Would you work for free please? That would be TERRIFIC


Suppose the next time a company wanted to hire you, you came back with a standard deal in business these days. You tell them to go ahead and pay you full-time with benefits for three to six months, while you play around on the beach or golf course, and maybe, somewhere along the way — you’re not saying when or how — if you feel like it’s still a good fit, you’ll go ahead and start showing up for work. What might that company’s managers say? Now reverse the roles and you have the great intern scam. It’s all the rage, even in the White House:

Link — Hundreds of interns have filed lawsuits or raised complaints over working long hours for free. But one group of former interns is sidestepping the courtroom and going straight to the White House to fight for fair compensation. The Fair Pay Campaign, a grassroots lobby set to launch around Labor Day, is calling on President Obama to pay White House interns in order to set an example for other government agencies and private employers.

“We have a minimum wage law in this country, and just because you call someone an intern doesn’t mean you get out of it,” said Mikey Franklin, the leader of Fair Pay’s charge.

Gosh, why pay a wage when you can get the labor for free? The problem of course is most people can’t afford to work for free, unless they have a wealthy spouse or parents who can support them in the meantime. Which means these political internships and the substantial benefits that flow from them are mostly, only available to those who are already fortunate and heavily biased toward young prospects. A similar point could be made for any internship.

The unpaid internship is by no means the only form of this scam. In thousands of companies across the nation, an arguably more insidious version offers a paid internship, paid at your current low salary, while you learn and work the same as an employee who would make substantially more if they had been directly hired for the new job. Companies typically have many desperate overqualified, struggling employees to choose from these days. Often times only one or two lucky interns are chosen for full time work after many put in the time. Often times even those lucky few receive at best a modest raise that falls short of what the same position would demand if a skilled, qualified person had been hired through the usual channels in the first place.

Whether it’s unpaid or low paid, most internships these days have nothing to do with education or community service. In an era of record corporate profits and high unemployment, unpaid labor of any kind is an exploitative, unethical practice, one that is proliferating to help multi-billion dollar companies insure that Bill Lumberg’s stock goes up a quarter point.


  1. says

    All we have to do is look at where most of the manufacturing is done today, and remind ourselves that conservatives and libertarians want to do away with minimum wage, welfare, unions, and regulations because if they can save on transportation costs by having the same working conditions here that they have in China, Bangladesh, or so many other nations.

  2. leftwingfox says

    This is rampant in the creative industries too, where “spec work” is common.

    As Mel Blanc described it.

    “Spec is what someone does now for nothing, on the promise he will get more than he deserves later on.

    It’s also a small piece of dirt.”

  3. Francisco Bacopa says

    I think the whole purpose of internships has been not only to provide companies with low cost or free labor, but to make sure only the “right” kind of people have a chance to join influential companies and organizations.

  4. left0ver1under says

    Internships aren’t just meant to be available for those who come from wealth. The intent is to keep the poor from ever attaining them, to prevent “undesirables” (as the wealthy view them) from ever getting six figure salaries and into the halls of power. Just as the clowns who want rape culture try to pretend most accusations are false, so do the wealthy elite want to pretend Chris Gardner represents a positive image of internships, as if homelessness and child endangerment were something to aspire to.

    The big lie is “If you work hard enough you can get ahead,” that those who don’t get such “jobs” are lazy or not smart enough. But in reality, the deck is stacked in favour of the already-haves. The last thing that wall street types want is a meritocracy. And I wouldn’t doubt that sexual harassment is rampant (see: Mark Foley), and intended to keep women out of power.

  5. No One says

    I applied for a job designing ads for the local “undergound” newspaper. Hey I was desperate… I sat down in front of their computer and they asked me to design an ad for a local restaurant . I wasn’t familiar with the software they had, but I figured it out pretty quick. 20 mins later I was done. The interviewer was concerned that I didn’t have enough experience with their software, they had deadlines and they needed someone who could work faster. My ad was in the paper that week with no alterations. I wonder how many ads they got designed for free that week.

  6. lanir says

    Free samples actually do work but you have to keep in mind how companies do them. This is the same sort of thing they’re asking of you after all: a “try before we buy” on your work. So how do they do it? The free stuff is quick and cheap and they can afford to write it off entirely. So next time someone wants you to work for free, give them a smile and say “Sure, I’ve got 5 minutes (10 or 15 if you’re nice). Show me how this place runs. What can it hurt?”

    But a minute past that if you’re not getting paid somehow it’s time to make polite farewells. Seriously working for any length of time for free when you’re not doing it specifically for charity is actively screwing over anyone who works with you plus whoever they would have had to pay to get the tasks you’re doing done if you weren’t being a numbskull.

  7. Drolfe says

    Hey I’ll say it:

    Hiring unpaid interns is racist.

    The pool of qualified interns is bigger than the pool of qualified interns that can work for free. The pool of interns that can work for free is weighted along the same lines as wealth and income disparity, so it’s weighted to be whiter and higher class (class also corelates with whiteness obviously). This creates a structural source of unequal opportunity.

    Unpaid internships are a way of exploiting our systemic racism to provide a legal but still discriminatory outcome.

    So look, it fails both ends, unequal opportunity, and discriminatory outcomes. I don’t how anyone can support this sort of system unless you know, free labor is the most important goal. OH WAIT.

  8. robnyny says

    I think that unpaid internships are more an example of class warfare than a scam. I went to an Ivy school, but I didn’t have the means to take an unpaid internship — not the clothes, not the housing, not even the money for food. But plenty of my friends did. I worked days in the cornfields and nights as a short-order cook. I learned a lot, but it was not the same thing.

    But I would say that I am very dubious about an intern doing the work of a regular employee. I have worked extensively with first and second year lawyers (who get paid very handsome salaries at the big firms), and they are pretty much “negative help” for about two years. Summer interns (who also get hansomely paid) are even worse.

  9. No One says

    Internships are bad enough. The new thing is “externships”. It’s part of your college curriculum. You get placed with a company for a semester without pay. You get college credit for it. Which you end up paying for with a student loan.

  10. nathanaelnerode says

    Root problem: concentration of wealth.

    Seize the fortunes of the Forbes 400 and distribute them evenly across the US, and… well, bluntly, the $30,000 each man, woman, and child would receive would be enough that nobody would stand for this crap any more.

  11. nathanaelnerode says

    “You tell them to go ahead and pay you full-time with benefits for three to six months, while you play around on the beach or golf course, and maybe, somewhere along the way — you’re not saying when or how — if you feel like it’s still a good fit, you’ll go ahead and start showing up for work. ”

    By the way, Board of Directors members in major corporations actually do negotiate deals pretty damn close to this.

  12. says

    @7 — send them a bill for your time at the rate they were going to pay for the work.

    At the bottom of the bill, make sure in LARGE letters you “CC” a noted local trial attorney. Make sure the “Esq, attorney-at-law” is mentioned behind the name.

    You might not get any money … but you sure will make them nervous. Maybe nervous enough to not try that stunt again.

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