industry away from equal representation.
"If you're a poor kid, or you can't afford to work for free, and people are saying you should work for free, that's going to favor kids who can do that, whose parents can pay their bills for years. It probably has an impact on how diverse the film industry is," Williams said.
Glatt said that he felt uncomfortable with the idea of providing free labor when he first signed up to be an intern on "Black Swan." But after working in the insurance industry for years, he was trying to to get into the film business. Everyone he asked for advice told him that unpaid internships were a necessary stepping stone on the path to paid work. He felt excited enough about becoming a filmmaker that he agreed to suck it up -- for a while.
"I thought it was just one of those unjust things that I couldn't do anything about as an individual," Glatt said.
As the internship wore on, he continued to feel like Fox was taking advantage of him -- a feeling reinforced when the movie made more than $300 million in global box office receipts. He started investigating the legal status of unpaid internships and found out that the Department of Labor had issued legal guidelines about what constitutes a permissible internship -- but that few internships he'd heard of met those guidelines.
That was when he decided to sue Fox.
Glatt said he knew that by suing, he was risking being excluded from working in the film industry forever and that this had likely kept scores of other interns from suing in the past. But he said his desire to change the labor market in a real way outweighed his aspirations to work in film.
"I knew that even if I made it -- and became a journeyman, working editor, I could make a decent living. I have friends like that," he said. "But it would have taken doing years of these unpaid internships, which I knew were so unjust, and I just wouldn't have been able to sit through quietly. Especially knowing that I had a chance of making a difference. The one thing I can't stifle is my voice."
Even though he felt sure his legal reasoning was sound, he had trouble finding a law firm to take on the case. Many he talked to were hesitant to get behind such an unprecedented kind of suit. Then he found Outten and Golden.
"We definitely are interested in changing the practice and ensuring that entry level workers are paid the minimum wage and are treated fairly," Wagoner said. "That's been our bread and butter here since long before Eric approached us."
Outten and Golden was ready to file a suit almost immediately after Glatt approached them, but he had already planned a trip abroad for that same month, so he asked them to wait 10 days. In the meantime, he contacted Footman, his co-intern at "Black Swan," to see if he might be interested in joining the suit. Footman said yes, and they filed the suit in September.
Most of the procedural meetings on the case so far have, like today's, ended in rulings in favor of the plaintiff. Fox Searchlight tried to allege, for example, that the proper defendant in the suit is actually "Black Swan" director Darren Aronosfky's production company, not Fox -- but the court has not yet acknowledged that argument.
Neither Aronofsky nor Fox responded to requests for comment from The Huffington Post.
It's unclear how long the case will last; a trial date was originally set for spring 2013, but if the motion to expand the intern class succeeds, discovery will likely be extended significantly, pushing the trial back. And there's always the possibility that Fox will offer to settle out of court.*******
If the suit does go to trial and the plaintiffs win, it could deal a harsh blow to unpaid internship programs throughout the film industry and the country.
But even if the plaintiffs in the Fox case settle or lose in court, Glatt's stand has already inspired others to join the fight. Diana Wang, also represented by Outten and Golden, cited Glatt's case in her lawsuit as a motivating factor in her decision to sue her former employer Hearst for failing to pay her when she was an intern. And a group of lawyers in New Jersey even started an entire law firm, Schneider and Rubin, dedicated to suing companies for allegedly illegal internship programs.
The outcome of the case may not, however, have any lingering consequences for Fox's internship program: In 2010, the company announced that it would start paying all interns $10 per hour.
Glatt, meanwhile, has become so invested in the fight for labor rights that he plans to enroll in Georgetown Law in a matter of weeks.